nationalizing elections would be a national disaster

by | Mar 4, 2021 | Issues, National Politics, Politics, Voting Rights | 9 comments

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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


  1. Robert Caldwell

    Drastic assaults on democracy, such as are being displayed right now by Republican led state legislatures across the South and others as well, require drastic remedies. If the right wing were not so intent on disenfranchising millions of taxpaying, constitutionally entitled voters the remedies would not have to be so dramatic or drastic. Until this assault is stopped, countervailing action will be required.

  2. John Graybeal

    We’ve seen all the voter suppression bills being considered in 40+ state legislatures. Legislation like H.R. 1 is critically important to defeat these GOP efforts.

  3. j bengel

    Everybody is all about federalism until it doesn’t work out the way they thought it would. We’ve just witnessed how those same Republicans that screech about federal overreach decided that the local election officials in the six states that didn’t act like they were supposed to needed to be arrested — or worse. Armed mobs of Trumpist thugs literally — LITERALLY — surrounded the homes of governors, secretaries of state, election commissioners and even private citizens whose supposed offense was apparently working for vendors who built voting machines. And they did so with the nod-and-wink, and on occasion even the assistance of Republican members of Congress (looking at YOU Lindsey).

    It doesn’t stop in DC though. Plenty of examples exist down on Jones Street, where our own brand of autocrats screech about overreach by the state, out of one side of their mouths while simultaneously dictating to city and county governments how they should run things in their own jurisdictions. The biggest and most nationally recognized of these in recent years is the abomination called HB2, which among other odious provisions prohibited cities and counties from enacting anti-discrimination ordinances.

    So spare me the pearl clutching. It reeks of hypocrisy.

  4. George Entenman

    Tom, your buddy Rick Henderson is indeed a Libertarian. Libertarians are those people who talk freedom and then caucus with Republicans every time. They have some good instincts but love police and military power, love depriving the gov’t of needed revenue, and vote to confirm SCOTUS justices who always vote to limit our freedoms.

    To the case in point, Mr Henderson smoothly says he agrees with some of these proposals [of HR 1], or versions of them, but doesn’t say which and claims that they should “be debated and decided by state officials, not members of Congress or federal bureaucrats.”

    He links to a page claiming that HR 1 limits free speech and makes the absurd claim that the bill “…would nationalize federal elections, having Washington decide everything from how to operate redistricting to the number of days of early voting every state must allow. (Seven states still don’t allow in-person absentee voting, and less than half of all states don’t allow early voting on Saturday or Sunday.)”

    Lord keep the Feds from forcing us to have non-partisan districts or forcing states to keep polls open on weekends! Why that’s practically fascist!

    He adds, “The notion that the federal government could run elections more fairly or efficiently than states is laughable, frightening, probably unconstitutional ….”. I wish I knew how setting ground rules is the same as “running an election”.

    How about the “election security” bugaboo? I remember when our NC Legislature decided that voters had to have photo IDs but disqualified state-issued IDs such as Student IDs. To keep students from voting in Orange County, for example. I call that voter suppression, not liberty or even libertarian.

    On that same page linked to above, he cleverly juxtaposes the paragraphs about the Feds running elections with paragraphs discussing dark money, where he gets to point out that the ACLU often opposes forced disclosures of contributions (this is true), but conveniently neglects to point out that the same ACLU strongly supports reforms to curb voter suppression.

    He’s a good rhetorician, I’ll give him that. But as a good logician and supporter of what’s right, not so much.

    Tom, I realize that this sounds like an Ad Hominem argument, but I really intend it to be a sort Class Action Snit against Libertarians as a group. Since you seem to be friends with Mr Henderson, I assume he’s clever and fun to drink beer with. I like that.

  5. Thomas

    What’s wrong with same-day registration? If we’re a democracy we should reduce barriers to voting. What’s wrong with nonpartisan redistricting? How has gerrymandering worked out for us this past decade?

    Are you on the side of people participating in elections or the side of keeping them out?

  6. Steven A Addy

    From Newsweek on “banning voter id”:
    The Facts
    More than 30 U.S. states have some kind of voter identification requirement, a measure that voting rights advocates and the American Civil Liberties Union have denounced as a barrier between many Americans and the ballot box.

    HR-1 addresses the impact that voter ID requirements have on marginalized voters, noting that, “Recent elections and studies have shown that minority communities wait longer in lines to vote, are more likely to have their mail ballots rejected, continue to face intimidation at the polls, are more likely to be disenfranchised by voter purges, and are disproportionately burdened by voter identification and other voter restrictions.”

    The bill also stipulates that factors, including voter ID, burden certain voters due to the costs associated with obtaining photo identification or other forms of government-issued ID. This primarily affects voter turnout among homeless individuals, Native Americans, in low-income communities and in communities of color by as much as 3 percent, according to a 2014 study by the Office of Government Accountability.

    But HR-1 does not “ban” voter identification laws. Instead, it offers a workaround to state voter IDs for individuals who do not have the means to obtain identification. Voters may alternatively present a sworn, written statement to an election official under penalty of perjury that states the voter is eligible to vote.

    The Ruling

    There is no language in HR-1 that “bans” voter identification laws. It allows individuals in states with identification requirements who do not have ID to vote by providing in writing that they are eligible.

  7. Bill Cokas

    I echo Siobhan. The 2020 election has been widely proclaimed “the most secure in American history.” As Voltaire said, “my interest in believing something is not proof that such a thing exists.” Republicans point to imaginary voting irregularities to justify making voting more difficult. If the states are actively working to impede access to the polls, it’s the responsibility of the federal government–as the architect of the Constitution–to ensure that “states’ rights” doesn’t translate into “doing whatever they please.”

  8. Todd Dawson

    After the way the NC GOP has attempted to game elections in NC, including blatantly discriminatory actions against minority voters, I would not trust them to conduct a bingo game, much less our state elections. That’s not to mention the fraud that occurred by way of the Republican party apparatus in Bladen and Robeson counties. The remedies written in H.R. 1 sound like a breath of fresh air to me. The solution to election problems isn’t federal vs. state; it’s making sure people who break the system face accountability for what they’ve done, no matter what party they come from, and making sure that all Americans have an equitable voting experience no matter what state they live in.

  9. Siobhan Millen

    Straw man argument. We lefties don’t want to centralize or nationalize elections any more than you do. The risk of hacking goes way up if you have one target, for one thing. We want to raise the floor of allowable voting regulations, just as the Voting Rights Act did and the “Help America Vote Act” did.

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