The U.S. House is expected to vote this week on H.R. 1, a massive overhaul of election and campaign law. It’s called the “For the People Act.”
The legislation is crammed with good ideas. It requires states to offer same-day voter registration in federal elections. States must use voter-verified paper ballots. Voter ID is prohibited, while a 15-day early voting period is mandatory. States must set up independent commissions to draw House districts.
At the same time, it’s a hard bill to like. As introduced, it’s almost 800 pages long, with sections on voter rights, campaign finance and ethics. It addresses foreign interference in elections, campaign disclosure requirements, even an ethics code for the Supreme Court.
It requires presidents and vice presidents to make their income tax returns public.
It proposes a voluntary matching fund mechanism for congressional campaigns. The money wouldn’t come from taxpayers, but “through a surcharge on settlements paid by corporate lawbreakers and wealthy tax cheats.” Oh.
There are simply too many items in the bill for a reasonable debate on its merits. It would almost certainly face legal challenges.
But let there be no doubt: The need for federal election reform and oversight is clear. That’s because state legislatures, including those in Missouri and Kansas, are considering another frontal assault on the right to vote.
STATE VOTER ID LAWS, PURGES OF REGISTRATIONS
The Missouri House, for example, recently passed a new voter ID law to replace the one discarded by the state’s Supreme Court. The state Senate is expected to debate the measure later in the session.
Legislators want to make it harder to gather petition signatures to amend the Missouri Constitution. There’s talk of rolling back absentee voting regulations in the state. Aggressive purges of registered voters are on the table. Mail-in voting may be reduced.
In Kansas, legislators are considering a bill prohibiting the courts or election officials from changing the deadline for receipt of mail-in votes, which would be shortened by two days.
Nationally, the Brennan Center for Justice found, lawmakers have offered more than 250 measures to restrict voting rights.
Why? “The voters of Missouri want their votes protected and counted properly,” said state Rep. John Simmons last week.
Of course they do. But their votes are fully protected under current law, and they’re counted correctly. There is no evidence otherwise. If Simmons or anyone else can prove fraud, let them do so. Send it to Secretary of State Jay Ashcroft.
At the same time, there is an important lesson embedded in the 2020 results: When voting is easier, more people vote. In Missouri, more than 3 million voters took advantage of expanded absentee and mail-in rules to cast presidential ballots. That’s 200,000 more people than cast such ballots in 2016.
We should all want that. Republicans should want more voters — even with November’s high turnout, the party still swept elections, up and down the ballot. There is no reason voting rules need to be rolled back.
GOP stalwarts who oppose H.R. 1 claim it would intrude on a state’s right to conduct elections. Sorry. The party abandoned that argument when states supported lawsuits throwing out millions of votes in other states. If you’re afraid of nationalized elections, blame Attorneys General Eric Schmitt of Missouri and Derek Schmidt of Kansas for their recent craven behavior. And Donald Trump’s.
The goal is clear. All adult Americans deserve free, fair, open elections with a guaranteed right to vote and a transparent process for counting those ballots. State lawmakers should stop trying to protect themselves by blocking access to the voting booth.
The Kansas City Star