Lawmakers listened to ominous references to the South’s Jim Crow era and Maoist China as the Senate held its first hearing on Democrats’ legislation to nationalize elections while eliminating voter ID and most other state election safeguards.
“This bill has rightly been called the Corrupt Politicians Act because it is designed to keep corrupt politicians in office,” Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, said as he denounced the legislation.
The hearing Wednesday also saw the return of former Attorney General Eric Holder to Capitol Hill to advocate passage of Democrats’ bill, and in particular changing how congressional districts are redrawn.
Holder insisted that voter fraud “simply doesn’t exist.” And Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer demanded at one point: “I would like to ask my Republican colleagues, why are you so afraid of democracy?”
The Senate bill, numbered as S 1 (H 1 in the House), also would legalize the controversial practice of ballot harvesting across the country; establish same-day voter registration; create massive public financing for federal campaigns; make the Federal Election Commission more partisan; and transfer state legislatures’ authority to draw congressional districts to unelected bureaucrats.
Here are nine highlights from the Senate Rules and Administration Committee’s hearing.
1. Mao and Maduro
Sen. Bill Hagerty, R-Tenn., compared congressional Democrats’ bill to the Nicolas Maduro regime in Venezuela and Mao Zedong in China, saying they would change the rules to cling to power.
“This bill, by eliminating commonsense security measures for voting, by bypassing elected state representatives,” Hagerty said, “is really a power grab by those politicians that are currently in power, that wrote this bill to use their power—even though it’s so thin, a 50-50 Senate—to use their power to fundamentally change the rules of the game so they stay in power permanently.”
West Virginia Secretary of State Mac Warner agreed with Hagerty, saying, “That’s what it would appear to be, Senator.”
Indiana Attorney General Todd Rokita added of the Democrats: “Frankly, I have never seen a group of people complain so much after winning.”
Democrats hold a technical majority because of Vice President Kamala Harris’ power, as president of the Senate, to cast tie-breaking votes. The chamber is split between 50 Republicans and 50 senators in the Democratic caucus, which includes two independents.
The bill narrowly passed the House three weeks ago by a vote of 220-210. After the November elections, Democrats’ majority in the House has narrowed to eight seats.
Critics argue that the legislation, which Democrats call the For the People Act, would give that political party a permanent majority in both congressional chambers and the White House.
Democrats designed the bill to give them a bigger majority, Hagerty said.
“Doesn’t using government power to ensure you stay in power sound more like the Maduro regime or Chairman Mao’s regime, rather than something that happens here in the United States?” the Tennessee Republican asked.
Rokita concurred, saying that Americans see through what Democrats are attempting with the bill. He drew a contrast between Congress and state legislatures.
“If you look at these state legislatures and whether the bills they are proposing are good or bad or ugly or what, they are responding to their constituents. They are responding to the American people,” Rokita said. “They are closer, frankly, to the American people than the federal government is.”
Hagerty noted that the bill would dismantle most state voter identification laws aimed at preventing election fraud.
“Is requiring a voter to present a reliable form of identification an important method of determining a voter is who that voter claims to be, not trying to impersonate someone else?” the senator asked.
Rokita agreed, explaining:
You can say there is voter fraud or not voter fraud in your state. It depends on if you are looking. No. 2, it is a very difficult crime to spot because the evidence goes away right after the vote is cast. There is no dead body with an outline to make afterward to prove a crime.
So it’s very difficult, and prosecutors don’t like prosecuting [voter fraud] because it’s very different from the crimes they are used to prosecuting. That shouldn’t be the measure. The measure should be the confidence that it brings to the process.
2. Eric Holder: Voter Fraud ‘Simply Doesn’t Exist’
Holder, who clashed with congressional Republicans as President Barack Obama’s attorney general for seven years, said that just as Reconstruction after the Civil War was followed by the Jim Crow era, the Voting Rights Act of 1965 was followed by efforts in some states to restrict voting for minorities.
“There is a large and powerful faction in this country intent on retaining power, and who will bend or break the rules of our democracy in order to do so,” Holder testified, adding:
The attack on our system of government did not begin nor end with the insurrection at our Capitol on Jan. 6. For years now, politicians have spread the same lies about voter fraud and expressed falsehoods about the integrity of our electoral system. The fact is, there is no evidence of widespread or systemic fraud during the 2020 election or at any other time.
Holder identified an “undemocratic trinity” of issues as “gerrymandering, voter suppression, [and] dark money.” He said Democrats’ bill would “get rid of all of them at once.”
“The For the People Act is a necessary and appropriate response to both the erosion of voting rights and the advancement of special interests,” Holder testified.
He later added: “This bill would not favor either party. To the contrary, it would create a level playing field for the American people.”
Early in the hearing, however, the former attorney general had qualified his statement, asserting that there is no “widespread or systemic” voter fraud. He later was more firm, saying voter fraud doesn’t exist.
“We keep hearing this cry about voter fraud,” Holder said. “It simply doesn’t exist. Simply because you say it doesn’t mean it exists.”
More than 1,300 proven instances of voter fraud have occurred since the 1980s, according to The Heritage Foundation’s voter fraud database.
The database includes 1,134 criminal convictions; 48 civil penalties; 21 judicial findings; and 17 other official findings. It also includes 97 diversion programs, which in a criminal case is when a judge directs a defendant into a pretrial diversion program, or he stays or defers adjudication with the understanding that the conviction will be cleared upon completion of the program.
3. Schumer, McConnell, and ‘Shame’
Demonstrating the significance of the legislation, Schumer and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., each dropped by the opening of the hearing to deliver their own remarks.
Schumer sounded like a firebrand, while McConnell sounded significantly more reserved.
“Today, now, in the 21st century, there is a concerted nationwide effort to limit the right of American citizens to vote and to truly have a voice in their own government,” Schumer said. “Republican state legislatures have seized on the former president’s big lie that the election was stolen and introduced more than 250 bills in 43 states aimed at tightening voting rules under the guise of election integrity.”
Schumer was referring to former President Donald Trump, who claimed that the 2020 election was stolen from him through election irregularities and fraud.
The New York Democrat cited proposals in Iowa, Wisconsin, Arizona, and Georgia that he characterized as voter suppression.
“This is one of the most despicable things I’ve seen in all my years. Shame, shame, shame,” the majority leader said, later adding:
This is infuriating. I would like to ask my Republican colleagues, why are you so afraid of democracy? Why—instead of trying to win over voters that you lost in the last election—are you trying to prevent them from voting?
Our country has come a long way, supposedly, since African Americans in the South were forced to guess the number of jelly beans in a jar in order to vote. But some of these voter suppression laws in Georgia and other Republican states smack of Jim Crow rearing its ugly head once again.
McConnell dismissed Schumer’s claim of a vast voter suppression effort.
“The turnout in 2020 was up 7%. The turnout in the 2020 election was the highest since 1900,” he said. “States are not engaging in trying to suppress voters whatsoever.”
McConnell said Democrats’ legislation would create an “implementation nightmare” for local election officials.
“This legislation would forcibly rewrite election laws in all 50 states from here in Washington,” McConnell said, adding:
Popular policies like voter ID would be banned unless states neutered with loopholes. Meanwhile, unpopular and absurd practices like ballot harvesting—where paid political operatives can show up carrying stacks of other people’s ballots—would not just be allowed, it would be mandatory.
Responding to Schumer’s pronouncement of “shame” on Republicans, McConnell noted that eliminating one seat on the six-seat Federal Election Commission, as Democrats propose, would turn it into a partisan body for a president’s party to use against the party out of power. The FEC currently has three Republicans and three Democrats.
“If anybody ought to be feeling any shame around here, it’s turning the FEC into a partisan prosecutor, the majority controlled by the president’s party, to harass and intimidate the other side,” the Kentucky Republican said. “That’s what you ought to be ashamed about.”
4. Ted Cruz: ‘Keep Corrupt Politicians in Office’
Cruz called the legislation a “brazen and shameless power grab by Democrats.” He referred to it as the “Corrupt Politicians Act,” a phrase also popular on Twitter.
“Under this bill, there is automatic registration of anybody, if you get a driver’s license, if you get a welfare payment, if you get an unemployment payment, if you attend a public university,” Cruz said. “Everyone knows there are millions of illegal aliens who have driver’s licenses, who are getting welfare benefits, who attend public universities. This bill is designed to register everyone of those illegal aliens.”
The Texas Republican asked Rokita, the Indiana attorney general, about the impact of “automatically registering millions of illegal aliens to vote.”
“Despite the cost and everything in the system, it would dilute the votes of every citizen who is supposed to be voting,” Rokita responded. “So they want more turnout and more people to participate. And you cannot vote in this country unless you are a United States citizen in a federal election.”
Cruz added that it’s not just illegal immigrants who would be signed up to vote.
“This bill is designed to get criminals to vote. A great many states across this country prohibit felons from voting,” Cruz said. “This bill strikes down all those laws. This bill says if you are a murderer, if you are a rapist, if you are a child molester, we the Democrats want you voting.”
Cruz added of the current majority party: “They understand that criminals and illegal aliens are much more likely to vote for Democrats.”
5. Opposition to Voter ID Is ‘Racist’
During the exchange with Cruz, Rokita noted the effectiveness of Indiana’s voter ID law and said Indiana is a national model.
“In Indiana, we had the country’s first photo ID law; voter turnout went up, and it went up because more people had confidence in the process,” Rokita said. “In fact, when others on this panel and other places say that a certain subset of our country or our electorate can’t vote with photo ID, that’s really a racist statement.”
Cruz said that a former liberal Supreme Court justice, John Paul Stevens, wrote the high court’s 6-3 opinion upholding Indiana’s voter ID law. The Carter-Baker commission report on election reform also backed voter ID.
Cruz noted that the Carter-Baker commission warned that ballot harvesting was a major problem in combating voter fraud.
“What do the Democrats do? Look at the Carter-Baker [report], say, ‘Where do we get fraud? Let’s do more of that,’” he said.
“This bill has rightly been called the Corrupt Politicians Act,” Cruz said, “because it is designed to keep corrupt politicians in office, and everyone supporting it should be ashamed.”
6. Taxpayer Funding for Politicians?
Although the public campaign financing portion of S 1 provides $6 in government funds to federal candidates for every $1 raised in private donations, some supporters insist that money wouldn’t be taxpayer money.
Fred Wertheimer, director of Democracy 21, a group that advocates campaign finance restrictions, backed the campaign finance provision in the bill.
“The campaign finance system today is flooded with funds coming from influence-seeking millionaires, billionaires, lobbyists, bundlers, dark money groups, super PACs, special interest PACs,” Wertheimer, a former president of the liberal advocacy group Common Cause, told the Senate committee.
“S 1 addresses this problem by providing an alternative financing system that gives candidates the option to finance their campaigns through small contributions matched at a 6-1 ratio,” he said.
Wertheimer said this would be different from the matching funds that are available to presidential candidates.
“The presidential system was financed with tax revenues,” he said. “The new system prohibits the use of tax revenues to finance the matching funds. The system would be financed entirely by a small surcharge on penalties and settlements paid to the government by corporations, corporate executives, and wealthy tax cheats.”
Democrats’ legislation and their spin is cynical, argued Bradley Smith, chairman of the Institute for Free Speech, which opposes restrictions on campaign spending.
“The cynicism in the For the Politicians Act is highlighted by two provisions. The first is the point noted by Mr. Wertheimer that the bill claims to not use taxpayer money to fund elections,” said Smith, a former FEC chairman, adding:
But then [it] immediately sets up a system using taxpayer money to fund elections. The bill provides the system will be paid for using fines, penalties, and the sale of government assets. But all of this is taxpayer money. All of us know that. How cynical is it to claim that the funds of the U.S. government are not taxpayer money, that they are just magical funds that are somehow there?
Next is the change in the FEC from a bipartisan organization to an agency that is under partisan control. How cynical is this? All morning long, through the first panel, I listened to one member after another of this committee insist we have to pass S 1 to do away with partisan redistricting. But apparently, we have to pass S 1 to get partisan enforcement of campaign finance laws.
7. ‘Absolutely Eliminate’
Although the legislation would expand same-day voter registration and allow felon voting and other procedures that Democrats contend enfranchise more voters, some voters would lose access, Warner, West Virginia’s secretary of state, told the Senate panel.
Sen. Shelley Capito, R-W.Va., asked the top election official of her state about a mobile voting app designed for overseas service members and those with disabilities.
“I’ve heard from our deaf and blind community in West Virginia about what S 1 would do to prevent them from using this tremendous accessibility option that you’ve pioneered in the state of West Virginia,” Capito said. “So, if you could share your concerns about the impact this bill would have on military voters and voters with disabilities.”
Warner said the legislation would “absolutely eliminate the opportunity [to vote] for military people overseas, who are voters overseas, and for voters with certain disabilities, especially the blind community and folks who are physically not able to get to the polling locations.”
The West Virginia election official added:
That’s where we have been able to enable them to vote from a mobile device that is tailored to their specific situation. I visited one quadriplegic who specifically could not get out of his bed to go vote—35 years old—[and he] said for the first time in his life he felt like an American, where he could vote using this. So, S 1 would eliminate that opportunity.
Capito responded: “This eliminated military [deployed] out of our country and certain folks with disabilities in our state to be able to vote in the most convenient and technology-tested way.”
8. Cleaning Voter Rolls and Suppression
Early in the hearing, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the ranking member of the Rules and Administration Committee, asked Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice, whether state laws using Social Security information to identify dead people would be considered voter suppression.
“We look at legislation across the country, we look to see whether the measure is potentially restricting or suppressing,” Waldman said.
Blunt followed up: “Just on the question I asked, why would that bill, removing dead people from the voter rolls based on Social Security information, be voter suppression?”
Waldman replied: “There are frequently errors that are used in Social Security.”
But Blunt noted a contradiction in Waldman’s support of Democrats’ legislation.
“So your view would be, the federal government is not capable of telling the state which Social Security recipients died and no longer get a check,” Blunt said. “So we should turn the entire election over to a federal structure? I just don’t agree.”
Senate Rules Chairwoman Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., clashed with Blunt.
“Can we allow the witness to answer the question?” Klobuchar asked.
After some back and forth, Blunt said: “No, the witness did answer the question. … Senator, the witness answered the question by saying the federal government often is in error in giving information to the states. That was the answer to the question.”
9. ‘Remember the Sabbath’
During Schumer’s remarks, he sharply criticized the Georgia Legislature for eliminating early voting on Sunday.
“The most reprehensible effort of all might be found in Georgia, where Republicans recently passed a bill to eliminate early voting on Sunday—on Sunday—the day when many churchgoing African Americans participate in voter drives known as Souls to the Polls,” the Senate majority leader said.
“What an astonishing coincidence. I’d like one of the Republican members on this committee to give us a plain sense justification for that restriction,” Schumer said, adding: “Monday through Saturday, legitimate voters show up, but Sunday is voter fraud day. Give me a break.”
Later in the hearing, Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., offered a justification for not allowing voting on Sunday.
“I cannot speak for Georgia, but I can speak for Mississippi on why we would never do that on a Sunday or hold an election on a Sunday,” Hyde-Smith said, before holding up a dollar bill.
She said, referring to the national motto:
This is a dollar bill. This says, ‘The United States of America … In God We Trust.’ Etched in stone in the U.S. Senate chamber is ‘In God We Trust.’
When you swore in all of these witnesses, the last thing you said to them, your instructions, was ‘so help you God.’ In God’s word, in Exodus 20:18, it says: ‘Remember the sabbath and keep it holy.’
That is my response to Sen. Schumer.
Ken McIntyre contributed to this report.
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