Here is the question that Sen. Joe Manchin, West Virginia Democrat, needs to answer: Is he going to vote in favor of a bill that takes away the power of his constituents—his voters—and their elected state legislators to decide what rules govern elections in their state? Because that is exactly what H.R. 1, which represents a federal takeover and nationalization of the election process and is now in the Senate, would do.
H.R. 1 is misleadingly called the “For the People Act.” But it would actually impose numerous misguided and dangerous mandates on the states that do everything from gutting voter ID laws and restricting the ability of election officials, like West Virginia’s Secretary of State, Mac Warner, from maintaining the accuracy of state voter registration rolls, to taking away the right of state legislatures to redistrict and redraw their state’s political boundaries.
Does Sen. Manchin really think that is a good idea?
Despite its serious constitutional problems and its reckless, irresponsible policies, H.R. 1 passed the House of Representatives on a party-line vote, with only one Democrat, Rep. Bennie Thompson of Mississippi, voting against it due to its redistricting takeover as well as its new public financing program for candidates running for Congress. Gosh, just what we need, our taxes going to finance the campaigns of candidates we don’t like and would never vote for. Thompson told Fox News that his constituents didn’t like either of these parts of the bill—does Sen. Manchin really think West Virginia voters will like having these rules forced on them?
With the Senate split evenly between the Republican and Democratic Parties, Sen. Manchin is the key vote in stopping this dangerous attempt to destroy the integrity of the election process by voiding all of the safety and security protocols, laws, and regulations that states have implemented to safeguard the right to vote. H.R. 1 will also severely chill and limit political speech and activity in the changes it makes to federal campaign laws, violating the First Amendment rights of Americans regardless of their party affiliation.
H.R. 1 requires states to implement same-day voter registration at the very same time it bans states from asking for an ID to verify the new voter’s identity and residence. It mandates online voter registration that is not tied to any existing state record, thus opening up the state’s voter registration system to massive fraud by hackers and cybercriminals.
It tells states they have to automatically register voters from multiple state agencies like the DMV and public assistance and unemployment offices, as well as federal agencies like Medicaid offices and even the Federal Bureau of Prisons. This will lead to multiple registrations of the same individual in the same state and in multiple states, as well as the registration of individuals who are not eligible to vote such as convicted felons and illegal aliens.
Under H.R. 1, states can’t apply the most basic security precautions to absentee ballots. Not only do they have to provide one to any voter who asks for one with being allowed to ask for identification, they can’t require a witness signature or notarization on the returned absentee ballot.
States will have to allow third-party strangers, including political operatives and campaign staffers, to collect voters’ absentee ballots, a policy that puts a valuable commodity—election ballots—in the hands of those who have a stake in the outcome of the election and who would therefore be in a position to intimidate a voter in his home as she completes her ballot or in a position to alter or discard that ballot after leaving the voter’s home.
Worse, H.R. 1 not only severely limits the ability of anyone to challenge the eligibility of any voter they believe is not eligible to vote, it bans states from ever taking anyone off their voter list for not responding to official notices from election officials or not voting—regardless of how long it has been since that person voted.
This is the most dangerous election bill I have ever seen. And I say that not only as a lawyer who has enforced federal voting rights law to stop discrimination, but as someone who has served as a local election official in two different states. H.R. 1 will interfere with the ability of states and their citizens to determine the qualifications and eligibility of voters, to ensure the accuracy of voter registration rolls, to secure the fairness and integrity of elections, to participate and speak freely in the political process, and to determine the district boundary lines for electing their representatives.
Sen. Joe Manchin should do what is best for West Virginians—and the rest of the American public—and not allow Washington bureaucrats to take away the rights of his constituents.
This piece originally appeared in The Washington Times