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Manchin, Capito among senators supporting changes to Electoral Count Act

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia’s U.S. senators are part of a bipartisan group proposing updates to the United States’ electoral process stemming from concerns related to the 2020 presidential election.

The 16 senators introduced Wednesday the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act, which would respectively set guidelines related to electoral votes and clarify rules on the transfer of power involving an incoming administration.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are the lead sponsors. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., is among the eight other Republicans backing the plan.

“Specifically, most of our group felt that we could — and that we should — reform the Electoral Count Act, to remove the ambiguity that we saw weaponized after the last election. We were all in an agreement,” Manchin said on the Senate floor.

The Electoral Count Reform Act would limit the power of identifying a state’s electors to the governors unless noted in a state’s constitution, expedite the review of a state’s electors, and raise the requirement to challenge electors to one-fifth of members in both congressional chambers. Only one lawmaker has to question the election results currently for Congress to consider the challenge.

The vice president’s role as presiding officer of the congressional certification process would be a ministerial duty. The senators noted the vice president would not have the power to accept or reject electoral votes.

Following the 2020 presidential election, Donald Trump and his supporters unsuccessfully challenged the election results of multiple states through lawsuits. Several of the former president’s congressional allies — including West Virginia Reps. Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — additionally refused to certify the election results from certain states in the hours following the January 2021 attack on the U.S. Capitol. Trump also pressured Mike Pence to reject some electors in an attempt to prevent Joe Biden from becoming president.

“No one ever felt that we would have what we had, so now we have to take care of it, so everyone stepped up to the plate,” Manchin said.

The Presidential Transition Improvement Act would set rules for when presidential candidates can receive resources in contested elections. Eligible candidates would not have to rely on the General Services Administration to receive resources once they are the winner. The agency’s administrator could limit resources once the race is determined.

The General Services Administration did not approve the official transition process for Biden until nearly three weeks after Election Day 2020.

Manchin and Collins also announced another measure; the Enhanced Penalties to Protect Our Elections Act includes language doubling the penalties for intimidating election officials, poll workers, voters or candidates, as well as improvements to how the U.S. Postal Service and states handle mail-in ballots.

The bill has bipartisan support, but Capito is not sponsoring the legislation.

According to Manchin, the conversations on the bills began after the Senate failed to pass voting rights legislation in January. The Senate could not overcome the filibuster, the rule requiring the chamber to reach a 60-vote threshold for ending debate on most measures.

Manchin supported the Freedom to Vote: John R. Lewis Act, but he has maintained steadfast support for the filibuster in the split Senate.

“It appeared to many — both inside and outside of Washington, D.C. — that the Senate was fundamentally broken,” he said Wednesday. “Sen. Collins and I have worked together for a long time. We never gave up, we were not convinced it was broken, and you just have to work it a little bit harder.”

The proposals’ introductions came as lawmakers approach the final days of legislative business before the August recess. The Senate will be on Capitol Hill through Aug. 5, while the House’s last day of voting is July 29.

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