WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats came together Tuesday to advance legislation aimed at clarifying federal election law and making the chaos surrounding the 2020 presidential election certification less likely.
The Senate Rules Committee voted 14-1 to send the bipartisan legislation to the floor.
Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, was the only committee member to oppose the bill, calling it “bad policy” and “bad for democracy.”
At issue are provisions of what is commonly referred to as the Electoral Count Act, passed after several states submitted dueling certificates for the 1876 election between Republican Rutherford B. Hayes and Democrat Samuel J. Tilden.
Committee Chairwoman Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said that law had been largely overlooked for 130 years.
“But it was at the center of a plan to overturn the 2020 election and the will of the American people that – as we all know who work here – culminated in a violent mob desecrating the Capitol,” Klobuchar said. “On that day enemies of our democracy sought to use this antiquated law to subvert the results of a free and fair election.”
Klobuchar said they did this by falsely insisting the law allowed the vice president to reject the electoral votes cast, recruiting state legislators to send their own electors and exploiting a low bar in the law allowing a single senator and a single representative to object to certification.
Supporters said the bipartisan Senate proposal makes a number of modest but significant changes to the law.
It would make plain the vice president’s role in opening and counting the electoral votes is merely ceremonial.
As certification and the transfer of power loomed, then-President Donald Trump and some of his allies sought to advance the idea that Vice President Mike Pence had the authority to overturn the election results.
Pence sided with the overwhelming consensus of legal experts in rejecting that theory. Members of the mob that stormed the Capitol on Jan. 6 could be heard chanting “hang Mike Pence” as a result of this perceived betrayal of Trump.
The bill also would raise the threshold for objections to certification from one senator and one representative to one-fifth of Congress. It also aims to block partisan legislatures from ignoring the will of the voters in appointing electors.
Democrats cast the legislation as an effort to ensure a Jan. 6-style assault on the Capitol is never repeated. And they were joined in their support for the measure by nearly all Republican committee members, including Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Cruz was the only member to vote against the bill.
He organized a group of senators in an effort to block Congress from certifying President Joe Biden’s victory the day of the riot.
Cruz said Tuesday the bill represents Congress attempting to intrude on the authority of state legislatures to appoint presidential electors in the manner of their choosing, an authority enshrined in the Constitution itself.
Democrats are intent on federalizing elections, Cruz said, and the bill takes a significant step down that road.
“I don’t believe senators from this side of the aisle should be supporting a bill that enhances the federalization of elections and reduces the ability of Congress to respond to the very serious problem of voter fraud,” Cruz said.