Editor’s Note: Democrats in Congress have renewed efforts in the House and Senate to make sweeping changes to America’s electoral laws.
As Jarrett Stepman wrote in 2019, when H.R. 1 was first proposed, these reforms would be a significant threat to the federalist system under the Constitution of the United States and would undermine election integrity.
H.R. 1 is even more significantly threatening in the aftermath of 2020 election, where electoral flaws made many Americans question the integrity of the system. H.R. 1 makes it likely that all future elections will have that outcome. Here is Stepman’s original article:
Democrats intend to save “democracy” by putting themselves in charge of elections.
As absurd as that sounds, it really is a part of the inappropriately named “For the People Act of 2019,” or H.R. 1, moving through the House of Representatives.
The Heritage Foundation created a list of the law’s provisions, which you can read here. The Conservative Action Project also provided this quick rundown of the bill:
• Forces states to implement mandatory voter registration, removing civic participation as a voluntary choice, and increasing chances for error.
• Mandates that states allow all felons to vote.
• Forces states to extend periods of early voting, which has shown to have no effect on turnout.
• Mandates same-day voter registration, which encourages voter fraud.
• Limits the ability of states to cooperate to see who is registered in multiple states at the same time.
• Prohibits election observers from cooperating with election officials to file formal challenges to suspicious voter registrations.
• Criminalizes protected political speech by making it a crime to ‘discourage’ someone from voting.
• Bars states from making their own laws about voting by mail.
• Prohibits chief election officials in each state from participating in federal election campaigns.
• Mandates free mailing of absentee ballots.
• Mandates that states adopt new redistricting commissions.
The bill is more or less a grab bag of progressive priorities, much like the Green New Deal.
Like the misguided movement to abolish the Electoral College, H.R. 1, in the name of democracy, takes a blow torch to the concepts federalism and self-government enshrined in our Constitution.
As the above summary makes clear, H.R. 1 has numerous provisions that would undermine free speech rights, upend the way America conducts elections, encourage voter fraud, and turn election oversight into little more than a partisan weapon to bludgeon foes.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., who seems to have positioned herself at the forefront of every piece of radical legislation coming out of the House, dismissed the idea that H.R. 1 is a “power grab” by Democrats.
She had to make an almost immediate correction after that tweet, as the legislation has not yet passed the House. Even if it did, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said it wouldn’t pass in the Senate, where Republicans hold a majority.
Ocasio-Cortez has a penchant for missteps, but she’s a good barometer for where the progressive base in America is.
In this bill, the left has shown it is willing to make a “naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party,” as McConnell noted. But beyond that, H.R. 1 is most concerning for the devastating effect it would have on our federal republic.
National Review’s David French summed it up perfectly:
At its essence, the bill federalizes control over elections to an unprecedented scale, expands government power over political speech, mandates increased disclosures of private citizens’ personal information (down to name and address), places conditions on citizen contact with legislators that inhibits citizens’ freedom of expression, and then places enforcement of most of these measures in the hands of a revamped Federal Election Commission that is far more responsive to presidential influence.
Certainly, the effort to get around the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision through a constitutional amendment to get money out of politics is misguided and an assault on free speech. It is at odds with our right to free speech and, in the end, would mostly benefit insiders and incumbents who know how to play the Washington game of navigating arcane campaign finance laws.
Further, it would require donors to disclose their own private information in the name of “transparency.”
This is how democracy descends into mob rule. It’s why the Founders erected barriers to guard against a tyrannical majority. Given the way progressives brazenly attack and shame dissenters on college campuses—and increasingly in public life—it is all the more urgent that individual privacy rights be protected. Privacy is a cornerstone of liberty.
Perhaps the most concerning aspect of H.R. 1 is what it would do to American election laws and how it would not just undermine, but bulldoze any semblance of federalism left in our political system.
H.R. 1 would stop state legislatures from drawing up their own congressional districts and would mandate independent commissions in their place.
As I’ve written in the past, getting rid of legislative redistricting, sometimes known as “gerrymandering,” is a “cure” worse than the disease. Redistricting will always be partisan, no matter who does it. Laws to prevent this would simply drive partisan redistricting underground, where it would be done in secret by an unelected, uncountable commission rather than openly by a legislature.
Again, even if this were good policy, it assumes that the federal government has the right to dictate how states run their elections. It would take away the right of the citizens of a state to make their own choices on these issues.
H.R. 1 contains other violations of federalism—and the Constitution—including mandates to restore voting rights to felons as soon as they are released from prison and stop states from finding and removing ineligible voters.
And it gets worse.
After nationalizing American election laws, H.R. 1 would put them all under the watchful eye of a “revamped” Federal Election Commission. This is perhaps the most brazenly partisan element of the bill.
The Federal Election Commission currently allows six members (though it currently only has four), with a requirement that four members sign on to any decision in order for it to pass. It has an even number of Republican and Democratic appointees—thus, it takes both parties to agree to prosecute a violation of federal law. This prevents the party in control of the White House from enforcing the law in a partisan fashion.
H.R. 1 would change that by making the commission a five-person body comprised of the president’s appointees, with the president’s party able to appoint three of the five. This would make the commission into a partisan body beholden to the president.
Proponents say this would end the current “deadlock,” but in reality it would turn the commission into a partisan tool to be used by the president. It would be an egregious concentration of power, especially given the way the rest of the bill would nationalize American elections.
While the Framers weren’t unanimous about how much power states should have relative to the federal government, none would have thought it a good idea to give near-tyrannical power to an unelected body of five people, which is what H.R. 1 would essentially do.
The “For the People Act” really is little more than a progressive power grab intended to manipulate election rules to favor liberals, and it is an anti-democratic bill that would upend America’s electoral system.
As with the Green New Deal, it is a vehicle for introducing ideas that would fundamentally transform our republic into something we would not recognize at all.
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