Reps. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) wrote in an article published this week for The Wall Street Journal of critical legislation the pair would be introducing designed to stop, or at least dramatically cut back, the possibility of Trump-style corruption in the future.
The pair, like a group in the Senate, are pushing for reforms to the piece of federal law known as the Electoral Count Act, which — as its name suggests — governs the process of the Congressional certification of the presidential election outcome. As Cheney and Lofgren explained it in their article for the Journal, they want to drastically lessen the possibilities for rogue politicians to potentially upend the certification of the election results at issue. Certifying the outcome is, generally speaking, supposed to be procedural in nature rather than a point for contention and the easily possible undoing of whatever the results may be. It’s not Congress’s job to decide who won the election, and neither is such a thing the responsibility of the vice president, who presides over the certification proceedings. Options available for legitimate action by officials are much more limited.
These clarifications and changes to federal law don’t mean, as Trump claims, that Mike Pence — when presiding over last year’s certification process — actually possessed the legal power to undo the election. Among other considerations, the legislators involved in developing and pushing these changes want to make the law clearer, although the 12th Amendment already outlines the nature of the certification proceedings as, generally speaking, essentially procedural. As Cheney and Lofgren explained: “First, we must reaffirm what the Constitution and existing law already make plain: The vice president (who acts as presiding officer for a joint session of Congress in a presidential election) has no authority or discretion to reject official state electoral slates, to delay the count in any material way, or to issue procedural rulings that have such an effect.”
Other reforms they are proposing include changing the rules for lodging objections to particular electoral votes up for consideration by Congress. At present, these rules are potentially easily abused, requiring just one member from the Senate and another from the House to back an objection for it to move to debate. Cheney and Lofgren want to limit the grounds for potential objections — seemingly eliminating possibilities like numerous complaints about the way a state ran its elections — and increase the number of legislators who must back any objection.
“Second, if members of Congress have any right to object to electoral slates, the grounds for such objections should be narrow,” the duo said. “Congress doesn’t sit as a court of last resort, capable of overruling state and federal judges to alter the electoral outcome. If any objections are allowed during the joint session, grounds should be limited to the explicit constitutional requirements for candidate and elector eligibility and the 12th Amendment’s explicit requirements for elector balloting. Objections would require one-third of each chamber to be entertained and majority votes to be sustained.” Changing the requirements from one member a chamber to one-third of each chamber is obviously a big jump. Since the House only requires a simple majority to approve proposed legislation, this initiative likely could pass the chamber.