Congress sets out to prevent a replay of the Capitol riot

A Capitol rioter.
(Image credit: Illustrated | Getty Images, iStock)

One year ago this Thursday, President Donald Trump attempted to prevent the certification of Joe Biden's victory in the 2020 election by exploiting ambiguities in the 1887 Electoral Count Act. Thankfully, Senate Democrats have set out to reform the act — and senior Senate Republicans have begun to signal that they might be willing to join the effort. That's excellent news, because reforming the ECA is important, and doing so on a bipartisan basis is the best way of all to accomplish it.

What's the problem with the ECA? For one thing, it permits states to appoint new electors if an election has "failed" (with failure defined very vaguely). It also gives members of Congress an open-ended power to object to electors. And, finally, it fails to specify precisely the vice president's role in counting electoral votes. These ambiguities weren't a problem for most of the past 135 years, because no one in our politics sought to exploit them. But Trump, encouraged by advisers like right-wing lawyer John Eastman, did. The result was the destabilizing chaos and confusion of last Jan. 6.

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