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Senators seek reform and modernization of electoral count

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Two proposals were introduced July 20 to reform and modernize the Electoral Count Act of 1887 and ensure electoral votes are tallied by Congress accurately to reflect each state’s vote for president of the United States.

The first bill, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, would reform and modernize the outdated Electoral Count Act of 1887, and “replace ambiguous provisions of the 19th-century law with clear procedures that maintain appropriate state and federal roles in selecting the President and Vice President of the United States as set forth in the U.S. Constitution.”

The Presidential Transition Improvement Act would help “promote the orderly transfer of power by providing clear guidelines for when eligible candidates for President or Vice President may receive federal resources to support their transition into office.”

The second bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act includes several provisions. The Enhanced Penalties to Protect Our Elections Act would double the penalty under federal law for individuals who threaten or intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters or candidates. Individuals who threaten or intimidate would serve no more than two years, instead of the previous minimum of one year in prison.

The Postal Service Election Improvement Act “aims to improve the handling of election mail by the U.S. Postal Service and provide guidance to states to improve their mail-in ballot processes where permitted under state law.”

The Election Assistance Commission Reauthorization would reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for five years and require the EAC conduct cyber security testing as part of testing and certification for voting systems.

The Election Records Protection Act “would clarify that current law requires electronic election records be preserved. It would also increase the existing maximum penalties for individuals who willfully steal, destroy, conceal, mutilate or alter election records from $1,000 to $10,000 and from up to one year in prison to up to two years in prison.” This legislation would also make tampering with voting systems illegal.

U.S. Senators Susan Collins of Maine and Joe Manchin of West Virginia are leading the legislative effort. Also involved in the bipartisan negotiations are Virginia’s Mark Warner, Rob Portman of Ohio, Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, Mitt Romney of Utah, Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, Lisa Murkowski of Arkansas, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Chris Murphy of Connecticut, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Ben Cardin of Maryland, Todd Young of Indiana, Chris Coons of Delaware, Ben Sasse of Nebraska and Lindsey Graham of South Carolina.

“From the beginning, our bipartisan group has shared a vision of drafting legislation to fix the flaws of the archaic and ambiguous Electoral Count Act of 1887,” the senators said in a joint press release. “Through numerous meetings and debates among our colleagues, as well as conversations with a wide variety of election experts and legal scholars, we have developed legislation that establishes clear guidelines for our system of certifying and counting electoral votes for President and Vice President. We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, commonsense reforms.”

The senators considered input from state election officials when developing the bills, as well as from election experts and legal scholars, including the American Law Institute.

“Debates over the political ‘rules of the game’ can be fraught with suspicion and jockeying for advantage,” Matthew Weil, Executive Director of the Democracy Program at the Bipartisan Policy Center. “When these rules change, there must be buy-in from both parties to maintain trust in the system. This bipartisan Senate framework is a critical step for shoring up ambiguities in the Electoral Count Act. These senators, especially Sens. Manchin and Collins, should be commended for finding common ground on a matter that is so foundational to our democracy: faith in the system that selects our leaders.”

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca Barnabi

Rebecca J. Barnabi is the national editor of Augusta Free Press. A graduate of the University of Mary Washington, she began her journalism career at The Fredericksburg Free-Lance Star. In 2013, she was awarded first place for feature writing in the Maryland, Delaware, District of Columbia Awards Program, and was honored by the Virginia School Boards Association’s 2019 Media Honor Roll Program for her coverage of Waynesboro Schools. Her background in newspapers includes writing about features, local government, education and the arts.