Some Conservatives Want to Avoid a Coup in 2024

One such conservative is J. Michael Luttig. You know he’s a conservative, because he clerked for Antonin Scalia, worked for Ronald Reagan and was made a federal judge by the first President Bush. After 15 years as a judge, he was Boeing’s general counsel for 13 years (2008 income = $2.8 million). He’s apparently consulting with “a number of senior Republican senators” regarding changes to the Electoral Count Act. He warned America in a piece for the NY Times today:ย 

The clear and present danger to our democracy now is that former President D____ T____ and his political allies appear prepared to exploit the Electoral Count Act of 1887, the law governing the counting of votes for president and vice president, to seize the presidency in 2024 if Mr. T____ or his anointed candidate is not elected by the American people.

The convoluted language in the law gives Congress the power to determine the presidency if it concludes that Electoral College slates representing the winning candidate were not โ€œlawfully certifiedโ€ or โ€œregularly givenโ€ โ€” vague and undefined terms โ€” regardless of whether there is proof of illegal vote tampering. After the 2020 election, Republican senators like Ted Cruz of Texas and Josh Hawley of Missouri tried to capitalize on those ambiguities in the law to do Mr. T____โ€™s bidding, mounting a case for overturning the results in some Biden-won states on little more than a wish. Looking ahead to the next presidential election, Mr. T____ is once again counting on a sympathetic and malleable Congress and willing states to use the Electoral Count Act to his advantage.

He confirmed as much in a twisted admission of both his past and future intent earlier this month, claiming that congressional efforts to reform the Electoral Count Act actually prove that Mike Pence had the power to overturn the 2020 presidential election because of the alleged โ€œirregularities.โ€ The former vice president pushed back forcefully . . .ย 

The back-and-forth repudiations by Mr. T____ and Mr. P____ lay bare two very different visions for the Republican Party. Mr. T____ and his allies insist that the 2020 election was โ€œstolen,โ€ a product of fraudulent voting and certifications of electors who were not properly selected. Over a year after the election, they continue to cling to these disproved allegations, claiming that these โ€œirregularitiesโ€ were all the evidence Mr. Pence needed to overturn the results, and demanding that the rest of the G.O.P. embrace their lies. The balance of the Republican Party, mystifyingly stymied by Mr. T____, rejects these lies, but, as if they have fallen through the rabbit hole into Aliceโ€™s Wonderland, they are confused as to exactly how to move on from the 2020 election when their putative leader remains bewilderingly intent on driving the wedge between the believers in his lies and the disbelievers.

This political fissure in the Republican Party was bound to intensify sooner or later, and now it has, presenting an existential threat to the party in 2024. If these festering divisions cost the Republicans in the midterm elections and jeopardize their chances of reclaiming the presidency in 2024, which they well could, the believers and disbelievers alike will suffer.

While the Republicans are transfixed by their own political predicaments, and the Democrats by theirs, the right course is for both parties to set aside their partisan interests and reform the Electoral Count Act, which ought not be a partisan undertaking.

Democrats, for their part, should regard reform of the Electoral Count Act as a victory โ€” essential to shore up our faltering democracy and to prevent another attack like the one at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. These are actually the worthiest of objectives.

Republicans should want to reform the law for these same reasons, and more. Of course, some may never support reform of the Electoral Count Act simply because the former president has voiced his opposition to the efforts to revise it. But there are consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle for the large remainder of Republicans to favor reform in spite of the former presidentโ€™s opposition.

Republicans are proponents of limited federal government. They oppose aggregation of power in Washington and want it dispersed to the states. It should be anathema to them that Congress has the power to overturn the will of the American people in an election that, by constitutional prescription, is administered by the states, not Washington . . . [although he doesn’t mention that the Constitution (Article I, Section 4, Clause 1) gives Congress the authority to change the rules for elections].

Constitutional conservatives, especially, should want Electoral Count Act reform, because they should be the first to understand that the law is plainly unconstitutional. Nothing in the Constitution empowers Congress to decide the validity of the electoral slates submitted by the states. In fact, the Constitution gives Congress no role whatsoever in choosing the president, save in the circumstance where no presidential candidate receives a majority of the electoral votes cast.

T____ acolytes like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Hawley should appreciate the need to reform this unconstitutional law. . . . No Republican should want to be an accessory to any successful attempt to overturn the next election โ€” including an effort by Democrats to exploit the law.

If the Republicans want to prevent the Electoral Count Act from being exploited in 2024, several fundamental reforms are needed. First, Congress should formally give the federal courts, up to and including the Supreme Court, the power to resolve disputes over state electors and to ensure compliance with the established procedures for selecting presidential electors โ€” and require the judiciaryโ€™s expeditious resolution of these disputes. Congress should then require itself to count the votes of electors that the federal courts have determined to be properly certified under state law.

Congress should also increase the number of members required both to voice an objection and to sustain one to as high a number as politically palatable. At the moment, only one member of each chamber is necessary to send an objection to the Senate and House for debate and resolution โ€” an exceedingly low threshold that proved a deadly disservice to the country and the American people during the last election.

Currently, Congress has the power under Article II and the Necessary and Proper Clause to prevent states from changing the manner by which their electors are appointed after the election, but it has not clearly exercised that authority to prevent such postelection changes. It should do so.

Finally, the vice presidentโ€™s important, but largely ministerial, role in the joint session where the electoral votes are counted should once and for all be clarified.

It is hardly overstatement to say that the future of our democracy depends on reform of the Electoral Count Act. Republicans and Democrats need to . . . fix this law before it enables the political equivalent of a civil war three years hence. The law is offensive to Republicans in constitutional and political principle, officiously aggrandizing unto Congress the constitutional prerogatives of the states. It is offensive to Democrats because it legislatively epitomizes a profound threat in waiting to Americaโ€™s democracy. The needed changes, which would meet the political objections of both parties, should command broad bipartisan support in any responsible Congress. . . .ย 

Come to think of it, the only members in Congress who might not want to reform this menacing law are those planning its imminent exploitation to overturn the next presidential election.