|By Sue Fothergill
RepresentUs Deputy Director of Organizing
Updated December 23, 2022
Congress just delivered one of the most important gifts of the year: the revised Electoral Count Act (ECA). Republicans and Democrats put country over party to pass a law to prevent politicians from meddling in presidential elections.
Following the awful events of January 6, 2021, it was clear we needed to take action to protect our electoral system. Updating the ECA – the law that tells Congress how to count and certify electoral votes – will help ensure voters decide elections. It also adds additional safeguards to prevent bad actors from undermining or overturning future elections
Here’s why this huge bipartisan victory is an important step toward protecting our 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 did the Electoral Count Act need to be fixed?
Congress needed to update the ECA to make it crystal clear that voters decide who our president is, not politicians. Before, 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 old ECA is that it didn’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 led 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 revised Electoral Count Act bill?
The bipartisan bill 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 one-fifth of the House and the Senate. In the past, only one senator and one representative needed to object – just two people out of 535 members of Congress. This change will prevent individual 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.
Updating and modernizing the ECA is a significant bipartisan victory to protect our elections. It addresses an acute threat that our democracy continues to face in 2022 – threats that the January 6 Committee has outlined in chilling detail. 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. I want to thank Issue One, Campaign Legal Center, Protect Democracy and others who helped get the revised ECA over the finish line. And thank you to everyone who contacted their elected officials encouraging them to pass this bill. Every little bit made a difference.
Let’s keep the momentum going. Join us in 2023 to make sure that the government works better for the people.
Contributors: Adam DuBard, RepresentUs Writer; Nolan Bush, RepresentUs Writer; Anh-Linh Kearney, RepresentUs Research Analyst