US Senate committee considering proposed changes to election law Tuesday

CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The U.S. Senate Rules and Administration Committee will take up a bill Tuesday to overhaul an 1880s election law and establish new guidelines related to presidential elections.

The committee’s consideration of the Electoral Count Reform Act and the Presidential Transition Improvement Act follows the House of Representatives’ passage of a measure addressing similar concerns.

A bipartisan coalition of senators announced the legislation in July. The measure would change the Electoral Count Act of 1887 by limiting who can identify a state’s electors for presidential elections and clarifying the vice president’s role in certifying election results. The threshold for the number of lawmakers needed to challenge results would additionally be set at one-fifth of both chambers. Only one lawmaker needs to challenge results currently to halt the certification process.

The legislation is a response to the January 2021 violence at the U.S. Capitol, in which supporters of former President Donald Trump attempted to halt the verification of President Joe Biden’s victory. Trump and his allies unsuccessfully challenged the election results before and after the insurrection; Republican lawmakers objected to certifying the results from some states in the hours following the U.S. Capitol riot.

Sens. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, are the proposal’s lead sponsors. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. — a member of the Senate Rules Committee — is sponsoring the legislation.

“The time to reform the ECA is way past due. Way past due. The time for Congress to act is now,” Manchin said during an Aug. 3 hearing.

Manchin continued, “We were all there on Jan. 6. That happened. That was for real. It was not a visit by friends from back home. We have a duly responsibility to make sure it never happens again.”

Democratic and Republican senators are sponsoring the legislation; Manchin and Collins recently added Pennsylvania Republican Pat Toomey and New Hampshire Democrat Maggie Hassan as co-sponsors, bringing the total to 22 legislators. The additions are essential in the split Senate; 60 lawmakers need to support a bill’s passage to override a possible filibuster.

U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. (File)

“This legislation will modernize and streamline the transmission and counting of electoral votes for Presidential elections, and I am encouraged by growing bipartisan support for this common sense effort,” Capito said last week.

During the August committee hearing, Capito urged legislators to pass the bill before the next Congress, noting attention on the 2024 presidential election will begin in the new year.

“My personal feeling is we need to button this up before the end of the year because that will then set the clarity to move forward for the next election,” she said.

The House approved its Electoral Count Act proposal last Wednesday in a 229-203 vote. Nine Republicans joined Democrats in passing the Presidential Election Reform Act; the members of West Virginia’s House delegation — David McKinley, Alex Mooney and Carol Miller — opposed the legislation.

The Senate and House measures address the same issues with differences in the language. The House bill, for instance, would establish a requirement of one-third of lawmakers for challenging results.

During the certification of the 2020 presidential election results, Mooney and Miller contested the election results of contests in Biden-won states. They also had signed a brief supporting a lawsuit to the U.S. Supreme Court related to multiple state outcomes.

Mooney, who received Trump’s endorsement during his primary race against McKinley, described the House measure as “nothing more than partisan political legislation.” He also argued there have been Democratic objections to past presidential election results. Democrats raised challenges to the 2000, 2004 and 2016 elections after the Democratic candidate’s concession, but Trump’s acknowledgment of his loss succeeded the insurrection.

U.S. Rep. Alex Mooney, R-W.Va. (File)

“Democrats’ disdain for President Trump has clouded their judgment and guides their extreme partisan actions,” Mooney told MetroNews in a statement. “This effort is nothing more than a political stunt to deflect responsibility for record inflation, shrinking retirement accounts, and an economy in turmoil.”

Miller argued the proposal would strip states of their authority to conduct elections. She also noted the little Republican support for the House version.

“The Washington bubble thinks that they’re in charge of everything, but this is a states’ issue,” she said.

Mooney said he would be willing to review the Senate proposal if the chamber approves the legislation. One Republican official told MetroNews an option for gaining House Republicans’ support would be starting bicameral negotiations with the Senate’s proposal.

Biden and Democrats have additionally pushed for changing campaign finance laws, but they have faced opposition. Senate Republicans last Thursday blocked legislation requiring super PACS and similar organizations to disclose donors who contribute $10,000 or more during an election cycle. Under the DISCLOSE Act, groups issuing advertisements for judicial nominees would also have to disclose donor information.

Senators voted 49-49 along party lines; Manchin backed the measure, and Capito voted against the bill. Following the vote, Capito said the proposal would have “chilled free speech” by enforcing the disclosure.

“The DISCLOSE Act represents a willing effort to impede the free exercise of First Amendment rights by individuals of any political persuasion, and I commend my Republican colleagues for standing with freedom of speech and the right to private political expression,” she stated Thursday.

The committee’s effort to address the Electoral Count Act will happen as Congress faces pressure to pass a stopgap funding bill to prevent a government shutdown on Oct. 1. Manchin and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., previously reached an agreement to include energy permitting changes and the Mountain Valley natural gas pipeline in the continuing resolution, yet progressive Democrats and Republicans have been vocal in their opposition to the arrangement. Sixty senators need to support proceeding with the continuing resolution before a final vote to prevent stalling the funding measure’s passage.

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