The following editorial originally appeared in The (Minneapolis) Star Tribune:
The proposed Electoral Count Reform Act, which would make explicit the process for certifying the Electoral College vote that determines the outcome of a presidential election, should never have been necessary.
Regrettably, it is, and the need to reform and clarify the process on which rests the peaceful transfer of power in this country is urgent.
The original 1887 Electoral Count Act, which admittedly is a bit vague, nevertheless held for more than 130 years. Every president has abided by the will of the electorate and surrendered power to a new administration based on the Electoral College vote until former President Donald Trump.
Intent on exploiting every potential avenue — legal or illegal — for clinging to power, Trump and his allies in January 2021 attempted to persuade then-Vice President Mike Pence to transform his ceremonial role overseeing the count into an opportunity to nullify the will of the American people.
Pence, thankfully, knew his role and risked the mob’s wrath that fateful Jan. 6 rather than accede to the demands of a president gone rogue.
But we may not be as fortunate next time. It is imperative that this process be made explicit, so that there is no question as to what steps must be taken — and which are prohibited — in certifying the electoral count.
The proposed reforms are the result of months of solidly bipartisan work, led by Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine. They would make explicit the vice president’s limited role and protect the will of voters.
This includes an important change that raises the threshold for senators who would raise objections. It lays out a procedure for federal court review of challenges and would promote a more orderly transfer of power with clear guidelines as to when an incoming administration can receive federal resources.
Recall that Trump’s refusal to accept the results of the election led to his administration holding up funding and resources that hindered President Joe Biden’s transition process.
The bill also would require states to appoint electors on Election Day. And Congress would be mandated to count electoral votes that courts had determined complied with state and federal law. That should go far to limit shenanigans with “fake electors” or other attempts to delay counting.
Is there more that could be done? Certainly. Legal scholars argued in a recent Washington Post commentary that while the proposed reforms represent “an excellent beginning,” other, even more stringent steps — including broader protections of voting rights — will be required to protect democracy.
That may well be. But this is a solid bill that makes needed changes, with strong support in both parties in the Senate. It is heartening to see leaders on both sides step forward to ensure the transfer of power is never again disrupted.