Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King highlighted the importance of a plan to overhaul the Electoral College count during a Senate hearing on Wednesday.
The pair called it a historic plan to affirm the way presidents are formally elected, bypassing parts of the process exploited by former President Donald Trump after he falsely insisted that he was the rightful winner of the 2020 election over President Joe Biden. The formal count of the votes was interrupted by the Capitol riots of Jan. 6, 2021.
“Nothing is more essential to the survival of a democracy than the orderly transfer of power and there is nothing more essential to the orderly transfer of power than clear rules for effecting it,” Collins said.
Both Collins, a Republican, and King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats, have been at the center of efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act, the 135-year-old law governing how the electors from each state that decide the presidency are counted by Congress.
Collins, who led bipartisan negotiations around a two-bill package being considered by Congress, called that law “archaic and ambiguous.” King called the plan to change it the most important legislation before Congress after working on a similar bill for months.
The electoral count was heavily politicized after that election when Trump and supporters called for Vice President Mike Pence to use his position presiding over the count to swing the election to Trump.
Pence refuted the spurious legal arguments for doing so made by Trump advisors like lawyer John Eastman, saying it was not within his powers as vice president. That drew the ire of Trump and his supporters, some of whom chanted “Hang Mike Pence,” as they stormed the Capitol.
“It took the violent breach of the Capitol on January 6th of 2021 to really shine a spotlight on the urgent need for reform,” Collins said.
The Collins-led legislation would make it clear that the vice president’s role in the process was purely administrative and that one does not have the power to reject slates of electors from states.
It also makes it harder to challenge slates of electors. A single member of Congress can do so right now. Under the new proposal, one-fifth of members of both chambers would be required for a formal challenge. The plan also allows Congress to identify a single “conclusive” slate of electors from each state.
This proposal was negotiated after Democrats failed to advance a more sweeping voting-rights bill in January. Leaders of both parties have gotten behind the changes that are endorsed by good-government and civil-rights groups, although some of them are calling for broader action to shield voting rights.
Though the reforms come in the aftermath of agitation from Trump and his supporters after the 2020 election, King emphasized that the plan was not partisan. He noted that it will be Vice President Kamala Harris, a Democrat, overseeing the count in early 2025.
“This involves how our government should work, no matter who’s in charge,” King said.