The bill known as HR 1, or the For the People Act, should be called “the Federal Takeover of Elections Act,” Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose says.
LaRose, who oversees Ohio’s elections, joins “The Daily Signal Podcast” to explain why HR 1, a bill the political left touts as positive election reform, is an unconstitutional power grab at the expense of the states.
We also cover these stories:
- House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., says the House could unseat Rep. Mariannette Miller-Meeks, R-Iowa.
- House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., asks Pelosi to allow the Capitol to revert to standard operations pre-COVID-19.
- New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo “can no longer serve as governor,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio says.
Listen to the podcast below or read the lightly edited transcript.
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Virginia Allen: I am joined by Ohio’s secretary of state, Frank LaRose. Secretary LaRose, thank you so much for being here today.
Secretary Frank LaRose: Thank you so much, Virginia.
Allen: So, today we are breaking down the debate over HR 1, also known as For the People Act. And the left describes this bill as legislation that advances voting rights and campaign finance reform, but conservatives say, “No, wait a second. This is actually just a federal power grab for D.C. to dictate how states run their elections.”
So let’s begin by talking a little bit about what HR 1 is. Could you just explain the bill a little further and how it would impact our elections if it was passed?
LaRose: You’re right to mention that they’re calling it the For the People Act. We should always be leery when they give it some sort of innocuous-sounding name like that. Really what it should be called is the “Federal Takeover of Elections Act” because it’s really what they’re trying to do. They’re really trying to micromanage how states run elections.
And to be clear, there are some things contained in it that are fine ideas, but what’s not a good idea is for the federal government to mandate how states should run their elections.
Now here’s the net result because, as I said, there are some OK ideas in it, but there are also a lot of bad things. Like for example, legalizing ballot harvesting, which is obviously dangerous for a variety of reasons.
And there’s some things in here that leave me scratching my head, like why does it recommend D.C. statehood? What does that have to do with elections administration? Why does this bill make the Federal Election Commission a partisan body when it has always been a bipartisan body? Effectively, they make it a partisan body for the first time ever.
So, all of these things are problematic, but again, the big picture is this is not a proper role for the federal government to be involving itself in.
Allen: And specifically, how would the bill affect Ohio if HR 1 was passed?
LaRose: Well, here’s one specific effect it would have: It would take things that we already have that work well and it would change the way they run. I’ll give you an example.
I’m personally a fan of online voter registration if it’s done correctly. I sponsored the bill when I served in the state Legislature. We have online voter registration in Ohio, but it is a secure system that we set up thoughtfully that works for Ohio.
It requires identification that matches the voter’s name with their record in the Department of Public Safety driver’s license database to make sure that it is a valid address to make sure that they are a United States citizen, for example.
So all of those safeguards that we built into our online voter registration would get sort of wiped away by this one-size-fits-all version of how this bill’s sponsor believes we should do online voter registration. It would be a much less secure system than what we have already.
So that’s just one example of some of the problems contained in this bill. It’s a one-size-fits-all solution imposed with the heavy hand of the federal government that forgets the fact that states have a long history of running elections and every state is different.
Allen: You were recently cited in a Wall Street Journal piece about HR 1. And one of the points that you raised is that Ohio has just had one of its most successful elections to date.
So, then really the question becomes, if states like Ohio are doing just fine managing their elections at that state and local level, why does the federal government need to be involved? What is the left’s answer to that question?
LaRose: Well, the left’s answer is what I would call crisis opportunism. Really what they’re doing is they’re taking a laundry list of things that they’ve wanted to do for many years and they’re cloaking it in COVID and the 2020 election. They’re saying, “Well, we need to make all these changes because of 2020.”
I would argue that that’s not the right way to do things. And this goes back to our founding. I mean, for over 240 years, we’ve held true to the principle that states run elections.
Even in the Federalist Papers, [Alexander] Hamilton wrote it in Federalist 59 that only under extraordinary circumstances should the federal government have anything to do with how elections are conducted. And by the way, there have been those extraordinary circumstances.
So the left will argue back and say, “Well, then if you don’t think the federal government should be involved in elections, you must be against the Voting Rights Act.” Well, no, not necessarily, because there’s a big difference there.
The Voting Rights Act is about protecting fundamental rights and there was a clear need for it at the time. This is not about protecting fundamental rights.
This gets down into the really nitty-gritty details of how states conduct this work. It dictates what forms of identification can or can’t be used. It dictates how states do their redistricting process, which has been a state prerogative since the founding.
It dictates, again, legalizing things like ballot harvesting, which is not about protecting a fundamental right. It’s about really using the pandemic and the challenging 2020 election as an excuse to try to ram through a bunch of leftist priorities. And that’s what it comes down to.
Allen: So, H.R. 1, if it were to pass, it would mandate that every state would allow for early voting, for absentee voting.
Ohio, as you talked about, Ohio has instituted things like early voting and voting by mail, absentee voting, long ago. … As you wrote in your Wall Street Journal article that you were cited in, it took about 20 years for Ohio to really get good at doing those things.
So what would be the result if, all of a sudden, every state had to offer mail-in voting, had to offer early voting, regardless of their previous experience with that kind of voting?
LaRose: Quite simply, the result would be chaos, confusion, loss of voter confidence.
You’re right to say that Ohio does a good job of running elections. As I have said, we’ve gotten good at it over the years. We’ve been in the national spotlight for many years, but it didn’t happen overnight.
As you also pointed out, we just had our most successful election in our history in the midst of a very challenging circumstance last year, you can quantify this.
We had 6 million people cast a ballot, 74% of registered voters. We had a record number of poll workers with 56,000. We had 59% of the ballots were cast before the polls ever opened on Election Day through Ohio’s monthlong early voting and absentee voting process, but there are also the right safeguards involved.
Now, here’s the way that change should happen. If states want to modify the way they run elections, it should happen at the state capitol. And that’s, by the way, that’s the idea of 50 states, laboratories of democracy, all finding better ways to serve the voters and citizens of their state.
Just last week, I offered testimony at the Pennsylvania state Legislature because they wanted to look to their neighbors to the west and I was happy to help show them how Ohio has gotten good at some of these things. And now they can make some changes in their law as well.
That’s the right way for states to get better at running elections. What is not the right way is a massive, heavy-handed federal takeover. And again, that’s what HR 1 represents and that’s why we’re working so hard to try to kill it in the United States Senate.
Allen: As you point out, I think there is a lot of agreement of, “OK, yes, maybe there are some changes that need to be made to election processes across different states,” but the answer is not necessarily having the federal government be involved in that. But for states that say, “OK, we want to improve. We want to make changes,” what are those processes that Ohio has that you think other states should imitate?
LaRose: You know, there are a number of things. We have, again, for years offered early voting where people can come vote in person.
We have a whole month of early voting. So we make it very convenient. We have evening hours and weekend hours. We’re one of only a few states in the nation that offers Sunday afternoon early voting. So we truly make it easy to participate in early voting.
We also offer absentee voting. Absentee voting where you can vote from the comfort of home by mail.
But you know what’s key to our process? Two things we require you to identify yourself when you request a ballot: You have to use a form of ID to request an absentee ballot and you have to prove your identity again when you return the ballot, and we verified signatures to make sure that the voter who submitted the ballot is the correct voter.
But we also maintain accurate voter lists. And this is something that, again, the left likes to criticize me for.
But because we have that balance where it’s truly easy to vote in Ohio, but we also have the right safeguards in place, Ohioans trust the results of our election.
Another thing, and I specifically mentioned this to our friends in [Pennsylvania], two things, actually: One is bipartisan oversight of elections.
It takes a Republican and a Democrat to do anything at a county board of elections in Ohio. And it’s the old Reagan principle of trust but verify, right? Like we trust one another to work well together, but the Republicans and the Democrats keep an eye on each other, and that’s just the nature of elections.
Voters want to know the results quickly. And when they don’t know the results quickly, they start to worry or wonder, or even kind of invent things in their own minds about what may be going wrong.
In Ohio, we process our absentee ballots as soon as they arrive. We verify that signature, we check the identity, we get ready to count it. We don’t count any ballots until the polls close on election night, but we’ve done all the administrative work ahead of time as soon as that ballot arrives so that at 7:30 on election night, we can start counting ballots.
And that’s why I was able to report Ohio’s unofficial election night result by about 11:30 on election night.
In other states, they’re not even going to cut the envelopes open until Election Day, and that has led to problems. And so that’s another thing where states like Pennsylvania should take a look at the way Ohio does is.
Allen: The way HR 1 is being presented and the content of HR 1, many GOP members are saying, “This bill is really unconstitutional at the end of the day.” What are your thoughts on that argument? Is HR 1 unconstitutional?
LaRose: I certainly believe that to be true and certainly if it were to pass the U.S. Senate and be signed into law, I think that it would be challenged in court and I think that it would be found unconstitutional. My hope is that we can short circuit that by defeating this in the U.S. Senate.
And here’s where, again, I feel that it’s unconstitutional. The federal government certainly has a role in protecting and defending fundamental rights to vote. And that’s not what we’re talking about with HR 1.
HR 1 is not like the Voting Rights Act, for example. HR 1 is micromanaging the finite details of how states do this and that is a state power. That is a state prerogative how we run our elections. And for the federal government to usurp that power or to grab that power away from the states I believe is clearly unconstitutional.
Allen: So where do things stand right now? The bill has passed in the House. Obviously, things are changing quickly, but as we talk on Thursday morning, what appears to be next for HR 1?
LaRose: Well, it passed the House and it passed on a completely party-line vote, which is another problem with this. Really, when election changes are made, I get that Republicans and Democrats disagree on things and I understand that some things are going to pass on a party-line vote. Election law changes should not.
I’ve always made that a priority in Ohio when I’ve done election law bills. It’s not always possible, but I’ve always worked hard to try to make it a bipartisan piece of legislation. Because Republicans and Democrats should agree on the rules and then go compete in the free market of ideas. And this is part of the problem with HR 1, is that it is a strictly partisan endeavor.
It comes over to the U.S. Senate next. It’s important also to note that there’s a reason why it’s called HR 1. [House Speaker Nancy] Pelosi, [Senate Majority Leader Chuck] Schumer, they gave it that number to signal that it is a priority for them. And so, we’re going to have a fight on our hands in the U.S. Senate, but I’m hopeful.
And I’ve already been talking with members of the U.S. Senate about this. I’m hopeful that we’ll be able to defeat it in the upper chamber. I think that the Republicans will realize that this is bad for their state.
And I think that there are good, smart Democrats in the U.S. Senate that will realize as well that this is not something that people in their state are going to appreciate. Because again, it’s a federal takeover of the way states run elections, [it] is something that would change the way we’ve done this for 240 years and would upset that balance that has existed for that time.
Allen: Secretary LaRose, before we let you go, just want to give you the opportunity, any final thoughts on HR 1?
LaRose: I would encourage your listeners to read up on it, to understand it, to not get pulled into the emotional arguments about this. Because again, some of our friends on the left, they’ll say, “Well, this just make it easier for people to vote. This makes the redistricting process better.” And they’ll try to go point by point and say, “Well, this is good.”
And yes, you can find a few things in it that sound really good, but what’s not good, again, is having the federal government dictate this to the state.
If you believe those are good public policies, call your state legislator, call your state senator or your state representative, and encourage them to work at the state capitol to get get those kinds of things done. It’s not something that should happen at the federal level.
Allen: Secretary, thank you so much for your time today. We truly appreciate it.
LaRose: Thanks, Virginia. Take care.