Bipartisan House bill aims to overhaul electoral count

Upton, Gottheimer companion to Senate package faces uncertain fate with Jan. 6 committee weighing its own changes

Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said overhauling what Congress and the vice president can do when certifying the count of electors will provide voters certainty about their votes in presidential elections.  (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Rep. Fred Upton, R-Mich., said overhauling what Congress and the vice president can do when certifying the count of electors will provide voters certainty about their votes in presidential elections. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted September 14, 2022 at 5:47pm

Corrected 6:30 p.m. | Members of the moderate Problem Solvers Caucus introduced a House companion bill on Wednesday to bipartisan Senate legislation that would clarify the presidential transition and overhaul a 135-year-old election law.

Reps. Fred Upton, R-Mich., and Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., announced the bill in a joint news release.

“Americans want certainty in elections, not vested parties’ interpretations of laws from the 1800s,” Upton said. “This bill provides the clarity voters need, to know their vote for president matters.”

Though there is bipartisan support in both chambers for the legislation, there is no guarantee Congress will act as the clock runs down to the midterm elections where party control could change. Lawmakers have urged quick passage, warning that even if the bill isn’t perfect, taking action would be better than doing nothing after President Donald Trump and his supporters sought to exploit the rules in 2020. 

Sens. Joe Manchin III, D-W.Va., and Susan Collins, R-Maine, helped shepherd the legislation through months of deliberations to get to a final package in July. They celebrated Upton and Gottheimer’s companion bill Wednesday in a joint statement.

“Their leadership helps build momentum to pass these significant and much-needed reforms,” the statement said. “We will continue to work with our colleagues to increase bipartisan, bicameral support for this legislation.”

The Senate proposal included several bills, while the House members are introducing one bill that would make some of the proposed Senate changes, but not all of them. One part of the House bill would clarify the vice president’s role when electoral votes are counted as “ministerial,” and overhaul the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the law that governs the acceptance of presidential votes. The House bill also would raise the threshold needed for Congress to consider an objection to a state’s Electoral College votes to one-fifth of the House and Senate, and clarify guidelines for presidential transitions. 

Another bill in the Senate package was not introduced in the House. That measure would strengthen federal penalties for crimes related to violence against poll workers or tampering with election records and includes guidance to states and rules aimed at improving how the U.S. Postal Service handles election mail.

Upton, who is not seeking reelection, was one of the 10 Republicans who voted in favor of impeaching Trump after his supporters rioted and overran the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021, trying to interfere with the certification of electoral votes. Upton also voted in favor of creating a bipartisan commission to investigate the event.

Last month, the Senate version of the bill dealing with the ECA was put under the microscope at a Senate Rules and Administration Committee hearing where experts encouraged technical corrections and clarifying language to shore up several provisions. But the overall sentiment was that the bill would close some of the biggest holes Trump and his advisers explored as he clung to power in 2020.

When it was initially released, the bill had the support of nine Republican senators. Iowa Republican Sen. Charles E. Grassley has since signed onto the bill, theoretically giving it the 10 GOP votes needed to overcome a Senate filibuster. 

Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, who called last month’s hearing constructive, said in a statement this week that she is working on some of the proposed changes with ranking member Roy Blunt and the bipartisan group of lawmakers who helped craft the bill. 

On the House side of the Capitol, the companion measure’s fate remains murky.   

After the Senate bill was released in July, Reps. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif, and Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., said the House select committee investigating the Jan. 6 attack that they serve on was also considering fixes to the ECA, but their bill has not yet been released. 

When asked Wednesday about a timeline on when the House would put up its own bill, Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said he had talked to Lofgren that day and the hope was to get the agreement in the House before seeking comity with the Senate. 

“I’m hopeful that we get agreement,” he said, calling it a high priority.  “And I hope we get it in the short term.”

This report is corrected to show House members are introducing one bill that mirrors parts of the Senate package.