January 6 House committee looks to change U.S. election law

The law is described as "a very poorly written, ambiguous and confusing statute" by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.).

Updated: December 5, 2021 - 7:42pm

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The U.S. House of Representatives Jan. 6 committee members are looking to change the election law that former President Donald Trump tried to use to convince his Vice President Mike Pence to throw out the results of the 2020 election in Congress.

The New York Times reported on Sunday that these congressional committee members are "arguing that the ambiguity of the statute puts democracy itself at risk."

The Electoral Count Act of 1887 was passed following the disputed election of Republican President Rutherford B. Hayes over Democrat Samuel Tilden, who won the popular vote. The law elaborates upon the U.S. Constitution by describing the procedure for certifying electoral votes in Congress.

Trump attorney John Eastman interpreted the act as allowing Pence to pick electors from pro-Trump states to vote to keep the 45th president in power, according to the Times.

The committee calls the act "severely flawed" and recommended changes, including "limiting the grounds for a lawmaker to object to counting a state’s votes and clarifying that the vice president’s role in the process is merely ministerial, and thus lacking the authority to unilaterally throw out a state’s votes. It has also recommended setting clearer time limits for states to choose electors," the Times reports.

Anti-Trump committee member Rep. Liz Cheney (R-Wyo.) said the act "is directly at issue," and changes would be recommended.

​​"We could very well have a problem in a future election that comes down to an interpretation of a very poorly written, ambiguous and confusing statute," said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the first impeachment trial against Trump.

Former presidential candidate Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) said, "The antiquated law governing the Electoral College vote count is too vague and ripe for abuse, and it resulted in baseless objections that delayed the democratic process." 

Some Republicans also support changing the statute. 

Former Kentucky Secretary of State Trey Grayson (R) told the Times he worried that the law could be exploited by both parties.

Former Rep. Zach Wamp (R-Tenn.) said, "We know that we came precariously close to a constitutional crisis, because of the confusion in many people’s minds that was obviously planted by the former president as to what the Congress’s role actually was." Wamp advocates for electoral reform through the bipartisan Reformers Caucus at Issue One.

Last week, Pence explained his actions on Jan. 6 in an interview with CBN. "I know in my heart of hearts that on that day, we did our duty, under the Constitution," he said.

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