Legislation intended to prevent future attempts at overturning presidential elections passed in the House on Wednesday with support from only a small handful of Republicans.
The Presidential Election Reform Act, introduced by Reps. Zoe Lofgren (D-California) and Liz Cheney (R-Wyoming) — two prominent members of the House select committee investigating the January 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol building — received 229 votes in its favor.
The bill had the support of virtually every Democrat, although one member of the caucus didn’t vote. Only nine Republican members of the House voted for the bill, while 203 Republicans opposed it.
Prior to the vote, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-California) described the bill as a “kitchen table issue for families,” pointing out that everyone in the country depends on lawmakers to respect the outcome of elections.
“Denying the American people their fundamental freedom to choose their own leaders denies them their voice in the policies we pursue, and those policies can make tremendous difference in their everyday lives,” Pelosi said.
The bill proposes a number of changes to the Electoral Count Act, a 19th-century law that directs how Electoral College votes are certified in Congress. Some of the changes serve merely to strengthen what is already widely understood about the law in order to prevent lawmakers from exploiting ambiguities in the language.
The Presidential Election Reform Act, for example, would reiterate that the vice president’s role in the counting of votes is purely “ministerial.” In an attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election, Trump had instructed his then-Vice President Mike Pence to refuse to count electoral votes in states he lost to now-President Joe Biden. Under the bill, such actions would be explicitly illegal.
The bill also requires that a certain threshold of lawmakers be reached in each house of Congress before challenges to electors can be considered. Currently, only one member from each house is needed to mount such challenges; under Lofgren’s and Cheney’s proposal, one-third of each house’s members would be required.
The bill explicitly states that schemes to produce fake electors in order to disrupt or confuse the certification process — like that of Trump and his campaign — would be illegal. It would also require that “a single, accurate certificate from each state” be submitted for counting, and make it illegal for fake electors to submit additional phony certificates.
The bill will likely garner some bipartisan support in the Senate, though it’s unclear whether it can get the 10 Republican votes needed to defeat a likely filibuster. There is currently a competing piece of legislation being negotiated by members of the Senate that also seeks to update the Electoral Count Act.
Members of the team that negotiated that bill have expressed hesitancy to back the House-passed version.
“I much prefer our bill,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine).
Some provisions in the Senate bill, however, are weaker than those in the bill that was recently passed by the House. The Senate legislation has a lower threshold for how many lawmakers are needed to formally challenge states’ electors, requiring just one-fifth of legislators from both houses to do so.
That threshold was nearly reached during the last Electoral College certification — 147 Republicans voted against the certification of Biden’s win in several states in 2021, equal to more than one-fourth of the total number of lawmakers in Congress.
Though the number was smaller in the Senate, the one-fifth threshold that Collins and other senators are proposing was reached during the certification process in the House. However, the number was still below the one-third threshold suggested in Lofgren’s and Cheney’s bill.