By Sue Fothergill
RepresentUs Deputy Director of Organizing

Updated September 28, 2022

Congress is on the verge of putting country over party to pass a law to prevent politicians from meddling in presidential elections. Following the awful events of January 6, it was clear we needed to take action to protect our electoral system. Updating the Electoral Count Act (ECA) – the law that tells Congress how to count and certify electoral votes – is one way to help ensure voters decide elections and keep politicians from messing with them.

The U.S. Senate is currently considering a bill to update the ECA. Their proposal has significant support from senators in both parties, and just passed out of the Rules Committee on a nearly unanimous vote. It now heads to the Senate for a full vote. A similar proposal already passed in the U.S. House of Representatives with a bipartisan majority.

Passing an updated ECA would add additional safeguards to prevent bad actors from undermining – or even overturning – future elections.

What is the Electoral Count Act?

The original goal of the ECA was to give Congress clear guidelines for counting states’ electoral votes and certifying the winner of the presidential election. It passed following the disputed 1887 presidential election. In that election, several states sent conflicting Electoral College results to Congress in the midst of Reconstruction. Both parties claimed their candidate won each state, and only a backroom deal eventually resolved the votes.

 

Why does the ECA need to be fixed?

Congress needs to update the ECA to make it crystal clear that voters decide who our president is, not politicians. At the moment, bad actors can take advantage of vague wording in the law to create confusion and promote their own partisan agenda.

One of the biggest problems with the ECA is that it doesn’t clearly explain the vice president’s role in counting electoral votes. Following his loss in 2020, former President Donald Trump claimed that the vice president had the power to reject electoral votes and change the outcome of the election. Even though he was wrong, he succeeded in sowing confusion about the process – which helped lead to the January 6 mob attack on the U.S. Capitol.

So while the vice president has never had the power to change an election outcome, the law has to be changed to clarify the vice president’s role and avoid another January 6.

What’s in the bipartisan Senate bill?

The proposed House and Senate bills both have similar goals in fixing the ECA. The Senate bill, which already has 22 cosponsors (11 Republicans, 11 Democrats), makes several crucial updates to the ECA. These include:

  • Clarifying the role of the vice president as a purely ceremonial position that does not have the power to issue rulings about counting votes;
  • Raising the threshold for objecting to states’ electoral votes to 1/5th of the House and the Senate. Right now, only one senator and one representative need to object – just two people out of 535 members of Congress. This change will prevent bad actors from using baseless objections to delay the process.
  • Preventing states from appointing alternate electors or changing the laws about choosing electors. This will keep partisan politicians from going against the will of the people for their own partisan ends.

All of these updates are critical to ensuring the American people pick the president, not politicians. 

What’s next?

There are a few more steps to go before this important legislation becomes law. Following the hearing and near-unanimous Senate committee vote, the bill now must pass the full Senate. The House will then decide whether to pass the Senate version or if both chambers need to come together to iron out the differences. Once it passes both houses of Congress, it heads to the president’s desk for his signature.

To make sure this gets over the finish line, we need everyone to make sure their senators know how important it is. Call your senators today and urge them to support an updated ECA.

Just the beginning

The promise of bipartisan action to modernize the ECA is welcome news. This would address an acute threat that our democracy continues to face in 2022. If successful, this should be seen as a first step at the federal level to protect our freedom.

While there remains much more work to do to end corruption and strengthen American democracy, this is a critical step forward. Join us in our fight to pass the ECA and to make sure that government works for the people.

If you’d like to join us in the fight to pass the ECA, sign up below!

Contributors: Adam DuBard, RepresentUs Writer; Nolan Bush, RepresentUs Writer; Anh-Linh Kearney, RepresentUs Research Analyst

RepresentUs is America’s leading anti-corruption organization working city-by-city, state-by-state to fix our broken political system.