Last week, a bill to fundamentally change America’s election system narrowly passed the Democratic-controlled House by a 220-210 vote. Sponsors call H. R. 1 the “For the People Act,” but critics note that the legislation would take power away from people to run elections in their own states.
The sweeping impact of H.R. 1 is not in dispute. Congressional Progressive Caucus Chair Pramila Jayapal (D-WA) calls the measure “transformational,” adding “this bill contains many priorities that the Progressive Caucus has long advocated for.”
Former Vice President Mike Pence agrees. “The bill would force states to adopt universal mail-in ballots, early voting, same-day voter registration, online voter registration, and automatic voter registration for any individual listed in state and federal government databases… ensuring duplicate registrations and that millions of illegal immigrants are quickly registered to vote,” he said in a statement.
And a group of twenty state attorneys general, all Republicans, wrote a letter to Congress outlining why they believe the law is unconstitutional, violating the states’ exclusive right to run their own elections.
While the bill addresses nearly every aspect of voting — and even reaches out to impose restrictions on the U.S. Supreme Court — there are three aspects of the legislation critics say deserve the most attention.
An End to Voter ID Laws
Polls show Americans support requiring some form of ID in order to vote, which explains why 36 states have voter ID mandates on the books. As the attorneys general pointed out in their letter, H.R. 1 “would dismantle meaningful voter ID laws by allowing a statement, as a substitute for prior-issued, document-backed identification, to ‘attest to the individual’s identity.’”
In other words, simply signing a document stating your identity would be enough to override your state’s voter ID laws.
“This does little to ensure that voters are who they say they are,” the attorneys general note. “Worse, it vitiates the capacity of voter ID requirements to protect against improper interference with voting rights.”
Taxpayer-Funded Campaign Ads
Republicans call H.R. 1 a partisan bill designed to let politicians take money from taxpayers to fund their own campaigns. It creates a program that matches low-dollar donations up to $200 at a 600 percent rate, turning it into $1,400. Those public dollars can in turn be used to buy campaign ads and Facebook posts, as well as pay for the other costs of campaigning. And because incumbents tend to raise more money from more contributors, these federal dollars would disproportionately flow to federal officeholders like your current member of Congress.
According to the National Republican Congressional Committee (NRCC), that adds up to about $7.2 million in public dollars to members of Congress. “It’s absolutely disgusting that while Americans are trying to survive a pandemic, House Democrats are working to funnel public money to their own reelection campaigns,” NRCC spokeswoman Torunn Sinclair said in a statement.
Ending “Election Day”
Many Americans like the tradition of an Election Day when their friends and neighbors turn out to head to the polls. The election system has always had a process to allow some sort of remote voting — for soldiers serving abroad or those too infirm to come to the local high school or town hall and cast their ballot in person. And some states, like Oregon and Colorado, have moved entirely to mail-in ballots.
H.R. 1 ends that tradition by forcing every state to adopt early voting — a minimum of 15 days of “Election Day.” Every state must allow everyone to vote by mail and, as National Review magazine reports, “States are banned from the most elementary security methods for mail-in ballots: They must provide a ballot to everyone without asking for identification and may not require notarization or a witness to signatures.”
And if those ballots don’t make it in by Election Day — no worries. Ballots that arrive up to 10 days after the election is over must be counted. Add in the early voting and Election Day literally becomes Election Month.
At a time when the United States needs to restore faith in its election system, critics believe the “For the People Act” needlessly muddies the waters. Republicans and Democrats agree elections need more transparency, but the result of last week’s vote in the House makes it clear this is not a bipartisan approach to election reform.