Why Are Democrats Dragging Their Feet on the Electoral Count Reform Act?

Biden says Republicans are plotting a repeat of 2020 in 2024. Maybe Congress should do something to prevent that?


The way President Joe Biden tells it, Republicans are already laying the groundwork to steal the 2024 presidential election.

"They're working right now, as I speak, in state after state to give power to decide elections in America to partisans and cronies, empowering election-deniers to undermine democracy itself," Biden warned in an ominous and overtly political speech in Philadelphia last week.

For Biden, former President Donald Trump's slapdash attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election and the chaos that some of Trump's supporters caused at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021, are harbingers of what's to come. "I will not stand by and watch elections in this country stolen by people who simply refuse to accept that they lost," Biden pledged.

In some regards, this worry is a legitimate one. Fealty to Trump and his notions about the results of the 2020 presidential election has become a potent litmus test within the Republican Party. The results of this year's primary elections have made that much clear.

According to an analysis by data-nerds at FiveThirtyEight, 195 of the 529 GOP candidates running for House, Senate, governor, secretary of state, or attorney general this November have claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from Trump or have taken actions (including filing lawsuits or refusing to certify elections results) that attempted to block Biden's win. A mere 71 Republican candidates in those same races have said they accept the results of the 2020 election without reservations (and the rest are somewhere in the middle).

A sizable chunk of one of America's two major parties is now partially defined by its willingness not just to go along with Trump's election-denying scheme but to actively embrace it. Even if most of those candidates lose in November, those numbers represent a potentially serious problem for the country heading into the presidential election in 2024.

So Biden's not totally wrong to be sounding the alarm about this. But instead of lecturing voters or trying to score political points, maybe he could try giving that same speech to the Democrats in charge of Congress?

It's been months since a bipartisan group of senators unveiled the Electoral Count Reform and Presidential Transition Improvement Act of 2022, which is easily the most important and straightforward way to prevent a repeat of what nearly happened in January 2021. The bill would address the procedural mechanisms that Trump and his allies sought to exploit to overturn the 2020 election. It would head off future attempts by state lawmakers and governors to refuse to certify the results of a presidential election, and it would clarify that the vice president does not have the power to unilaterally reject the Electoral College results (as Trump pressured then-Vice President Mike Pence to do).

In short, the bill doesn't overhaul election rules in partisan ways or tell states how to conduct elections. But it does force states to abide by the results of the elections they conduct.

That's pretty important, but the bill seems to be getting shifted to the back burner in Congress even as Democrats ramp up their rhetoric about Republicans trying to destroy democracy.

Sen. Susan Collins (R–Maine), one of the bill's sponsors, "would like to see pre-election consideration of Electoral Count Act reform," Politico reported earlier this week. But, for now, Democrats "are committed to little other than confirming judges and funding the government after a surprisingly fruitful summer session of legislating on firearm access, climate and taxes, microchip manufacturing and veterans' benefits." It's also possible that Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D–N.Y.) will cancel a two-week session scheduled for October so senators facing re-election this year can stay on the campaign trail, according to the same Politico piece.

Prioritizing winning elections over actually safeguarding them? Yep, that sounds about right. After all, Democratic campaign operations spent heavily to promote some Trump-loving, election-denying Republicans in primaries this year while simultaneously warning that those same candidates are existential threats to American democracy.

Playing those cynical games might help Democrats win a few elections they would otherwise have lost. But if Congress doesn't find the time to pass the Electoral Count Reform Act before the end of the year, there's little hope that it will ever reach Biden's desk—because Republicans are expected to take control of the House, at least, after the midterms.

Biden says Republicans aim to use their attempted subversion of the 2020 election "as preparation for the 2022 and 2024 elections" in ways that "threatens the very foundations of our republic." All the more reason for congressional Democrats (and Republicans who refuse to be complicit in Trump's schemes) to do the important work of shoring up those foundations now, while they still have a chance.