Sen. Angus King, I-Maine, center, speaks with Sen. Gary Peters, D-Michigan, left, while Sen. John Kennedy, R-Louisiana., walks by at the Capitol in Washington on July 30, 2021. Credit: J. Scott Applewhite / AP

A bill unveiled by senators including Maine’s Angus King on Tuesday aiming to clarify the role of Congress in certifying presidential elections could be a positive sign for bipartisan negotiations over the topic after Democrats’ voting-rights push was defeated.

Former President Donald Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 election — culminating in the U.S. Capitol riot on Jan. 6, 2021 — led to calls to reform the Electoral College count, which was a largely formal process that became controversial after the last election.

Democratic leaders previously rejected legislation focused solely on reforming the Electoral Count Act, an 1887 law that governs how presidential election results are handled, citing the need for their broader voting overhaul. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, called such an effort “unacceptably insufficient and even offensive” in January, although King has been working on the measure for months.

But the legislation released by King along with Democratic Sens. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota and Dick Durbin of Illinois on Tuesday signaled a way forward to eliminate some of the official pathways of challenging presidential electors that Trump attempted to exploit while trying to undermine President Joe Biden’s 2020 victory.

It came as Sen. Susan Collins, a Republican, leads a larger bipartisan group considering reforms to the Electoral Count Act, along with other items including new penalties for threats to election workers. That group plans to meet with Klobuchar as soon as Wednesday, the senator’s office said, but its members have not yet agreed on the contents of a bill.

King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, has been at the forefront of the party’s voting rights and election law overhaul, while Klobuchar chairs the rules committee that oversees election legislation and Durbin is the second-highest ranking Senate Democrat.

Collins told Punchbowl News on Tuesday she viewed the bill as a “positive sign” that Democratic leaders would engage on the issue, noting that Schumer initially “pooh-poohed” it.

“Obviously, our group is bipartisan, whereas this bill is not at this point, and we are looking more broadly,” Collins said. “But nevertheless, I think it’s a positive sign.”

The bill from King, Durbin and Klobuchar would make a range of changes to the electoral college process, some of which would directly inhibit Trump’s efforts to subvert the results of the 2020 presidential election.

For example, the legislation includes a requirement that states choose presidential electors on Election Day, effectively making it so that state legislatures could not appoint an alternate slate if their preferred candidate lost the popular vote. It would require state results to be certified only by the governor, not — as is the case in some states — a board of unelected officials.

The bill would also make it more difficult for members of Congress to challenge a state’s electors in the House or Senate, requiring specific grounds for objection and for at least one third of members in each chamber to object before debate would begin. Having such a law in place last year would have eliminated debate on the House and Senate floors about the validity of the election results both before and after the Capitol riot.

It would also clarify that the vice president’s role in election certification is merely procedural, a rejection of the false argument Trump has continued to make that former Vice President Mike Pence had the power to reject electors from states he had lost.

Collins’ office said the senator was still reviewing King’s proposal and noted the group of 16 senators with whom she is working is still working to agree on a framework for legislation. Any bill would need to gather the support of at least 60 senators in the evenly divided Senate to overcome the chamber’s filibuster rules.

Previous Democratic-led attempts to achieve a broader voting-rights overhaul failed as two Democratic senators, Joe Manchin of West Virginia and Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona, proved unwilling to modify filibuster rules in the 50-50 Senate.

In a Tuesday statement, King, Durbin and Klobuchar said their recently proposed legislation was “not a substitute for confronting the wider crises facing our democracy.”

But they added that they “look forward to contributing to a strong, bipartisan effort aimed at resolving this issue and strengthening our democracy.”