Sometimes, it seems, the Senate isn’t entirely useless.
On Wednesday, a bipartisan group of 16 senators, led by Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia, released the text of a new bill intended to make it harder to overturn the results of a presidential election. A direct response to Donald Trump’s multipronged attempt to stay in power, the bill is meant to keep a future candidate for president, including a losing incumbent, from following the same playbook.
At its heart, the bill is a major revision of the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which Trump and his legal team tried to exploit to create confusion over the certification of electors and the counting of electoral votes. Specifically, Trump pressured Republican state legislators in key swing states he lost to throw out votes and send false slates of electors in place of those won by Joe Biden. He then coordinated with allies in Congress to object to the counting of Biden’s electors and pushed former Vice President Mike Pence to toss out those electors and, if needed, move the election to the House of Representatives, where Republicans controlled enough state delegations to keep him in office.
The bill would address each part of the scheme. It would require states to choose electors according to the laws that existed before Election Day and prevent state legislatures from overriding the popular vote by declaring a “failed election.”
The bill would make it clear that each state can send only one slate of electors to Congress. It would require the governor (or other designated official) to certify the winning candidate’s electors before a specified deadline, to try to prevent postelection manipulation. If a state tries to subvert this process, the bill sends the dispute to a panel of federal judges. Candidates can then appeal the judges’ decision to the Supreme Court on an expedited basis.
As for Congress, the bill makes clear that the vice president has only a “ministerial” role in the counting of electors and raises the bar for objections, from only one member in each chamber of Congress, to one-fifth of all members in both the House and Senate.
I don’t know whether the bill can actually pass the Senate, but it is a good bill. It blocks many of the most immediate threats to presidential elections and closes most avenues for postelection subversion under the current system. At the same time, it should be said that the reason that any of this is possible — the reason Trump had a path to overturning the results of the election in the first place — is the antidemocratic aspect of the current system. [Continue reading…]