OnPolitics: The Electoral Count Act, Jan. 6 and the 2020 Election

FILE - Vice President Mike Pence presides over a joint session of Congress as it convenes to count the Electoral College votes cast in November's election, at the Capitol in Washington, Jan. 6, 2021. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., stands at right. Pence did not bend to President Donald Trump’s extraordinary pressure to intervene and presided over the count in line with his ceremonial role. He announced the certification of Biden’s victory before dawn, hours after a mob of Trump’s supporters violently ransacked the building. (Saul Loeb/Pool via AP, File) ORG XMIT: WX106

Happy Wednesday, OnPolitics readers!

The special House Committee investigating the Capitol insurrection debunked a conspiracy theory about whether a mysterious protester was actually a U.S. government informant who incited rioting at the Capitol as part of a conspiracy-laden false flag operation.

The theory explained: An Arizona man, Ray Epps, has become central to a viral – and unfounded – conspiracy theory in recent months after widely circulated video of him exhorting pro-Trump supporters the evening of Jan. 5 to enter the Capitol the next day.

At some point, some protesters began chanting, “Fed, fed, fed,” apparently suspicious that Epps was there trying to incite rallygoers on behalf of the FBI.

The House committee investigating January 6th posted a statement on Twitter Tuesday.

“The Committee has interviewed Epps,” it read. “Epps informed us that he was not employed by, working with, or acting at the direction of any law enforcement agency on Jan 5th or 6th or at any other time, & that he has never been an informant for the FBI or any other law enforcement agency.”

It's Amy and Chelsey with today's top stories out of Washington.

The Electoral Count Act and its role in Jan. 6, 2020 elections

The Capitol riot on Jan. 6 has lawmakers questioning the Electoral Count Act – a 19th century law that lays out the framework for counting state electoral votes and determines how to deal with disputes to those results. Those seeking to change the statute call it outdated and unclear.

What is the Act? The Electoral Count Act is a nearly 140-year-old law that specifies how to count the electoral votes from states for the presidency and vice presidency and what to do if there are objections to the results.

Congress has a limited role in choosing the next president and vice president, and the Constitution says it is up to states to choose how to run their elections. Once the states count and determine which candidate won, they send election certificates to Congress to count.

The law establishes a timeline for Congress to meet to count the electoral votes: the sixth day in January.

The Electoral Count Act came into play in the 2020 election as Republicans contested the electoral votes in two states: Arizona and Pennsylvania.

Trump and some of his allies in Congress argued then-Vice President Mike Pence had the constitutional authority to decide which states' Electoral College votes counted, and they wanted him to refuse the results in several states where they argued there were voting irregularities.

There have been bipartisan calls to change the statute after what happened one year ago. Many lawmakers have argued the law is too ambiguous and needs to be clarified. Several committees plan to release reports this year on whether the law should be changed, and if so, how.

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Nevada Sen. Harry Reid lies in state in the Capitol rotunda

Members of Congress honored late Senate Democratic majority leader Harry Reid Wednesday as he lay in state in the U.S. Capitol rotunda.

Reid, known as Nevada's longest serving senator, died last month after a battle with pancreatic cancer.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., spoke during the service. Schumer called Reid a “dear friend and mentor” while Pelosi remembered him as "one of the most consequential Senate majority leaders of all time." 

Vice President Kamala Harris and second gentleman Doug Emhoff also attended. 

Looking for more to read? Check out USA TODAY's up-to-date list of witnesses subpoenaed by the Jan. 6 House select committee.— Amy and Chelsey