On Wednesday, the U.S. House passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” a 791-page (gulp) parade of horribles left-leaning election activists have pushed for years. Plus, some reasonable changes in election law.
It’ll head to the Senate, where it won’t get the 60 votes it’ll need to bypass a filibuster and become law unless a couple of things happen: 1) Senators strip some of the most odious provisions (I’ll mention a few); or 2) Republicans in state legislatures continue acting so irresponsibly that 10 centrist GOP senators let it go through.
That’s right. If this mess becomes law, you can blame malpractice from the right. (Spoiler alert: The Republicans’ answer to H.R. 1 is no better.)
The problem with the bill is that it exists and stands a chance of becoming law. Part of the genius of the American system is federalism, the idea that decisions should be pushed down to the level of government closest to the people whenever possible — so long as those decisions protect individual liberties. A federal law snatching most election administration from states, and leaving it with a central bureaucracy, ending most allowances for local discretion or variance, would invite disaster.
We saw the opportunity for such a disaster just a few weeks ago. The left has learned nothing from it.
At The Hill, Robert Schapiro, a professor of law at Emory University, explained.
Perhaps a president [would try] to shut down the tabulation of ballots before all votes are counted. If the election system functioned as a national bureaucracy, the president could exercise great control over the timing and process for counting votes. Under the current federalist arrangement, the president has no power over state election procedures. He can demand that vote counting be stopped or that results be undone, but he has no authority to order it.
Federalism prevented Donald Trump from stealing a second term in Washington.
Then there’s the bill itself. I looked at some of its assaults on free speech here.
The left-leaning Brennan Center, which backs the bill, has a useful, item-by-item summary here.
The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board in January laid out serious objections to the election-management parts of H.R. 1:
- Automatic registration of anyone in a government database, such as DMV, public assistance recipients, and the like, including people who aren’t eligible to vote
- Mandatory same-day registration, even on Election Day
- Green-lighting online voter registration
- A near-prohibition on states removing inactive voters from registration rolls
- Requires states to set up “independent” commissions for redistricting
- Bans states from requiring voters to present ID at polling places or before requesting mail ballots
It also would allow statehood for the District of Columbia. And it would force every state to provide early voting and mandate lengthy early voting periods. (See the Poynter Institute’s Politifact for an unsympathetic fact check.)
For the record, I support some of these ideas, and might be persuaded others are worth adopting. Make your case. But don’t shove it down everyone’s throats in a godawful Russian-novel-length bill.
To be sure, liberals have demanded expanding access to the polls for decades. Good for them. Unfortunately, Democratic activists have increasingly paired expanding access with lowering eligibility requirements. Same-day registration, even on Election Day, is an example. As is blanket opposition to voter ID requirements.
Trust, but don’t verify.
In response, the right has overreacted in two ways. First, congressional Republicans have responded with their own bill. It would — wait for it — nationalize elections.
H.R. 322, the “Save Democracy Act,” would, among other things,
- Disqualify anyone automatically registered to vote by a state from voting in a federal election.
- Require states to check voter IDs before allowing people to vote.
- Require voter registration applications to include Social Security numbers.
- Require states to purge voter lists of people who aren’t eligible to serve on juries.
- Ban states from mailing ballots to people who haven’t requested them.
- Ban states from accepting ballots left in drop boxes unless the boxes are in designated government offices.
- Prevent states from accepting ballots received after the polls close on Election Day, even if they were mailed and postmarked by then. (Military and overseas voters wouldn’t be affected.)
Again, I agree with some of these proposals, or versions of them. But they should be debated and decided by state officials, not members of Congress or federal bureaucrats.
As usual, a bad idea from one party draws an equally ridiculous response from the other.
Rick Henderson, editor of Carolina Journal from 2009-20, now publishes Deregulator, a newsletter on politics and culture. For a sample or to subscribe, visit deregulator.substack.com.