US Senate introduces bills to safeguard future elections

The legislation would address threats to the electoral process but does not have the votes needed to overcome the filibuster.

US Senator Joe Manchin is one of the legislators to introduce legislation to protect the US electoral process [File: J Scott Applewhite/AP Photo]

US senators have introduced legislation to reform election laws as concerns grow that Republicans could resort to anti-democratic measures in upcoming elections.

The two bills, introduced on Wednesday by a bipartisan group of senators, would seek to prevent a repeat of former US President Donald Trump’s efforts to overturn his 2020 election loss to Democratic President Joe Biden.

Those efforts have been explored by the January 6 committee in hearings that have highlighted threats to the US democratic process.

“We urge our colleagues in both parties to support these simple, common sense reforms,” a group of seven Democrats and nine Republicans said in a statement.

While several Republican legislators support the legislation, Democrats do not have the 10 Republican votes needed to overcome the filibuster, a rule that enables lawmakers to block legislation that does not have 60 votes in the US Senate.

The legislation would, among other steps, underscore that the vice president’s role in certifying election results is strictly ceremonial.

Trump had pushed his vice president, Mike Pence, to overturn the 2020 election by refusing to certify the results. Pence did not go along with the scheme and earned the scorn of Trump supporters who chanted “Hang Mike Pence” during the January 6 attack on the US Capitol.

The two bills, introduced by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin and Republican Senator Susan Collins, also address other issues such as threats against election workers, mail-in ballots, election record security, and the presidential transition of power.

Similar legislation is also being pursued by two Democrats, Senator Richard Durbin and Senate Rules Committee Chair Amy Klobuchar, along with independent Senator Angus King. Democrats in the House have introduced similar bills.

“The January 6th commission has added urgency,” King said in a statement welcoming the bipartisan group’s legislation. “This will help build consensus around approaches that will reinforce the seams in the fabric of democracy we’ve seen stretched too thin.”

The prospects of such a package passing would likely evaporate if Republicans take control of Congress in the 2022 midterm elections. While some Republican legislators have rejected the lie that the 2020 election was stolen, that falsehood has been widely embraced by Republican officials throughout the country.

One bill introduced Wednesday would put clear guidelines in place for the role of different state and federal officials in choosing the president and vice president by reforming the 1887 Electoral Count Act.

A second proposed law would enact steeper penalties for those who threaten election workers, poll watchers, voters or candidates by doubling federal penalties for such crimes.

The January 6 committee has highlighted threats faced by election workers, spurred by false claims of fraud during and after the 2020 election by former president Trump and his allies. In emotional testimony before the panel, a Georgia election worker said her life had been turned upside down by violent threats against her and her family.

Some Republican officials who have spoken out against the false claims of fraud have become apostates within their own party. Rusty Bowers, the Republican speaker of the Arizona state House of Representatives, was censured by the party after testifying about his refusal to overturn the will of the state’s voters to secure Trump’s election.

Liz Cheney, co-chair of the January 6 committee and an outspoken critic of stolen election claims, faces an uphill battle for reelection in Wyoming and has been censured by the GOP. The only other Republican on the committee, Representative Adam Kinzinger, has also been censured by the party.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies