Electoral reform is a good start
Perhaps it is not too wishful to see a glimmer of hope for future responsible bipartisan compromise in Congress, given the recent passage of a gun violence measure and now a Senate proposal to reform the process of counting votes in a presidential election.
More realistically, maybe the prospect of facing angry voters in November after the Jan. 6, 2021 invasion of the Capitol and the May 2022 massacre of children and teachers in Uvalde, Texas, was too much to brush off. With a third of the Senate seats and all House seats on the ballot Nov. 8, the balance of power could well shift. And their own power, as some members of Congress have been demonstrating, can mean more to them than any principle or issue.
Either way, the success of nine Republican senators and seven Democrats, including Connecticut’s Chris Murphy, in drafting reforms to an 1887 electoral count act, has The Day’s support. The Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022 displeases some in each party. Measured against the potential for another Jan. 6-type scenario, however, an imperfect law is far better than none.
The sponsors -- Susan Collins, the Maine Republican often to be found at the juncture of possible compromise, and Joe Manchin, the west Virginia Democrat who has become the one to woo in close Senate votes -- and their cosponsors want a vote while Congress is still made up of members who experienced firsthand the terrifying insurgence by supporters of then-President Donald Trump. They want it done well in advance of preparations for the 2024 presidential election.
The bill will need 10 Republicans to agree to advance it to the Senate; Minority Leader Mitch McConnell is said to be receptive.
Even as courts are sentencing those found guilty in the Jan. 6 invasion, on Monday Murphy was in Hartford to sum up key provisions drafted to make it harder for any future candidate to throw an election into doubt and invite violent mob protest.
Instead of one senator and one representative being all that is needed to force debate on a state’s slate of electors, the reform would require one-fifth of the members of each body to object to the slate.
Congress would identify a single official in each state to submit a slate of electors to certify results in that state.
The role of the vice-president would be clarified as “solely ministerial” as it has always been in practice and as Mike Pence carried out his duties on Jan. 6 and 7.
A second bill, the Enhanced Election Security and Protection Act, would establish up to two years’ imprisonment for threatening election officials and poll watchers -- as happened in 2020 -- and improve procedures for mail-in and absentee ballots and cybersecurity testing of voting systems. It would reauthorize the Election Assistance Commission of the 2002 Help America Vote Act. Republican majorities in some state legislatures have been gerrymandering congressional districts and passing laws in the past year that will make it difficult for many to vote.
Although the Jan. 6 riot and the weeks of attempts by Donald Trump and others to use numerous means to subvert Joe Biden’s presidential victory are unprecedented, earlier problems with counting the vote have occurred.
In 2005 Congress established the Commission on Federal Election Reform. The co-chairs were former President Jimmy Carter, a Democrat, and former Secretary of State James A. Baker III, a Republican. Carter and Baker wrote an Op Ed for the Wall Street Journal, endorsing reform of the Electoral Count Act.
The testimony of these two respected statesmen is compelling. They warn of “havoc” in 2024 without reforms and say that left on the books as it now is, the 1887 law has loopholes that could “allow a repeat of the same destructive path” as 2021. They would go even further than the draft bill, requiring congressional objections to be allowed “only on the basis of clearly defined and narrow criteria, and prohibited when results are fully verified in accordance with the law.” They raise pivotal questions about the role and powers of state legislatures and governors.
The two stand, as they write, “on opposite sides of the partisan divide,” but believe it is better to search together for solutions than to remain divided. This legislation is a good start.
The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.