H.R. 1: Democrats Act to Strip State Powers Over Elections

By J. Christian Adams January 10, 2019
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(CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

If you thought the midterm elections had problems, wait until you learn about Nancy Pelosi’s plan to terminate state control over American elections.
Democrats in Congress have announced their top legislative priority, and it isn’t health care, immigration, or taxes. Instead, they want to centralize power over elections in Washington, D.C. H.R. 1 is number one on the legislative agenda because it is the number one priority of House Democrats, leftist groups, deep-pocketed dark money, and those who use election process rules to help win elections -- or at least to cause chaos.
The bill is a 571-page dreamscape of wild wishes and federal mandates on states. The Constitution decentralizes power over American elections and puts states in charge. H.R. 1 would undo that.
Decentralization promotes individual liberty. When power over elections is centralized, it is easier for that power to be abused. When power over elections is decentralized, no single malevolent actor can exert improper control over the process. That is precisely why Democrats are so eager for Washington, D.C., to have more power over our elections.
H.R. 1 has 218 cosponsors. It forces states to implement mandatory voter registration. If someone is on a government list -- such as receiving welfare benefits or rental subsidies -- then they would be automatically registered to vote. Few states have enacted these systems because Americans still view civic participation as a voluntary choice. Moreover, aggregated government lists always contain duplicates and errors that states, even without mandatory voter registration, frequently fail to catch and fix.
H.R. 1 also mandates that states allow all felons to vote. Currently, states have the power under the Constitution to set the terms of eligibility in each state. Some states, like Maine, have decided that voting machines should be rolled into the prisons. Other states, like Nevada, have chosen to make a felony a disenfranchising event.
Leftist groups, and unfortunately some on the right, have fought for no-contrition re-enfranchisement for all felons. Florida voters just passed a constitutional amendment that mandates felon re-enfranchisement, no questions asked, no redemption needed, no contrition necessary.
This threatens the Republican Party’s viability in Florida because the number of felons it affects far surpasses the meager margin of victory for Senator Rick Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis in 2018. Felons vote overwhelmingly for Democrats, and exponentially more felons were re-enfranchised than the GOP margin of victory in 2016 and 2018.
Of course, that helps explain why Congressional Democrats have included it in H.R. 1 -- to help Democrats win elections.
H.R. 1 would also force states to have extended periods of early voting, and mandates that early voting sites be near bus or subway routes. While purportedly designed to increase participation, early voting has been shown to have no effect on turnout.
The advantage of early voting for Democrats is that it expands the election period and exploits the natural ground game advantage Democrats enjoy with activists monitoring polls. Republicans struggle to find people with time to monitor polls, and that disparity is exacerbated if voting takes place over a month or more. Early voting also promotes an uninformed electorate and political polarization, among other problems.
H.R. 1 also undermines the First Amendment by exerting government control over political speech and undoing the Supreme Court’s Citizen’s United decision.
The proposal also undoes another Supreme Court decision. In Husted, a case arising out of Ohio, the Court ruled that federal laws -- known as "Motor Voter" -- do not prohibit states from using a voter’s inactivity from triggering a mailing to that voter to see if they still are living at that location. H.R. 1 would undo that ruling and prohibit states from effectively cleaning voter rolls.
H.R. 1 mandates same-day voter registration and would obliterate state registration procedures. Same-day registration is the practice that enabled sufficient voter fraud in Minnesota to give Al Franken a seat in the Senate. Enough ineligible felons popped into the polls on election day using same-day registration, and their illegal ballots were the margin of Franken’s victory.
Same-day registration promotes voting by ineligible voters. It also promotes chaos at the polls. If you want longer lines, same-day registration is the way to go.
H.R. 1 limits the ability of states to cooperate to see who is registered in multiple states at the same time. Democrat Congressional nominee Wendy Rosen was able to vote for President Obama twice in the same election in Maryland and Florida -- a federal felony -- because Maryland does not participate in interstate cross checks of rolls.
H.R. 1 would nullify state laws that permit election observers to work as partners with election officials to file a formal challenge to a suspicious voter registration. Election watchdogs have been essential players in ensuring that the dead and ineligible do not cast ballots.
H.R. 1 would criminalize protected political speech by making it a crime to “discourage” someone from voting or to use deceptive practices in politics. It also would bar states from disallowing vote by mail.
The bill would prohibit chief election officials in each state from participating in federal election campaigns -- call this the anti-Kris Kobach and Brian Kemp provision.
The bill mandates that absentee ballots can be mailed for free. It mandates that states adopt so-called "independent" redistricting commissions.
But the biggest prize in H.R. 1 is to restore Justice Department approval powers over state election law changes, known as “preclearance.” This preclearance power, struck down by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, is the one power that unites them all. Preclearance gave radical bureaucrats at the Justice Department Voting Section, where I used to work, the power to micromanage every single state election law behind closed doors.
Here’s how it worked: Whenever a state wanted to make an election law change, no matter how small, it needed approval from Washington, D.C. bureaucrats at the Department of Justice. Move a polling place, change the hours the election office is open, hire a new translator, change a precinct line, or move voting from the school gym to the school library? DOJ had to approve.
Require voter ID, allow citizenship verification, increase penalties for voter fraud, enact election integrity procedures or implement programs to clean rolls? DOJ had to approve.
And now you see why the Left wants the power back.
When the Supreme Court struck down this small but powerful part of the Voting Rights Act, a law passed in 1965 to protect minority voting rights in the south, preclearance was required in places like Mississippi and Georgia, but also in New York City (some boroughs, not others), South Dakota, Alaska, Michigan, California, and New Hampshire. Sixteen states in all were under Washington’s thumb, as well as the majority of the U.S. population.
The Supreme Court eventually said times had changed and the 1965 formula that captured these sixteen states was obsolete.
The Left wants this power back and has cooked up a new formula for federal oversight.
If this power is revived, Democrats know they can rely on leftist lawyers who populate the bowels of the DOJ Voting Section to oppose voter ID, citizenship verification, and any other law that might impact their ideological and partisan preferences. These same lawyers abused this power when it was in effect, despite being sanctioned repeatedly by federal courts for abusing it. The lawyers who abused power are still employed, or enjoying sojourns as opinion columnists in the Washington Post. They suffer no consequence for their abuse of power. To the contrary, they thrive because of it.
Preclearance isn’t about civil rights anymore. It’s about raw political power disguised as civil rights.
Meanwhile, the usual array of racial and political interest groups have rallied in favor of the proposed federal power grab. Mi Famila Vota -- an open borders racial interest group -- plainly puts H.R. 1 in the context of the larger policy struggle:
For too long, communities of color, including Latinos, have faced attacks regarding their voting rights and gerrymandered political districts have been drawn up by lawmakers controlled by special interests so that their priorities, like tax breaks for the rich at the expense of the middle-class, drive the political agendas. Meanwhile, our priorities for better health care, a clean and safe environment, and commonsense immigration reform have been brushed aside. That is wrong and that has to change.
Failed Democrat congressional candidates like Andrew Janz are joining the effort to change election rules. Janz barely lost to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Ca.) in a contest Nunes was expected to win by double digits.

“What I learned in my race is that you can’t begin to address the structural problems with our elections during the middle of a campaign. You need to take care of those things before the campaign starts,” Janz told The Hill.
The official title of H.R. 1 is a bill “to expand Americans' access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, and strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and for other purposes.”
It’s the “other purposes” Senate Republicans need to understand. They must kill this federal power grab.