Following months of negotiations, a bipartisan group of senators on Wednesday introduced two new bills meant to install new safeguards for the certification of presidential election results.
The reforms to the Electoral Count Act includes new protections for presidential elections and the transition of power, clarifying a contentious question in the White House in the lead-up to the certification of the election by Congress: could the vice president overturn the election?
The reforms clarify that the vice president's role is purely ceremonial, ensuring that no vice president would have the power to overturn the election. Former President Donald Trump and his allies pressured former Vice President Mike Pence to interfere with the counting of electoral votes over objections from White House attorneys, according to testimony given to the House Jan. 6 committee.
Support among Republican senators opens a window for some of the reforms to pass the evenly divided Senate, where 60 votes are needed to overcome the filibuster.
Other Republicans in support include:
Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah
Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska
Sen. Thom Tillis, R-N.C.
Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.
Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind.
Sen. Ben Sasse, R-Neb.
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.
Of the nine Republican senators, five supported a second bill – the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act – that furthers penalties for threatening election officials or tampering with voting systems. Those senators are Collins, Portman, Romney, Murkowski and Tillis.
During negotiations, senators received input from state election officials, election experts and legal scholars about what changes could be made to the Electoral Count Act of 1887, a law the senators called "archaic and ambiguous."
Congress passed the Electoral Count Act to ensure the winner of the Electoral College would be certified as president a year after southern states sent competing returns in the 1876 election. But legal scholars and lawmakers see the law as too ambiguous, something Trump lawyer John Eastman levied to attempt to overturn election results.
Vice president's ceremonial role in counting votes
The proposed reform clarifies the vice president's role in the joint session on Jan. 6 is "solely ministerial and that he or she does not have any power to solely determine, accept, reject, or otherwise adjudicate disputes over electors."
The Electoral Count Act instructs the vice president, as president of the Senate, to be the "presiding officer" over the electoral count, by opening election certificates and calling for objections.
Trump and Eastman claimed that Pence could block the certification of election results on Jan. 6 by approving false electors from states that voted for Biden, by sending the votes back to the states to recertify or by outright declaring Trump the winner.
During one of the committee's hearings, Greg Jacob, who acted as counsel to Pence, said that Pence would have been violating the Electoral Count Act by blocking or delaying the count of the election.
As rioters shouted "Hang Mike Pence" and entered the Capitol on Jan. 6 – getting 40 feet away from him at one moment – Pence remained in a secure room of the Capitol until the riot had been contained, when he then reconvened the joint session and presided over the certification of votes declaring Joe Biden the next president.
Other protections in the Electoral Count Act reform
The new reforms include multiple safeguards to ensure that only one, official slate of electors is brought forward from each state, and require a higher threshold for objections by members of Congress.
The reformed Electoral Count Act would:
Allow only governors or officials designated by a state prior to the election to submit the certification of their states' electors and prohibit Congress from accepting a slate submitted by a different official. Fake electors in seven states Biden won in 2020 tried to submit their votes for certification.
Require one-fifth of the House and Senate to back an objection, raising the current threshold of only one member needed to object to an elector or slate.
More punishment for election harassment, tampering
The second bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, would raise penalties for meddling in elections and provide more guidance for states to improve mail-in ballot processes.
Prison sentences would be doubled from one year to two years for individuals who "threaten or intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters, or candidates."
The Jan. 6 commission has given multiple examples of intimidation tactics used in swing states like Georgia. Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger testified to the Jan. 6 Committee that he and his family received threats because he refused Trump's demands to "find" votes and overturn the election.
The same bill would also increase prison sentences from one to two years and fines from $1,000 to $10,000 for individuals "who willfully steal, destroy, conceal, mutilate, or alter election records."
The bill would outlaw tamperng with voting systems and clarifies that electronic election records must be preserved.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Electoral Count Act: Republican senators join Democrats backing reform