President Biden traveled to Georgia on Tuesday to deliver what The Washington Post teased would be a "hard-hitting speech on voting rights" and the need for Congress to pass sweeping legislation to shore them up. But back in Washington, Senate Democrats appeared close to completing a more focused election-reform bill that could do far more good than the president's rhetorical call to arms.
Introduced by Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and possibly others to come, the bill would revise the Electoral Count Act of 1887. Former President Donald Trump's efforts to keep himself in office despite losing the 2020 election were made possible by exploiting ambiguities in the text of the ECA. According to Greg Sargent's reporting in the Post, the new bill would seek to eliminate those ambiguities as they relate to three aspects of counting and certifying electoral votes.
To begin with, the bill would establish a new form of judicial review aimed at preventing states from nominating rogue slates of electors that diverge from the state's pre-existing rules for choosing electors. (A Republican state legislature or governor might seek to do this if a Democrat narrowly prevailed in the state's popular vote.)
The bill would also seek to prevent Congress from objecting to valid slates of electors or certifying phony ones. It would accomplish the first goal by increasing the number of members required to raise objections; it would accomplish the second by requiring supermajorities to sustain them.
Finally, the bill would clarify that the vice president has no power to decree whether electors will be counted. (Trump repeatedly pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to do precisely that.)
Of course, no bill can guarantee that elected and appointed officials will refrain from attempting to subvert the outcome of elections in novel ways. With the country deeply and narrowly divided and increasing numbers of people in both parties considering a victory by the other side an existential threat that's inherently illegitimate, we seem fated to endure rocky elections for the foreseeable future.
But the bill taking shape in the Senate is far better than none at all. The question is whether 10 Republican senators can be persuaded to support it. At the moment, only four appear willing to entertain doing so. Can six more be found to strengthen the country's electoral system?
If not, that would be pretty powerful evidence of how vulnerable the system truly is.