Jonathan Weisman for the NYT:
With their drive to secure far-reaching voting rights legislation nearing a dead end, Senate Democrats face a decision they had hoped to avoid: Should they embrace a much narrower, bipartisan effort to safeguard the vote-counting process, or continue what increasingly looks like a doomed push to protect access to the ballot box?
A growing group of Senate Republicans and centrist Democrats is working on legislation to overhaul the Electoral Count Act, the 19th-century law that former President Donald J. Trump sought to exploit to overturn the 2020 presidential election. That effort is expanding to include other measures aimed at preventing interference in election administration, such as barring the removal of nonpartisan election officials without cause and creating federal penalties for the harassment or intimidation of election officials.
Democratic leaders say they regard the effort as a trap — or at least a diversion from the central issue of voter suppression that their legislation aims to address. They argue that the narrower measures are woefully inadequate given that Republicans have enacted a wave of voting restrictions in states around the country that are geared toward disenfranchising Democratic voters, particularly people of color.
Still, even if there is no consensus to be found on a bill addressing how votes are cast, proponents say there is a growing sentiment in favor of ensuring that those that are cast are fairly counted.
“There is a lot of interest, a lot of interest,” said Senator Susan Collins, Republican of Maine, who is leading one effort with Senators Kyrsten Sinema of Arizona and Joe Manchin III of West Virginia, both centrist Democrats, and Senators Mitt Romney of Utah, Thom Tillis of North Carolina, Roger Wicker of Mississippi and Joni Ernst of Iowa, all Republicans….
A separate group — including two Democratic senators, Richard J. Durbin of Illinois and Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Senator Angus King, a left-of-center independent from Maine — is looking at changing how Congress formalizes the election results to head off another attempt like the one Mr. Trump made to have allies on Capitol Hill try to toss out state electoral votes.
But most Democrats are reluctant even to discuss the matter until after the far more comprehensive voting rights bill they call the Freedom to Vote Act is put to rest next week, a near certainty after Ms. Sinema and Mr. Manchin said this week that they would not vote to change Senate rules on the filibuster to enable their party to push it through unilaterally…..
And some academic experts say protecting election administration and vote counting, at this moment, is actually more critical than battling restrictions on early and absentee voting and ballot drop boxes.
“I’ve been saying this for the last year: The No. 1 priority should be ensuring we have a fair vote count,” said Richard L. Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who has drafted his own prescriptions for safeguarding elections after Election Day. “We are in a new level of crisis. I never expected in the contemporary United States that we would have to have legislation around a fair vote count, but we have to have it now.”