Congress on Friday gave final approval to a bill changing the arcane law governing certification of a presidential race, the biggest effort yet to prevent a repeat of Donald Trump’s attempt to reverse his 2020 election loss. .
The House of Representatives approved an amendment to the Voter Counting Act as part of its massive year-end spending bill, after the Senate approved identical wording on Thursday. The bill now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
Biden praised the inclusion of the provisions in the spending bill, calling it a “critical bipartisan action that will help ensure the will of the people is preserved.”
The initiative is the most significant legislative response Congress has yet made to Trump’s aggressive attempts to quash the popular vote, and a move that had been urged by the House Select Committee that conducted an inquiry into the violent siege of the Capitol.
Provisions changing the 1887 law — which has long been criticized as poorly and confusingly worded — won bipartisan support and will make it harder for future presidential losers to prevent their opponents from taking office, as Trump tried to do on January 6, 2019. 2021.
“This is a monumental achievement, particularly in this partisan atmosphere, for such a major redrafting of a law that is so crucial to our democracy,” said Rick Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Los Angeles. “This law closes the avenues that Trump and his allies tried to use in 2020, and that could have been exploited in future elections.”
On January 6, Trump aimed his batteries at the ratification of the Electoral College votes by Congress. He tried to exploit the role of the vice president in reading the voters of the states so that Mike Pence would block Biden as the next president by omitting some states that Biden won. The new provisions make it clear that the vice president’s responsibilities in the process are merely ceremonial and that the vice president has no say in determining who actually won the election.
The new law also increases the threshold for members of Congress to oppose voter certification. Before, only a member of the House of Representatives and the Senate, respectively, had to oppose to force a roll call vote on the electors of a state. That helped make objections to new presidents a routine partisan tactic: Democrats opposed certifying both George W. Bush’s and Trump’s 2016 elections.
Those objections, however, were mostly symbolic and came after Democrats had conceded that Republican candidates won the presidency. On January 6, 2021, Republicans forced a vote to certify Biden’s victories in Arizona and Pennsylvania, even after the violent attack on the Capitol, while Trump continued to falsely insist that he had won the election. That led some members of Congress to worry that the process could be too easily rigged.
Under the new rules, one-fifth of each house would be required to force a vote on state voter rolls.
The new provisions also ensure that only one voter list reaches Congress, after Trump and his allies tried unsuccessfully to create alternative voter lists in states Biden won. From now on, each governor must give their approval to the voters, and Congress will not be able to consider the lists presented by other officials. The bill creates a legal process should any of those voters be challenged by a presidential candidate.
The new law would also close a loophole that was not used in 2020, but which election experts feared could be used: a provision that allows state legislatures to appoint electors, in defiance of their state’s popular vote, in the event of a “failed” election. That term has been understood to mean a contest that suffered so many interruptions or was so inconclusive that there was no way to determine the actual winner, but it is not well defined in the prior law.
Now a state can change the date of its presidential elections, but only in the event of “extraordinary and catastrophic events,” such as a natural disaster.
Hasen said that while the changes are significant, dangers to democracy remain, noting that in Arizona, for example, Republican gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake was awaiting a ruling on Friday in a lawsuit she filed to overturn the victory of his Democratic opponent, Katie Hobbs.
“Nobody should think that passing this law means we’re out of the woods,” Hasen said. “This is not a done thing.”