A version of this article was originally published in The Daily Brief, our Maine politics newsletter. Sign up here for daily news and insight from politics editor Michael Shepherd.
Two days are bringing us a series of conflicting events over the future of U.S. elections.
In Tuesday’s primaries, Republicans aligned with former President Donald Trump and his 2020 election falsehoods generally prevailed. In Arizona, Trump-backed Senate nominee Blake Masters and attorney general candidate Mark Finchem, both 2020 election deniers, won their primaries. Rep. Peter Meijer of Michigan was ousted by a former Trump administration official after voting to impeach the former president over the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021.
At the same time, key Senate Republicans look ready to align with Democrats to overhaul the Electoral College count in a bid to remove political leverage from the process. Sens. Susan Collins, R-Maine, and Joe Manchin, D-West Virginia, chief backers of the package, will speak at a hearing before a Senate committee at 10:30 a.m. Wednesday to argue for it.
The proposal makes several changes to the Electoral Count Act, a 1887 law governing the count, targeting provisions that were exploited by Trump and his allies after the 2020 election.
It would affirm the vice president’s ceremonial role, ensure states submit one slate of electors, make it harder for members of Congress to challenge slates and speed up the transition process. Another bill floated by the group would increase penalties for threatening election workers or public officials and reauthorize election security grants for states.
The effort emerged after all Republicans and two Democrats blocked a sweeping voting-rights bill that was advanced by the majority party in January. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, blessed the effort shortly after the bigger measure was defeated and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-New York, has backed it as well.
While Democrats want broader protections for voting rights, the emerging consensus on their side favors the Electoral College reform package. A coalition of civil-rights groups said last month the changes were “necessary” despite doing nothing to address voting discrimination and therefore not fighting “a key root cause of the insurrection.”
“The Collins-Manchin bill is both a deal Democrats should grab while they can and not enough to fully insulate our elections from the risk of subversion,” legal scholar Richard Hasen wrote in Slate. “The key point, though, is that Collins-Manchin is far better than the status quo.”
Past increased voting-rights provisions, there are other changes that these experts want. Hasen, for example, argues for mandating voting machines that produce paper records so results can be recounted by neutral arbiters if a result is in dispute as well as clear mandates for state election officials and removal of their authority if they fail to follow state law.
This package may change as it winds through Congress. The Electoral College reform seems to have the support to pass, while there are only five Republican co-sponsors of the more uncertain bid to increase criminal penalties and reauthorize grants.
But this seems like the only deal coming on the issue in a 50-50 Senate. Both parties look willing enough to take it.