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House passes Jan. 6 election reform bill

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House lawmakers on Wednesday voted to approve legislation crafted by two members of the Jan. 6 committee that seeks to protect elections from interference by lawmakers.

The Presidential Election Reform Act (PERA) reaffirms that the vice president’s role in certifying the election is purely ceremonial, and drastically increases the number of lawmakers in each chamber needed to object to the certification of electors from one member to one-third of the body.

It also targets other actions taken by former President Trump in the lead up to Jan. 6, making explicit the role governors play in the electoral process. The bill takes aim at the faux election certificates crafted by Trump’s team and the pressure campaign in various states to replace their electors with those who would vote for then-President Trump.

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The bill passed in a 229-203 vote, with nine Republicans joining all Democrats present in supporting the measure: Reps. Liz Cheney (Wyo.), Adam Kinzinger (Ill.), Fred Upton (Mich.), Jaime Herrera Beutler (Wash.), Peter Meijer (Mich.), Tom Rice (S.C.), John Katko (N.Y.), Anthony Gonzalez (Ohio) and Chris Jacobs (N.Y.).

During debate on the House floor Wednesday afternoon, Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) — a sponsor of the bill and a member of the Jan. 6 select committee — said the legislation “will make it harder to convince people that they have the right to overthrow the election.”

“Ultimately, this bill is about protecting the will of the American voters, which is a principle that is beyond partisanship. The bottom line is this — if you want to object to the vote, you better have your colleagues and the constitution on your side. Don’t try to overturn our democracy,” she added.

Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.), the second sponsor of the bill and one of two Republicans on the Jan. 6 panel, argued that the measure would “prevent Congress from illegally choosing the president itself.”

After reading a host of conservative commentary praising the legislation, the Wyoming Republican urged her GOP colleagues to support the measure.

“If your aim is to prevent future efforts to steal elections, I would respectfully suggest that conservatives should support this bill. If instead your aim is to leave open the door for elections to be stolen in the future, you might decide not to support this or any other bill to address the Electoral Count Act,” Cheney said.

House Republican leadership began whipping against the bill Tuesday afternoon, urging members of the conference to vote against the “flawed” measure, and arguing that it “tramples on state sovereignty and opens the door for destructive private rights of action that will only delay results and inject more uncertainty into our elections.”

Republicans during debate also pounced on the bill for the speed at which it was brought to the floor — Lofgren and Cheney, who have been working on the bill since shortly after Jan. 6, introduced the measure on Monday, and it faced a final vote on Wednesday.

Rep. Rodney Davis (R-Ill.), the ranking member of the House Administration Committee, during debate on Wednesday argued that Democrats are trying to put a spotlight on Trump just weeks away from the midterm elections.

“Why rush such a significant piece of legislation when the next presidential certification won’t happen for over two years? It’s pretty simple, Madam Speaker: the midterm elections are just weeks away, and the Democrats are desperately trying to talk about their favorite topic, former President Trump,” he said.

Also during debate, Democrats criticized Republicans for failing to back legislation they say largely reaffirms principles laid out in the constitution.  

“To all those who oppose this legislation, I ask you: how could anyone vote against free and fair elections, a cornerstone of our constitution? How could anyone vote against our founders’ vision, placing power in the hands of the people? How could anyone vote against their own constituents, allowing radical politicians to rip away their say in our democracy?” Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said.

The Presidential Election Reform Act, which adjusts the 1887 Electoral College Act, is the first of a number of legislative proposals that could stem from the House Jan. 6 Committee’s review. The panel has been tasked with investigating the events of the Capitol riot and presenting improvements to ensure that a similar event does not occur in the future.

The passage of the bill comes as the Senate has plans to review bipartisan legislation introduced in July that would also reform the Electoral College Act.

That bill, though similar, would require just a one-fifth vote for lawmakers to raise objections to a state’s election results.

During a House Rules Committee meeting on Tuesday, Lofgren signaled an openness to discussing the threshold needed to raise an objection to a state’s electors.

“We selected one-third, and I thought it was a reasonable amount, but to some extent it’s an arbitrary number. Now in talking to [Sen. Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)], they had a formula that they had in mind, they have a smaller number. Maybe they’re right, I don’t know, so I think we need to have some further discussion with the Senate on that point, and I’m sure that will be productive,” she said.

Another departure from the Senate bill is a provision in PERA that seeks to prevent any future attempt to delay an election – making clear only things like natural disasters could be considered a “catastrophic event” used to extend voting.

Cheney said the provision was designed to ensure “false claims of fraud could be made to allow a state to refuse to certify valid votes.”

The bill drafted by Lofgren and Cheney may be the only formal legislation to come out of the committee.

Chair Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) told reporters Wednesday that he’s unsure if any of the committee’s recommendations from its final report will be crafted into legislation by the panel.

“I think in terms of what we have before us now, that will probably be the only complete legislation introduced, but that is not in stone. But the discussion up to this point has been recommendations” for the final report, he said. 

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