A proposal to reform how presidential elections are certified, introduced earlier this month by Maine Sen. Susan Collins along with Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia, is exactly the legislation the moment calls for.

But it would be a mistake to think it’s enough to safeguard the presidency against the kind of shameless, undemocratic scheming we saw play out after the 2020 election.

After all, as much as its Republican proponents want to sell the legislation as a mere clarification of the Civil War-era Electoral Count Act, it is only necessary now for one reason: Donald Trump’s inability to accept his legitimate loss two years ago.

Before Trump, no one had seriously questioned the role of the vice president in certifying the results of an election. It was clearly an administrative role. The VP was only there to officially put in the record what had already been decided by the states.

Saying otherwise meant disregarding 150 years of democratic norms, and the will of the voters.

It was nearly unthinkable – until it wasn’t. Not only did Trump pressure Vice President Mike Pence to reject the electors sent by the states he lost, while his allies worked to replace them with their own Trump-supporting set of electors, he also pressured state and local officials to toss out votes legally cast against him and “find” votes in his favor.


The Collins-Manchin bill takes this playbook and cuts off every path toward an illegitimate presidency.

The bill clarifies that the vice president’s role in certifying electors is “solely ministerial.” It says a state may only send one set of electors, which must be certified by the governor within a reasonable timeframe using the laws in place on the day of the election.

The bill raises the threshold for Congress to challenge a state’s slate of electors from one person each in the House and the Senate to one-fifth of the members in each chamber, with disputes over electors handled by a panel of three federal judges, then ultimately the Supreme Court.

This is a thorough and thoughtful bill, and Congress should pass it without hesitation. Collins has brought seven other Republicans with her in support; it’ll need at least two more to pass.

Let’s hope a few more senators see worth in a bill written to thoroughly protect American voters from having their right to elect the president taken from them.

But let’s also remember that for decades, a commitment toward democracy and the peaceful transfer of power were enough to keep the Electoral Count Act from being exploited – until Donald Trump, with his corrupt, unscrupulous view of politics, decided he didn’t want to abide by the results of the election.


Trump is still out there, of course, still saying the election was stolen and preparing to run for president again.

The lie of the stolen election has become such an article of faith among Republicans that candidates are forced to repeat it or suffer the consequences – though most don’t have any trouble calling Joe Biden a bogus president.

In local and state governments, Republicans are putting people intent on undermining elections in positions where they can manipulate the results – people who in many cases believe there is no such thing as a legitimately elected Democrat.

Passing the Collins-Manchin bill would prevent any future president or candidate from deploying the same schemes Trump and his allies used to try to overturn the 2020 election.

But the last few years have shown that there will always be ways for the powerful to undermine elections and put democracy at risk, as long as partisanship outweighs respect for the will of the voters.

Respect for the results of a free and fair election used to be something that Americans could agree on.

That’s no longer true, and it’ll take more than a new law to change it.

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