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Electoral Count Act reforms included within Biden’s $1.7 trillion bipartisan budget deal

Democrats and Republicans have attached legislation rewriting the 19th-century Electoral Count Act to President Biden’s $1.7 trillion budget, a move that lawmakers say could help avert a repeat of the Jan. 6, 2021 assault on the U.S. Capitol

The bill, which is the byproduct of bipartisan negotiation, would clarify that the vice president only has a ceremonial role in counting Electoral College votes.

“Reforming the Electoral Count Act is necessary to prevent it from being manipulated to subvert, rather than support, the peaceful transfer of power,” said Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Md. 

The ambiguity surrounding the vice president’s role under the 1887 Electoral Count Act was put to the test after the 2020 election. Former President Trump and his allies argued that the law allowed the vice president to reject electors from states with irregularities.

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Vice President Mike Pence took a different view, arguing that the Electoral Count Act stipulates only Electoral College tallies affirmed by state governors can be certified. 

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“To his credit, Mike Pence understood that — and he got legal opinions leading up to it — and despite all the pressure that he got, he stood firm and understood what that role was,” said South Dakota Senate Republican Whip John Thune.

The bill’s authors, Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin and GOP Sen. Susan Collins, say they were pushed to fix the Electoral Count Act after seeing how its ambiguities led to the Jan. 6 assault on the U.S. Capitol. 

“We were all there on Jan. 6. That happened,” Manchin, D-W.Va., told the Senate Rules committee earlier this year. “We have a duty, a responsibility to make sure it never happens again.”

Apart from clarifying the vice president’s role, the legislation would also require that at least one-fifth of lawmakers from both the House and Senate are needed to force a vote on certifying a state’s electoral votes. 

Under the current law, only one member of the House and one member of the Senate need to object to force a vote.

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