U.S. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks during hearing on the fiscal year 2023 budget for the FBI in Washington, May 25, 2022. A bipartisan group of senators, including Collins, released proposed changes July 20, to the Electoral Count Act, the post-Civil War-era law for certifying presidential elections that came under intense scrutiny after the Jan. 6 attack on the Capitol and Donald Trump's effort to overturn the 2020 election. Credit: Ting Shen/Pool Photo / AP

The U.S. Senate took an important step forward last week on marriage equality when it advanced the  bipartisan Respect for Marriage Act. This bill, if passed into law, would provide federal recognition for any marriage that was valid when and where it was performed.

The initial success of this legislation, in a key procedural vote where lead negotiators including U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine secured enough bipartisan support to reach 60 votes and overcome a filibuster, also provides an example of bipartisan collaboration that can and must be repeated on other important issues before the end of the year.

A bipartisan bill to reform the Electoral Count Act (ECA), once again led by Collins, should be toward the top of that list for lawmakers as they return to Washington after Thanksgiving to wrap up this session of Congress. The need for this reform is too obvious, and the bipartisan support too strong, for it to go unsolved.

The chaos of Jan. 6, 2021, highlighted the need to update and strengthen the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Former President Donald Trump tried to exploit ambiguities in that law, and an attack on the U.S. Capitol ensued. Trump was wrong that then-Vice President Mike Pence could overturn the results of the 2020 election, but the former president’s unsuccessful attempts to pressure Pence to do so demonstrated the need to make it absolutely clear that the vice president — any vice president —  does not have that power.

The ECA reform effort, which was the results of months of negotiations between Collins, Democrat U.S. Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia and others, would take reasonable steps to reform the 1887 law. These include clarifying that the vice president’s role in certifying electors is ministerial, raising the threshold for members of Congress to challenge electors, working to facilitate a single and definitive slate of electors from each state, and working to prevent states from changing their election laws after an election has already taken place.

Earlier this fall, strong bipartisan support was already coalescing around this effort. The Senate Rules Committee signed off on it 14-1, both Democratic Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Republican leader Mitch McConnell gave it their blessing, and the number of cosponsors from both parties kept growing. That support continues to build.

“I am delighted that we have 38 cosponsors, including Rules Committee Chairman [Amy] Klobuchar and Ranking Member [Roy] Blunt, as well as Majority Leader Schumer and Republican Leader Mitch McConnell. It is extremely unusual for both Senate leaders to cosponsor the same bill,” Collins said in a recent statement to the BDN editorial board. “This legislation has been carefully crafted to garner bipartisan support. I am continuing to push for this bill to be enacted into law before the end of the year.”

That list of cosponsors also now includes U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats. King is a member of the Senate Rules Committee and supported the bipartisan bill in the committee vote. He has been highlighting the need for ECA reform for some time, having introduced an early ECA reform proposal in February as a discussion draft.

“After the overwhelming 14-1 vote out of the Rules Committee, I’m feeling optimistic about the likelihood of the Electoral Count Reform Act passing the Senate and being on President Joe Biden’s desk by the end of the year,” King said in a statement. “Since we released the first discussion draft of the bill in February, there have been hundreds of hours of staff work and negotiations to secure broad support across Congress for the final bipartisan legislation. It hasn’t been easy, but we’re getting close. January 6, 2021, was a nightmare that tore at the fabric of our democratic process; this commonsense bill will strengthen the seams of our democracy and ensure the will of the voter prevails — I look forward to getting it done.”

King’s office expects the ECA reform bill to be included in the omnibus spending bill slated for consideration at the end of the year. However it reaches the finish line, it needs to get done. Too much good, bipartisan work has been done already, and too much has happened to clearly show the need for this reform.

“It has to pass before the end of the year,” Collins told Maine Public recently. “We cannot leave these issues that are so important unresolved as we begin a presidential election cycle. So for me, it’s a matter of necessity that we reform this archaic law before the end of the year.”

We continue to agree. This work is too important to leave unfinished.

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The BDN Editorial Board

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Editorial Page Editor Susan Young, Assistant Editorial Page Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked...