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Susan Collins, bipartisan group of senators reach detail to strengthen Electoral Count Act

Congress Electoral Votes
Ting Shen/AP
Pool Bloomberg
Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, speaks during hearing on the fiscal year 2023 budget for the FBI in Washington, May 25, 2022.

Republican U.S. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine and a bipartisan group of senators say they've reached a deal to overhaul the law that former President Donald Trump attempted to exploit during his efforts to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Collins and the bipartisan group say the 135-year-old Electoral Count Act, which determines how Congress certifies presidential elections, is too ambiguous and ripe for abuse.

During a speech from the Senate floor on Wednesday, Collins argued that view came into sharp focus on Jan. 6, 2021.

That's when Trump supporters stormed the U.S. Capitol after being convinced that former Vice President Mike Pence had the power to throw out electoral votes from swing states.

"The idea any vice president would have the power to unilaterally accept, or reject, or change, or halt the electoral votes is antithetical to our constitution and basic Democratic principles," she said.

The bill co-authored by Collins makes it clear that the vice president's role in certifying the election results is purely ministerial.

It also significantly increases the threshold for members of Congress to object to a state's election results — raising it from one member in the House and Senate to one fifth of both chambers.

And it also appoints state governors as the sole officials for certifying a state's slate of electors in the Electoral College by Election Day, so long as it aligns with a state's constitution.

If adopted the provision would eliminate competing slates of electors by state legislators — another ambiguity exploited by Trump supporters who attempted to send electors who would defy a state's popular vote.

The proposal and a companion bill to strengthen protections for election workers has garnered the support of nine Republicans, one short of the number needed to overcome a potential filibuster in the Senate.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that the Electoral Vote Count Act needs an overhaul, but he has not yet endorsed the proposal released this week. Doing so could convince other Republicans to do the same.

Other members of Maine's congressional delegation have expressed support for overhauling the Electoral Vote Count Act.