Senate Introduces Bipartisan Bill Updating the Electoral Count Act

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A group of people in suits, gathered around boxes, unsealing envelopes.
Congressional staff unseal envelopes from the two ballot boxes that contain 50 states and District of Columbia Electoral College votes on the floor of the House to be counted and validated at the U.S. Capitol, January 6, 2017, in Washington, DC. Photo by Mike Theiler/UPI

After months of negotiations between senators on both sides of the aisle, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) and Sen. Joe Manchin (D-WV) along with 14 cosponsors introduced the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022which updates an outdated law from 1887 that outlines procedures for casting and counting Electoral College votes in presidential elections.

America’s ability to elect a president fairly and peacefully every four years is a hallmark of our democracy. For over a century, the ECA has provided the primary framework governing how presidential votes are cast and confirmed, including establishing procedures for how Congress counts each state’s electoral votes.  

But recent events demonstrate the pressing need to update this archaic law to combat the ongoing threat of election sabotage.  

The ECA has not been updated since it was first enacted more than 130 years ago, and it is rife with imprecise language, gaps and ambiguities that partisan actors attempted to exploit as part of an organized effort to overturn the 2020 election. Although this effort failed, the obscure language of the ECA unfortunately remains ripe for manipulation.  

As a result, interest in clarifying the ECA’s language has grown, and members of Congress from both sides of the aisle have now introduced a vital proposal to protect the will of the people. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) thanks the senators for introducing the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act and urges Congress to pass it without delay.  

This bipartisan legislation makes four key, urgent changes to the ECA: 

  1. Prohibiting state legislatures from overruling their own voters. The Electoral Count Reform Act would bar state legislatures from unilaterally appointing electors after Election Day, and it would narrowly define the extraordinary emergency circumstances under which voting might be extended beyond Election Day.

  2. Resolving disputes about electors and electoral votes before they reach Congress. The updated ECA would limit second-guessing of state election results by resolving disputes about electors and electoral votes before they reach Congress, including by providing for streamlined federal court review of legitimate disputes if necessary.   

  3. Strictly limiting opportunities for members of Congress to second guess electors and electoral votes. Congress must accept a state’s certified election results in all but extraordinary circumstances. The Electoral Count Reform Act would achieve this by significantly raising the numerical threshold for members of Congress to object to a state’s appointment of electors or electoral votes. 

  4. Clarifying the vice president’s ministerial role in the counting of electoral votes. The updated ECA would clarify that the vice president’s constitutional role in counting electoral votes is limited and ministerial. The update would also reinforce that the vice president does not decide election results.  

Taken together, these four updates would help prevent the events of 2020 from happening again, and they rightfully have widespread public support. 

A poll commissioned by CLC, Protect Democracy, Issue One and RepresentUS showed strong, bipartisan support among voters for updating the ECA. It also highlighted the serious concern held by a majority of voters (58%) that one party in Congress could try to overturn the results of an upcoming presidential election to put their own candidate in power.    

The next presidential election could be one of the most contentious ever. Now is the time for the Senate to move this crucial legislation. Congress must act as soon as possible to pass the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act to protect the will of the people, because elections should be decided by voters, not partisan politicians.  

Jo is CLC's director, legislative strategy.
Why We Should Update the ECA Now