Reps. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., and Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., introduced legislation on Monday clarifying that the vice president has no authority to interfere with the counting of electoral votes in presidential elections.
The Presidential Election Reform Act is the culmination of the two lawmakers’ work on the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol. Cheney is one of just two Democrats on the committee, which has spent the last year investigating what they describe as an attempted coup to overturn the results of the 2020 election.
Cheney and Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Ill., have supported Democratic conclusions that the demonstrators who appeared at the Capitol on January 6 were directed by former President Donald Trump, and that Trump pressured his vice president, Mike Pence, to refuse to count the electoral votes from certain states in his role as presiding officer during the joint session of Congress where votes are counted.
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Over the weekend, Cheney and Lofgren wrote an op-ed that said Trump continues to make “intentionally false election-fraud allegations,” which raises the prospect of “another effort to steal a presidential election.”
Their bill, which is likely to get a vote in the House this week, is an attempt to close down the opportunity for any party or presidential candidate to create uncertainty about the results of the election. One way it does that is by clarifying that the vice president is only there to preside over the counting of votes.
“The role of the presiding officer is ministerial,” the bill says. It adds that the vice president “shall not have any power to determine or otherwise resolve disputes concerning the proper list of electors for a State, the validity of electors for a State, or the votes of electors of a State.”
“[T]he presiding officer shall not order any delay in counting or president over any period of delay in counting electoral votes,” the bill adds.
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The proposal makes it much more difficult for members of Congress to object to the electoral vote count of any state. Today, only one member of the House and Senate is needed to object, which can prompt lengthy debates and votes over that objection.
But the Cheney-Lofgren bill would require a third of all members of both the House and Senate to raise an objection, creating a very high hurdle for interruptions of the count.
The bill also creates new requirements for governors of each state to transmit their presidential election results to Washington. It would require governors to certify results no later than Dec. 14, and those results must be sent to the archivist of the United States.
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Governors who fail to accomplish this can face lawsuits from presidential candidates. But as Cheney and Lofgren noted in their op-ed, these challenges would take place before Congress meets on Jan. 6 to count the votes. They said this should help ensure that “Congress’s proceeding on Jan. 6 is purely ministerial.”
The bill also writes into federal law that states can delay their presidential elections for up to five days if a catastrophic event happens that dramatically complicates the voting process. Along these lines, it gives presidential candidates the ability to petition the court for a delay in these cases.
The bill is likely to pass the House this week thanks to support from Democrats who continue to warn against Trump’s influence in the Republican Party. Many Republicans, meanwhile, are likely to oppose it as the product of a committee on which they weren’t allowed to participate with the members of their choice. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rejected two GOP picks to serve on the Jan. 6 Committee, and in response, GOP leadership boycotted it.
Evidence of GOP anger over the committee could also be seen in Cheney’s primary defeat in Wyoming in August.
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