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Poll: Senate’s election reform bill more popular than House version

Americans who were educated on congressional proposals aimed at preventing another Jan. 6 attack prefer Senate reforms to a more far-reaching House bill, the University of Arizona’s National Institute for Civic Discourse found in an informed opinion poll conducted over the summer.

The House and the Senate have crafted competing bipartisan proposals that would reform how Congress counts electoral votes.

Although the two bills are similar, they diverge on a so-called objection threshold.

Current law allows one member of the House and one member of the Senate to object to an elector or slate of electors, making it relatively easy for a minority of politicians to cast doubt on the legitimacy of an election. That’s exactly what happened ahead of the Jan. 6, 2021, attack on the U.S. Capitol.

The House’s legislation would raise the objection threshold to one-third of each chamber; the Senate’s measure would raise it to one-fifth of each chamber.

In the informed opinion poll — unlike traditional surveys, participants read detailed policy briefs before taking a position — 75% of participants supported raising the threshold to one-fifth of each chamber. That number included 93% of Democrats, 77% of independents and 53% of Republicans.

Only 55% of respondents supported the more stringent one-third threshold. That included 72% of Democrats, 59% of independents and 37% of Republicans.

Senators introduced their legislation in July and believe it has the best chance of becoming law because it has enough Republican support to avoid a filibuster. Senate negotiators added two more co-sponsors to their cause Thursday, with Sens. Pat Toomey (R-Pa.) and Maggie Hassan (D-N.H.) becoming the 21st and 22nd co-sponsors.

The legislation is set for a markup in the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, but the proposal is unlikely to see a floor vote in the upper chamber until after the midterm elections.

The House, meanwhile, unveiled its version this week and passed it on the floor Wednesday in a 229-203 vote. Nine Republicans joined all but one Democrat, who didn’t vote, in support of the measure.

The path forward is unclear, but supporters of the reforms hope an update to the Electoral Count Act of 1887 will make it to the president’s desk before newly elected members of Congress take office in January.

The survey also found that additional provisions Congress is pursuing are broadly popular. Clarifying that the vice president’s role in the electoral count is ministerial earned 89% support. The idea that legislatures must abide by laws on the books on election day unless there’s a catastrophic event received 80% support, and provisions requiring Congress to honor court rulings and limiting grounds for objections to a state’s slate of electors received 78% and 77% support, respectively.

The poll originally asked participants about a one-third and one-fourth objection threshold. The latter isn’t under consideration by either chamber, but a question about a one-fifth objection threshold was added this week, and participants who had already completed the brief and questionnaire were asked to respond to it by email. That sample size is roughly 900 participants, but the results are nearly identical to the full sample of responses to the one-fourth threshold question, which suggests participants believe the one-third threshold is too high.

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