In an appearance on NBC, swing-voting Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah) said that despite his and other Republicans’ willingness to make some changes to federal election laws with Democrats, President Joe Biden did not reach out to him about reaching a compromise.
Instead, Democrats went full-steam ahead on a more partisan scheme. Upon returning from their winter recess, many Democrats made a concerted push to weaken or abolish the filibuster and pass election legislation with no Republican support.
Democrats have claimed since summer 2021 that America is facing a “Jim Crow”-level crisis as Republican-led states have moved to strengthen their election laws in response to fraud in the 2020 election. Most of the laws being passed across the nation carry provisions to require voter ID or put in place stricter guidelines for absentee balloting, which many considered as a focal point of fraud in 2020.
These new rules, Democrats have alleged, disproportionately affect minorities and thereby violate the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA).
In Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee, the Supreme Court ruled that Democrats were mistaken in this claim and allowed an Arizonan elections bill to stand.
But Democrats have continued to insist, the Supreme Court’s ruling notwithstanding, that America is facing an electoral crisis of epic proportions which, they say, requires immediate and wide-ranging congressional action.
To meet the so-called “crisis,” Democrats have put forward a slew of different election bills since summer 2021, ranging from bills that would wholly remake the U.S. election system to more limited compromise bills designed to try and win GOP support.
The most radical of the bills that Democrats have put forward is the For the People Act, a bill that would require states to allow convicted felons and those actively on parole or probation to vote and which critics say would effectively legalize voting by illegal aliens.
After Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) said that he would not vote for such a divisive bill, Democrats scrapped the legislation in exchange for a bill with a more limited scope: the “John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act,” H.R. 4.
The main feature of this bill would be to reinstate provisions of the VRA that required that states get federal “preclearance,” or federal approval, before changing their election laws.
This provision was a major part of U.S. election law until 2013, when the Supreme Court struck it down as unconstitutional, noting that minority voting rates had increased so much since 1965 that the “extraordinary measure” of federal preclearance could no longer be justified.
H.R. 4 would reinstate the policy in accordance with the Supreme Court’s 2013 ruling. However, this bill has faced near-insurmountable challenges in the Senate, where Republicans, including Sen. Romney, have utilized the filibuster to kill the measure on several occasions.
To overcome the objections of one-half of the United States Senate, Democrats proposed that the filibuster be scrapped to allow the bill to bypass the GOP altogether.
However, this scheme also fell apart last week after Sens. Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema (D-Ariz.) refused to aid their party in the endeavor.
Democrats do, nonetheless, have one option available according to Mitt Romney: A limited expansion of the Electoral Count Act of 1887 (ECA). That bill, passed to address issues still lingering from the electoral crisis of 1876, laid out the guidelines for electoral voting that have continued to the modern day.
Though this would leave Democrats with far fewer options, and is thus not an especially exciting prospect for Democrats, some left-of-center commentators have suggested that the more limited route of reforming this bill could prove harder for Republicans to oppose.
And during a Jan. 16 appearance on Meet the Press with Chuck Todd, Romney indicated that he and a handful of other Republicans may be open to just such a bill.
“If the president calls you up tomorrow and says, ‘Senator Romney, I’d like to figure out something on voting rights. Can we sit down and have a conversation?’ … would you participate in that?” Chuck Todd asked the one-time presidential nominee.
“Yeah, and Chuck, I already am,” Romney explained. “The group, about 12 Senators, Republicans, and Democrats, that are working on the Electoral Count Act, we’ll continue to work together. Sadly, this election reform bill that the president has been pushing, I never got a call on that from the White House.”
Romney also criticized the majority for their all-or-nothing attitude toward electoral reform.
“There was no negotiation, bringing in Republicans and Democrats together to try and come up with something that would meet bipartisan interests,” Romney said. But, he continued, “[Democrats] want a real dramatic change, which is they feel that instead of elections being run at the state level, they should really be managed and run at the federal level.”
“The founders didn’t have that vision in mind,” Romney ruled. “They didn’t want an autocrat to be able to pull a lever in one place and change all the election laws. Instead, they spread that out over 50 states, I think, in part to keep autocracy from finding its root here in this country.”
If Democrats would soften this attitude, Romney said, “we can work together.”
To pass a reform of the ECA, Democrats would need to win the support of at least 10 Republicans to overcome the filibuster threshold. But so far, despite Romney’s openness to compromise, there is little evidence showing that such GOP support will be offered.
While a few other Republicans could be open to such a course, only Romney and Sen. Susan Collins (R-Maine) have overtly said that they would be likely to support it.
There has been some speculation that Sens. Thom Tillis (R-N.C.) and Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) would also support an ECA revision, but this would still leave Democrats six votes short of the 60-vote filibuster threshold.
Questions remain as to whether Democrats could close the gap to reach 60 votes, and where additional GOP support would come from to meet this goal. And as Romney’s statement indicates, this route is not one that President Biden has shown any particular interest in, making it all the more unlikely that an ECA revision will not come to fruition.