Heritage Foundation President, Kay C. James, said in a recent article the right to vote is one of the most sacred rights that we as citizens can exercise. Hardly anyone—Democrats, Republicans and independents—trusts the process anymore, and legitimate concerns exist about the fairness and accuracy of our elections. We saw all of this on display in the 2020 election. If the proposed bill H.R. 1 becomes law, it is certain this would become the new normal in America. This week, we break down H.R. 1 and how it would undermine our election integrity forever.
Tim Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher and this is Heritage Explains. Have you heard of H.R. 1 or the For the People Act? The Democrats say this is going to make elections more free, and more fair, and increase democracy for all. And since they now have control of the House, the Senate, and the White House, it's closer than ever to passing. So what does H.R. 1 propose? If you search online for a definition or watch videos of politicians touting H.R. 1, you read and hear general phrases like it will improve access, promote integrity, ensure security, empower citizens, and strengthen oversight, but these are outcomes they hope to achieve. We still need to know how they intend to achieve them. Here's one of the lead sponsors of the bill in the House, John Sarbanes. He's a Democrat from Maryland.
John Sarbanes: If we could get the reforms that are embodied in H.R. 1 into law, it would be absolutely transformational. It would be the most robust, kind of breathtaking set of reforms that we've seen in two generations. And it would, in a way with a kind of quantum leap, it would push our democracy towards a place where Americans could feel faith again and restore their trust in how we operate.
Doescher: Okay. Nice language. He sounds like a genuine guy, but still no substance. I guess we're just going to have to read this bill the old fashioned way. And when we do, we quickly learn the left believes that in order to have all those wonderful things they said, H.R. 1 would have to federalize the election process and impose unnecessary, unwise, and unconstitutional mandates on the states. Imagine that, the same body of Congress that has less than a 25% approval rating will have a major hand in the administration of free and fair elections in Bismark, North Dakota and beyond.
Hans von Spakovsky: What this bill does is take the worst aspects of what happened in 2020 and try to cement them into federal law all over the country. The key to stopping H.R. 1 is going to be in the US Senate. And that I think is going to be dependent on the filibuster, unless a couple of Democratic senators realize that this is just a bad bill.
Doescher: This week, Hans von Spakovsky joins us. He runs The Heritage Foundation Election Law Reform Initiative. He's a leading voice on H.R. 1 and a frequent guest of Heritage Explains. This week, he tells us why H.R. 1 is not at all what the left would have you believe. In fact, he argues that if passed, it would be devastating to our election process forever. More after this.
Doescher: Hans, the stated purpose of the bill H.R. 1 is the following, I'm going to, I'm going to read from it, "To expand American's access to the ballot box, reduce the influence of big money in politics, strengthen ethics rules for public servants, and implement other anti-corruption measures for the purpose of fortifying our democracy and for other purposes." Now, to me, this all sounds good, but I know who's proposing it. So, obviously the devil's in the details. Explain just a little bit more how or if this bill will do these good sounding things.
von Spakovsky: No, it'll do the exact opposite. A better description of it is that this bill would be a federal takeover and nationalization of the running and administration of elections, basically taking it away from the states. It would change election rules to make it easier to cheat and easier to manipulate election results. And on the ethics and campaign finance rule changes, it's designed to restrict and chill speech, political speech and political activity. So it it's just a, in fact, I'll tell you, Timothy, this is one of the worst bills I've ever seen in my years in Washington.
Doescher: Well, just go a little deeper into that. Why is it a big deal to take the power away from the states to manage the elections? And I know we've covered it a little bit, but I just want to cover that again, because that's a huge part of this.
von Spakovsky: Well, look, there's a reason the framers of the Constitution gave the authority to the states to run elections. And the reason for that was they didn't want the people who are in control in Washington, say one political party, which is apparently the case right now, changing the rules nationally to ensure that they remain in office. By breaking the power up as to how elections are conducted among the 50 states, they were trying to prevent that from happening. And it means, with the national government running elections, that they can put in bad rules, such as one of the provisions in the bill that outlaws all state voter ID laws.
Doescher: And we're kind of just trailing along with this, we all witnessed the outcome of the 2020 election. There's a lot of information flying around about that in general, but I want to clear some things up, put some things to bed, and maybe affirm some of the things. Can you just give us a quick overview of what actually happened in the 2020 election that would cause a bill like H.R. 1 to have legitimacy?
von Spakovsky: Well, I actually don't think what happened last year gives it legitimacy, because in fact, what this bill does is take the worst aspects of what happened in 2020 and try to cement them into federal law all over the country. As you know, we had a huge increase in absentee ballots. And one of the things that folks unfortunately on the left side of the political aisle tried to do was to get rid of the security protocols governing absentee ballots. And to give you just, again, another quick example of this is look, unfortunately, absentee ballots are the ballots most likely to get stolen and altered, because they're the only kind of ballots that are voted outside of the supervision of election officials and outside the observation of poll watchers.
von Spakovsky: So last year, folks on the left filed lawsuits, trying to use COVID-19 as an excuse to say states that require a witness signature for an absentee ballot should not be able to enforce that witness signature requirement. Look, that is a basic security protocol is to make sure there's someone who witnesses that it's really the voter who signed the ballot and filled it out, not somebody else. They were successful in some cases, unsuccessful in others, but guess what? H.R. 1 has a provision in it that said that no state can require a witness signature on an absentee ballot.
Doescher: You recently said in a great article, "For democracy to survive and thrive, it's crucial that every legitimate vote be counted and not diluted by election fraud and other problems. It's time for states to implement these reforms to shore up the people's trust in our elections." Now we saw a couple of days ago, Governor DeSantis in Florida, he's pushing to ban universal mail-in voting and ballot harvesting. Talk a little bit more about states' ability to push back a little bit, but then also talk about the fact that if H.R. 1 is passed, it's all for nothing.
von Spakovsky: Yeah, DeSantis is actually trying to put through a good package of election reforms. For example, banning vote harvesting. For folks who don't know what that means, I actually call that vote trafficking. In states that allow that like California, they allow anybody to show up at your front door and say, "Hey, I'll deliver your absentee ballot for you back to election officials." Well, of course the problem with that is that it puts your ballot into the hands of people who have a stake in the outcome of the election, campaign staffers, candidates, party, activists, political consultants, all of who, once they get your ballot, could change it, alter it, not deliver it.
von Spakovsky: It's just not a good idea. And so, in Florida, they're being smart, they want to ban vote harvesting. Well, guess what? If H.R. 1 passes any state law like that will be voided and thrown out, because H.R. 1 requires states to allow vote harvesting. It's as if Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer who are pushing this through Congress, they want to make it easy for people's ballots to be stolen and for fraud to occur. That's the only reason to put in a rule like that.
Doescher: Is there any chance that you think that this could pass? Is there a chance that it could be bi-partisan, Republicans coming along? I'm not exactly sure the lay of the land there, but maybe you have an insight to that.
von Spakovsky: No, H.R. 1, I would hope maybe some members of the Democratic party would rethink it, realize it's not a good idea. But the same bill, virtually the same bill was introduced in 2019 and it passed on a party line vote. So it looks like that's going to happen again. The key to stopping H.R. 1 is going to be in the US Senate, and that I think is going to be dependent on the filibuster unless a couple of Democratic senators realize that this is just a bad bill. It's one that really will damage everybody, because, boy, you think people aren't confident and distrust what happened to the last election? If these roles go in place, they're going to be distrusting the results in all elections going forward.
Doescher: The facts about H.R. 1, the For the People Act of 2021, I'm going to link to this. Hans, you and the shop put this together. It is a comprehensive overview of H.R. 1. And I wanted to just give you an opportunity to kind of, not just talk about H.R. 1, but you can also get into your piece in which you said how we can respond to it. We want to be proactive about going about fighting this. So everything that's bad about H.R. 1, we have a solution to push back for that. And we've mentioned a few of them, but just go through that just a little bit more and contrast the two.
von Spakovsky: This is not a partisan thing. It doesn't matter whether you're a Republican, Democrat, or an Independent, you should want fair and secure elections. And that means, yeah, we want access, we want everybody who's eligible able to vote, but you have to balance access with security. So our list of best practices, it's very long, but it's everything from the proper cleanup of voter registration roles in the state to make sure that they are accurate. An easy way for states to do that is to make sure their voter registration lists are tied into other state databases like DMV.
von Spakovsky: So that when you go and get a driver's license and you tell them where you live, it matches your records in the voter registration list. Every state needs a voter ID law, but they need a law that applies, not only to in-person voting, but also to absentee ballot. I mean, it's a whole list of things like that. And by the way, they should not allow vote harvesting. That should be banned as just a basic security protocol to not only prevent fraud in absentee allies, but also to prevent coercion and pressure being brought on voters in their homes by people working for the political parties and candidates.
Doescher: So talk a little bit about some of the more left leaning states, talk a little bit about their goals here. Are they working with the federal government to do this, or are they saying, "Hey, we want to have control over our elections. We don't want the federal government, we don't want Washington telling Oregon how to do their election." Oregon has a different system than most of the country has. Their unique. Are they banding together?
von Spakovsky: I haven't heard that they're banding together. I have heard some grumblings from state officials, including secretaries of state in some of the blue state who are, while they might like of the provisions in H.R. 1, they don't like the idea of the federal government simply taking this whole field over and telling them what to do. And that is the bottom line on this. Again, I don't care whether you're a Democrat, or Republican, or an Independent, you should want the people in your state to make the decisions on how elections are conducted in your state and not a bunch of know-it-alls in Washington, DC dictating to you how to run your elections.
von Spakovsky: That's particularly true, because the there's no one-size-fits-all policy. The rules that govern how you go vote that might be convenient in a dense urban area like New York City are not going to be the same rules that are convenient for people who are voting in the vast wide open spaces of Montana or at Wyoming. And it's just not a good idea for Washington, DC to be dictating the rules, especially when they're bad rules like saying you can't apply a voter ID requirement.
Doescher: It's probably safe to say that for whatever confusion existed in the 2020 election, that that would probably only increase with H.R. 1, correct?
von Spakovsky: Absolutely correct. Yes.
Doescher: Okay. So, that would become a new normal in elections and probably election integrity would never be the same.
von Spakovsky: Yeah, I think that's a very accurate statement as why this is such a scary bail, because it could affect, in a bad way, our elections for the ongoing future.
Doescher: Hans, I want to impart to you, I want to send to you through the microphone energy vibes, because you have been going nonstop since, well, since really the beginning of 2020 on this. You predicted a lot of this was going to happen. Unfortunately, it did. And I want to impart on you energy and good vibes to keep fighting this, Hans, because really it is, it is so important and necessary. And thank you so much for being with us today.
von Spakovsky: Sure. Thanks for having me.
Doescher: Friends, thank you so much for listening to another episode of Heritage Explains. Hit that share button, hit that like button, send us an email at email@example.com. We'd love to hear from you. Also check out the show notes section, I've linked to a lot of relevant information that helped build this episode. So, please check it out. Michelle Cordero's up next week. We'll talk to you then.