Sen. Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., a key vote on President Joe Biden's domestic spending agenda, right, walks with Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, along the Senate Subway, Thursday, Dec. 2, 2021, on Capitol Hill in Washington. Credit: Jacquelyn Martin / AP

A group of senators led by Susan Collins of Maine released a long-awaited plan on Wednesday to overhaul parts of the Electoral College count that former President Donald Trump tried to exploit after losing the 2020 election.

The process of counting presidential electors is governed by an 1887 law that was thrust into the spotlight around the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021, when supporters of Trump stormed the building as Congress convened to certify President Joe Biden’s victory and after the then-president falsely stoked claims of mass voter fraud for weeks.

Bipartisan negotiations on the plan have been going on since January, when they were blessed by party leaders around the same time a wider Democratic voting-rights push failed. Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent who caucuses with Democrats, proposed an overhaul in February.

Here are the major elements of the plan negotiated by Collins and a bipartisan group of 15 other senators since January, to be contained in two upcoming measures.

Affirming the vice president’s ceremonial role

Trump put then-Vice President Mike Pence under enormous pressure ahead of Jan. 6, with those close to him trying to get Pence to effectively throw out election results in several swing states by recognizing slates of electors that were advanced by swing-state lawmakers and party officials as alternatives to those from the states themselves.

One of the measures in the two-bill package would make clear that the vice president’s role in certifying electors is ministerial. It would also clarify that only governors or other state officials could advance slates of electors.

Make it harder to challenge electors

The same bill would also raise the bar to challenges of state electors, a strategy employed by Republicans in Congress on Jan. 6 to no avail after being voted down in both chambers. But it dragged out a process that was interrupted by the riots.

Now, only a single member of both chambers can challenge electors. Under the new proposal, one-fifth of members in both chambers would have to back a challenge.

Speed up transition process

One of the early obstacles after Election Day for Biden was early reluctance from the Trump administration to aid in his transition, with the official charged with signing paperwork denoting it initially refusing to do so.

The Electoral College-focused measure tries to rectify that by providing equal transition funding to both candidates if one of them has not conceded within five days of the election. If the result is clear, the official managing the transition could limit resources to just one candidate.

Support for voting systems, increased penalties

A second measure in the package aims to address widespread threats to election officials since 2020 by doubling the maximum penalty for those who try to intimidate election officials, poll watchers, voters or candidates, taking it to two years in prison.

It also looks to support voting systems by improving the U.S. Postal Service’s handling of mail-in ballots and reauthorizing an election security grant program for states.

Michael Shepherd

Michael Shepherd joined the Bangor Daily News in 2015 after three years as a reporter at the Kennebec Journal. A Hallowell native who now lives in Augusta, he graduated from the University of Maine in...