Reform the Electoral Count Act


Sens. Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.) on Capitol Hill, Dec. 2, 2021.


Jacquelyn Martin/Associated Press

We stand on reverse sides of the partisan divide, however we imagine it’s higher to seek for options collectively than to stay divided. This is especially true of a vexing drawback that might wreak havoc in the course of the 2024 presidential election: the inadequacy of the Electoral Count Act of 1887.

The act is an antiquated, muddled and probably unconstitutional regulation that enables uncertainty throughout a crucial step within the peaceable switch of energy. The act turned regulation 10 years after a number of states submitted competing slates of electoral votes in the course of the disputed Reconstruction-era election of 1876. It spawned no controversy for the following 30 presidential elections.

Weaknesses within the regulation began to develop into obvious after the 2000 election. On Jan. 6, 2001, in addition to in 2005 and 2017, some members of the shedding candidates’ political social gathering objected to electoral slates from some states. In 2021, the ambiguities of that regulation helped result in the violent assault on the U.S. Capitol as efforts have been being made to toss out a number of states’ slates of electoral votes.

Fortunately, these efforts failed, and the rightful winners took workplace. But the specter of confusion stays. Left unclosed, loopholes within the act may enable a repeat of the identical harmful path that occurred in 2021.

A bipartisan group of senators, led by Susan Collins (R., Maine) and Joe Manchin (D., W.Va.), has made an excellent begin to right the act. According to information experiences, they’ve agreed on limits to the vice chairman’s position in counting presidential electors. That would codify

Mike Pence’s

right interpretation that he didn’t have the authorized authority to throw out a state’s electoral slate on Jan. 6.

The bipartisan group reportedly has struck a normal settlement to lift the brink for objecting to electors legitimately licensed by states. Under present regulation, one consultant and one senator are sufficient to set off a problem. Ms. Collins and Mr. Manchin wish to require 20% of every chamber, and we assist elevating the brink even greater if politically possible.

In addition, congressional objections ought to be allowed solely on the premise of clearly outlined and slim standards, and prohibited when outcomes are absolutely verified in accordance with the regulation. The reform may additionally make clear that Congress’s constitutional authority to set the time of presidential elections precludes state legislatures from altering the means for selecting electors after voting has begun.

Other questions ought to be addressed: Under what circumstances can a state legislature select electors if a catastrophe disrupts voting? What can be the correct response if a governor licensed the slate of the candidate ending second within the state’s in style vote? What ought to a state do if a county’s officers refuse to certify election outcomes so the state’s rely is incomplete? What occurs if a state sends competing slates of electors to Congress?

The two of us have an extended historical past of checking out tough challenges collectively. We co-chaired the 2005 Commission on Federal Election Reform, a bipartisan group that took politics out of the tough job of discovering center floor in the way in which our nation conducts elections. No aspect received every thing it wished, and the controversy often grew heated. But by listening to 1 one other, we discovered settlement on powerful points. Lawmakers ought to be capable to do the identical.

The must reform the Electoral Count Act is just too nice for our elected leaders to get slowed down within the zero-sum sport of politics that characterizes Washington at present. There might be a time and place to debate vital proposals addressing voter entry and turnout, poll safety and different election-related points. But such competing efforts shouldn’t be included in present talks about reforming the Electoral Count Act. Doing so can be a recipe for gridlock and failure.

Reforming the Electoral Count Act would assist our nation keep away from a repeat of the catastrophe that occurred on Jan. 6, 2021.

Mr. Carter served as president of the United States, 1977-81. Mr. Baker served as U.S. secretary of state, 1989-92.

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Appeared within the July 19, 2022, print version.