The bipartisan effort to prevent future attempts to overturn a presidential election during the ceremonial counting of Electoral College votes appears on track for passage by the Senate before the end of the year.

Supreme Court Abortion Collins

Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, is spearheading a bill that would attempt to more clearly define the role of states, presidential electors and the vice president in a presidential election in an effort to prevent the events of Jan. 6, 2021, in the future. J. Scott Applewhite/Associated Press

The effort, spearheaded by Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., produced a draft bill in July that has now earned the public support of 10 Republicans, the magic number needed to overcome a filibuster in the evenly divided Senate. A Senate committee hearing on the bill on Aug. 3 was remarkable in its focus on technical details and lack of partisan acrimony, and the body is expected to meet to finalize the text Sept. 27.

“That’s a really good sign,” Collins said in an interview Wednesday afternoon. “So far there aren’t any substantive changes that are troubling being proposed to the bill, so I am hopeful that we will see it approved with a strong vote out of the committee.”

The bill would try to prevent a repeat of former President Donald Trump’s attempt to overturn an election he lost by taking advantage of ambiguous wording in the relevant law, the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which lays out how Congress counts the official Electoral College ballots the 50 states send to Washington early in January after each presidential election. It was this certification process that Trump and his congressional allies leveraged on Jan. 6, 2021, in a multipronged campaign that included encouraging an armed mob of supporters to attack the Capitol and hunt down Vice President Mike Pence.

The reforms in the bill include explicitly stating that vice presidents don’t have the power to judge or overturn the electoral college results. It also raises the bar for lodging objections to Electoral College results from one member of Congress to at least one-fifth of the members, and eliminates a loophole that state legislatures could use to throw out election results simply by declaring the election to be “failed.” The changes received broad support from an ideologically mixed panel of election experts at a hearing before the Senate rules committee Aug. 3.

Many Republicans have balked at proposals to protect other aspects of elections, including measures to make it easier for people to register and vote nationwide that have long been standard practice in Maine – same-day voter registration, early in-person voting, and mail-in absentee ballots – as well as requiring electronic voting machines to have paper trails as a remedy to suspected hacking.


By contrast, the Electoral Count Act reforms already have garnered 10 Republican co-sponsors: Rob Portman of Ohio, Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, Todd Young of Indiana, Ben Sasse of Nebraska; Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and, most recently, the rules committee’s top Republican, Roy Blunt of North Carolina.

Earlier this week, Sen. John Cornyn of Texas, a close ally of Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky, praised the effort, telling NBC News: “Anything we can do to make sure that there’s less confusion, less controversy associated with our election processes would be helpful.” He added that he had a lot of confidence in Collins and the process she’d helped lead.

Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, helped draft a set of Electoral Count Act reform recommendations used by the bipartisan group, and sits on the rules committee. He agreed prospects for its passage in the Senate look good.

“My sense is that it will be brought to the floor this year,” King told the Press Herald. “But whether it will be before or after the (November) elections isn’t clear. There’s an awful lot of other matters on the table and a limited time available in the Senate and the House.”

King said it was vital the bill be passed. “We learned on January 6th that if we have a law that is ambiguous or confusing it leads to potential abuse,” he said.

In a separate development, two congressmen on Wednesday introduced matching House legislation for potential passage in that chamber. That bill, the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act, is co-sponsored by Michigan Republican Fred Upton and New Jersey Democrat Josh Gottheimer. The announcement of its introduction included statements of support from Collins and Manchin.

Both of Maine’s House members, 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree and 2nd District Rep. Jared Golden, have said they support reforming the Electoral Count Act, though they were not among the initial co-sponsors of the newly released bill.

Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or login first for digital access. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.