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Expert slams ‘bonkers’ division holding up election integrity bill

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Rep. Liz Cheney said Tuesday that the passage of the Electoral Count Reform Act is an important step toward ensuring a peaceful transfer of power in future presidential elections, but that there are limits to what Congress can do.

“Congress has a very important role to play with legislative proposals like this, but the character of the people we elect really matters,” Cheney told reporters. “And we have to elect people who are not willing to blow up the protective barriers for democracy.”

Liz Cheney

Representative Liz Cheney, deputy chair of the House Committee on Riots Jan. 6. (Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

The Electoral Counting Act of 1887 was passed in response to the contested presidential election of 1876 and stipulated how Electoral College votes were to be counted and then approved by Congress.

Amid Republican attempts to keep then-President Donald Trump in power after he lost the 2020 election, many experts realized that voting rights meant little if election results could be nullified by bad actors after voters went to the polls. Thus the ECA became a focal point for experts on Congress and election law, as they considered how to bridge loopholes that could be exploited by political saboteurs bent on electoral sabotage.

Towards the end of 2021 and into January 2022, Senator Susan Collins, a Republican senator, and Senator Joe Manchin, of Deutsche Wilhelm, led talks to reform the ECA. Their work was aided by the publication in January 2022 of an 87-page report by an academic named Matthew Seligman, who explained the law’s weaknesses and how to best support them.

Over the past year, Collins and Manchin have assembled a bipartisan group of senators whose support for the ECA bill will ensure it passes by moving it above the 60-vote threshold needed to overcome disruption, a tactic used to block any legislation that does so. They do not have the support of the great majority.

Head Benny Thompson

Committee Chairman Benny Thompson, D-Miss, identified. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images)

Meanwhile, Cheney was the most prominent leader of the House committee investigating the January 6 riots at the Capitol. It’s a Wyoming Republican, and it lost the Republican primary earlier this summer to a candidate who endorsed former President Trump’s conspiracy theories about the 2020 election.

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The January 6 commission held several hearings and showed a clear public record: Trump knew on the night of the 2020 election that he had lost, but he came forward anyway with a series of lies about voter fraud without any evidence of his allegations.

But as the Jan. 6 committee prepares for its final hearings this fall, Cheney and Representative Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., have begun issuing legislative proposals as well, starting with the ECA.

There are some differences between the House legislation and the Senate bill, and while there is some tension between the two houses, “It would be crazy for either side to dig in,” Seligman told Yahoo News.

“If I were a bet, I would have thought the House would have to come to the Senate more than the other way around, because bypassing the stall is a political obstacle,” Seligman said. “I think everyone realizes how important this is.”

Representative Zoe Lofgren

Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif. (Nathan Posner/Anadolu Agency via Getty Images)

More importantly, he said, both House and Senate legislation have the same solutions to the most obvious weaknesses in current law: There are swings that leave room for state officials and members of Congress to meddle in election results.

Seligman’s original proposal was to clarify the role of Congress and limit its powers to certify election results, thus making the federal courts the final arbiters of disputes. Reliance on federal courts is intended to prevent state governors or other state officials from succeeding if they introduce illegitimate electors, and to prevent Congress from accepting false electors.

“It is important to articulate the differences” between House and Senate legislation, “without losing sight of the fact that neither is a huge improvement over the status quo,” Seligman said.

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