Congress Can Prevent Another Jan. 6 Crisis

Activists participate in the January 6 Democratic Candlelight Vigil in Washington, January 6.


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The counting of electoral votes after a presidential election is an unusual ritual for generations: Congress will convene a joint session, count the votes, and declare the winner. There aren’t any surprises; after all, the voters have said.

However, the process has become increasingly controversial over the past 20 years, never more than on January 6, 2021, when some members of Congress opposed the votes from Arizona and Pennsylvania. Misinterpretations of the law governing vote counting — the Vote Counts Act of 1887 — turned around, prompting some to claim Vice President Mike Pence, who simply presided over the proceedings. , reverse the result. Thankfully, Mr. Pence has respected the rule of law and carried out his ministerial responsibilities.

Nowhere does the Constitution give Congress or the vice president the power to announce election results. But the events of last year made it clear that in this time of hyperpolarization, the Voter Count Act is so complex and ambiguous that it is vulnerable to abuse. A bipartisan group of senators is working to update the law, brought together after the controversial election of 1876 to prevent — or resolve — such disputes. This bipartisan dynamic holds promise.

One aspect of the legislation that is ripe for exploitation is the provision that allows the state legislature to decide how to choose electors if a state “fails to make a choice” on Election Day. Some have incorrectly suggested this vague language means that state legislators could use any number of fallacies to bypass the will of the voters and unilaterally appoint electors. tri they choose. To address this, Congress should narrowly define limited circumstances — such as natural disasters or terrorist attacks — under which a state can appoint electors after Election Day.

Outdated, 19th-century legislation also had to be updated to clarify the vice president’s role and raise the threshold for objecting to the counting of electoral votes during a joint session of Congress.

The updated Vote Counts Act should also streamline the process of properly resolving electoral disputes before a joint session of Congress and clarify what happens in the unusual situation where the House and Senate disagreement over whether certain votes should be counted.

As former Senate majority leaders, we know well how difficult it is to reach bipartisan agreement on important issues. But despite the competition policy agenda, Democrats and Republicans largely agree that the Voter Count Act narrowly failed and plunged the country into crisis in January. last year. This year is the time to fix it, before the 2024 campaign begins.

Congress can strengthen our constitutional safeguards and protect the integrity of free and fair elections. Lawmakers should act now to secure numbers for good.

Mr. Daschle, a South Dakota Democrat, served as Senate Majority Leader, 2001-03. Mr. Lott, a Mississippi Republican, served as majority leader in the Senate, 1996-2001. They are members of the ReFormers Caucus, a bipartisan project of Issue One.

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Appears May 16, 2022, print. Congress Can Prevent Another Jan. 6 Crisis

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