McConnell Approaches Electoral Reform From a Different Angle

( – The Biden administration hasn’t done well at getting its flagship bills through Congress. One of the biggest tangles in the logjam is electoral reform. The Democrats want to strip Congress of the power to object to the certification of an election result; Republicans don’t. So far, there’s been no movement – but now there’s hope of a compromise.

What’s the Problem?

There are two key elements of the Congressional process Democrats want to reform. One is the 1887 Electoral Count Act, which was a response to the disputed 1876 presidential election. This law puts most of the responsibility for counting votes on the states, but it allows Congress members to object to certification. That last happened after the 2020 election.

The other change Democrats want is the weakening or removal of the filibuster, the rule that allows senators to talk out the available time for a bill, killing it. It’s a controversial tactic, but supporters argue that it means any legislation that gets through the Senate has a solid majority.

On top of these reforms, Democrats also have an ambitious package of reforms to electoral law.

Where things come unstuck for the Democrats is that while all their senators are at least willing to amend the Electoral Count Act, two of them – Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Kyrsten Sinema (D-AZ) – don’t want to weaken the filibuster. The Biden administration’s favorite tactic is to bundle legislation together in massive packages, and with two senators opposed to one element, the whole thing gets bogged down.

A Way Ahead?

On January 3, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) proposed a solution that could gain bipartisan support. While he’s unwilling to look at the filibuster, McConnell said the famously confusing Electoral Count Act “obviously has some flaws” and is worth discussing. Reform of the act would hopefully simplify it, and make the roles of Congress and the vice president in certifying election results a lot clearer than they are now.

Some Democrats are instinctively suspicious of McConnell’s proposal, viewing it as an attempt to distract attention from wider electoral reform. However, on Wednesday, Manchin and Sinema said they’re interested in exploring it, using the act as the centerpiece of a reform bill that can get bipartisan support.

That, of course, is the effect of the filibuster in action. Overriding a filibuster needs 60 votes, and neither party can muster that many on its own. The filibuster is our strongest defense against partisan legislation – and at least two Dem senators recognize that.

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