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Toomey is backing a bill to change how Electoral College votes are counted — and avoid the chaos of 2020

Sen. Pat Toomey, R-Pa., will cosponsor a bipartisan bill to reform how Electoral College votes are certified, adding more Republican weight to the push to avoid a repeat of the attempt to overturn the 2020 presidential election.

Toomey will join 10 other Republicans sponsoring or cosponsoring the Electoral Count Reform Act, giving it enough formal GOP support to clear a filibuster if at least 49 of the chamber’s 50 Democrats also support the plan. Other Republicans have also expressed openness to the plan, potentially giving it even more room to maneuver through the Senate.

His support for the legislation, reported first by The Philadelphia Inquirer, comes after Pennsylvania was one of two states formally targeted by dozens of congressional Republicans on Jan. 6, 2021, as they attempted to dismiss its 20 electoral votes and the will of its voters. Toomey, who supported nearly all of former President Donald Trump’s policies and voted for him twice, strongly opposed attempts to throw out Pennsylvania’s election results as Trump fueled a riot at the Capitol.

Toomey announced his backing for the Senate bill a day after the House approved a competing plan supported by the chamber’s Democrats but widely opposed by Republicans. A number of GOP lawmakers who support some reform have urged Democratic leaders to focus on the bipartisan Senate proposal.

“The poor drafting of the 1887 Electoral Count Act endangered the transition of power from one administration to the next,” Toomey said in a statement to The Philadelphia Inquirer. “Unfortunately, in the over 100 intervening years, individual Democratic and Republican members of Congress have occasionally attempted to exploit the ambiguities in this law to cast doubt on the validity of our elections, culminating in the debacle of January 6, 2021.”

“It is past time Congress act,” Toomey said. “This legislation would make commonsense changes to clarify the role of Congress, the vice president, and the courts in the certification of presidential elections to give the American people more confidence it will be their voice that chooses the next executive and those that follow.”

Toomey, who is not seeking reelection, was one of seven Republican senators who voted to convict Trump in his impeachment trial after the riot.

The effort to usurp the will of the voters and keep Trump in power, including by challenging Pennsylvania’s and Arizona’s electoral votes in Congress, prompted urgent calls to reform the way Congress certifies the presidential vote to avoid a similar effort in the future — including in 2024, when Trump may run again.

Toomey’s support doesn’t guarantee that the reform will make it into law, given the competing versions of the legislation. Both aim to patch the weaknesses that Trump sought to exploit. Among other changes, they would make it harder for members of Congress to object to a state’s electoral votes.

Now, only one lawmaker in each chamber has to object to force a vote on accepting the presidential electors from a given state. The Senate plan would require one-fifth of the House and Senate to object. The House version would raise the threshold to one-third of each chamber, and narrow the grounds for objections.

Every House Democrat supported that chamber’s version of the bill, cosponsored by Rep. Liz Cheney, R-Wyo., an outspoken Trump critic. But only nine Republicans backed it, and none from Pennsylvania.

Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick, the only House Republican from Pennsylvania who voted to uphold the will of its people in 2021, said Wednesday that he supports the Senate version of the reform but not the House plan.

“I look forward to voting for their genuinely bipartisan bill on the House floor after Senate passage,” Fitzpatrick said in a statement. He criticized the House measure, which he voted against Wednesday, as a politicized proposal.

“In a time of uncertainty, renewing confidence in our elected officials and our elections strikes at the core of what our country needs to come together,” Fitzpatrick said. “The only path forward on this issue is one that rejects hyper-partisanship and embraces collaborative, cross-party solutions that will ensure the lawful, orderly transfer of power for future generations.”

Key Senate leaders plan to hold a committee hearing on the Senate plan next week. But any hopes for a full Senate vote will likely have to wait until after the Nov. 8 midterm elections, given other pressing deadlines and the limited time Congress has scheduled in session between now and then.

If the two chambers pass different versions of a reform, they would have to work out their differences in the narrow window between the election and when a new Congress takes office in early January.

___ ©2022 The Philadelphia Inquirer, LLC. Visit at inquirer.com. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

This story was originally published September 22, 2022 7:31 PM.

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