The Electoral Count Act proved to be a vital safeguard for democracy when former President Donald Trump sought to overturn the 2020 presidential election in his favor.
Though the 19th-century law is vague, it makes clear that the vice president cannot overturn the result of a presidential election as Trump had hoped then-Vice President Mike Pence would do while presiding over the count of Electoral College votes in Congress.
“Look, I understand the disappointment many feel about the last election. I was on the ballot,” Pence said last week. “But whatever the future holds, I know we did our duty that day.”
Still, Trump’s effort to exploit the law has prompted lawmakers from both parties to take a look at updating it for future elections.
Here’s what you need to know:
What is the Electoral Count Act?
The 1887 law focuses on what happens after Americans vote, setting out the process Congress uses to certify the Electoral College votes submitted by states.
Why do some lawmakers want to reform it?
While it’s an important part of the vote certification process, the Electoral Count Act is exceedingly vague.
Election law experts and those urging reform have repeatedly warned that, in light of the January 6, 2021, attack on the US Capitol, the law needs to be updated and strengthened to ensure that a losing party can never subvert the results of the Electoral College.
What reforms are being considered?
A number of proposals have been floated to reform the law.
Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska told CNN last month that the bipartisan group of lawmakers working to update the law is moving “aggressively” to draft reforms, but did not give an exact timeline.
Meanwhile, a Democratic group – made up of independent Sen. Angus King of Maine, who caucuses with Senate Democrats, and Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois – has released a discussion draft of their proposal to update the legislation.
According to a summary of the proposal, the measure would, among a number of provisions, “clarify” that the vice president does not have the authority to reject a state’s electors. It would establish “specific and narrow grounds” for objections to electoral votes or electors.
And it would “raise the thresholds for Congress to consider objections” while also making it more difficult for objections to be sustained without widespread support in both chambers.
Could reforms to the law actually pass?
“Absolutely,” says Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia.
There is serious interest from both Democrats and Republicans in updating the law, and talks are gaining momentum. But the effort is still in its early stages, and drafting legislation and finalizing a bill could take weeks if not months.
“I think absolutely it’ll pass. Now, there will be some people saying it’s not enough. There will be some people saying it’s more than what we should do or we don’t need it. And what we’ll do is try to bring them all together and say, ‘Listen, this is what we should do because this is what caused the problem. And it’s what we can do. So let’s do that,’” Manchin told CNN’s Jake Tapper in a joint interview with Murkowski on “State of the Union” on Sunday.
Murkowski told Tapper: “We’re going to take the Goldilocks approach here. We’re gonna try to find what’s just right. … And it’s not going to be just right for everybody, but will it be a step ahead? Will it be important for the country? Yeah.”
How does Trump fit in?
The former President has added urgency to the election reform push by continuing to spread lies about the 2020 election in a preview of the kind of message he could make the centerpiece of a future campaign if he runs again.
Specifically, Trump has falsely claimed that the bipartisan group of lawmakers working to reform the Electoral Count Act proves his claim that Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 election.
CNN’s Clare Foran, Manu Raju and Fredreka Schouten contributed to this report.