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Manchin, Shaheen help sponsor bill to reform, modernize Electoral Count process

A bipartisan group of U.S. Senators, including Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., have introduced legislation to iron out wrinkles in the nation's Electoral Count procedures.

Called the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, the bill would reform and modernize the outdated Electoral Count Act of 1887.

Issues with the vagueness of some aspects of that act came to light after the 2020 election when the process was used in an attempt to undermine and actually change the outcome of the presidential election.

In a joint statement released Wednesday, the group of senators said the legislation comes after "months of bipartisan negotiations and will ensure the electoral votes tallied by Congress accurately reflect each state's vote for President and will promote a peaceful transition of power between the outgoing and incoming President."

"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 the statement. "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."

Capito is one of the co-sponsors of the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act.

After the Jan. 6 insurrection, Capito said she would consider taking a bipartisan look at clearing up some "grey areas" in the voting process, clarifying, for example, how electoral votes are counted.

The Electoral Count Reform Act would 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.

Key provisions include a single, conclusive slate of electors, a statement to the effect the Vice President as the presiding officer of the joint meeting of Congress (to certify the election on Jan. 6) is solely ministerial, a mechanism to reduce the likelihood of frivolous objections and the elimination of a a provision of an archaic 1845 law that could be used by state legislatures to override the popular vote in their states by declaring a "failed election" — a term that is not defined in the law.

The Presidential Transition Improvement Act would help to 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 and procedures to follow when neither candidate concedes.

Another related bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, is co-sponsored by Manchin.

This bill would double the penalty under federal law for individuals who threaten or intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters, or candidates; 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; and reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission (EAC) for 5 years, and require the EAC to conduct cyber security testing as part of its testing and certification process for voting systems.

The bill also 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. In addition, it would make it illegal to tamper with voting systems.

"Debates over the political 'rules of the game' can be fraught with suspicion and jockeying for advantage. When these rules change, there must be buy-in from both parties to maintain trust in the system," said Matthew Weil, Executive Director of the Democracy Program at the Bipartisan Policy Center. "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."

"We are impressed with the draft Electoral Count Act reform legislation developed by a bipartisan Senate working group, including Senators Collins, Manchin, Romney, and Murphy," said Bob Bauer and Jack Goldsmith, co-chairs of the Presidential Reform Project. "Our work on these reform issues, which has included co-chairing a group of experts convened by the American Law Institute (ALI), has convinced us that major improvements in the current law are both urgent and achievable. We believe the legislation as proposed will help curtail threats to future presidential elections that would erode the foundational democratic principles of our country. It merits broad support."

Manchin and Capito were joined in co-sponsoring these bills by Senators Susan Collins, R-Maine, Rob Portman R-Ohio, Kyrsten Sinema D-Ari., Mitt Romney, R-Utah, Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, Mark Warner, D-Va., Thom Tillis, R-N.C., Chris Murphy, D-Conn., Ben Cardin, D-Md., Todd Young, R-Ind., Chris Coons, D-Del., Ben Sasse, R-Neb., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C.