Voter Suppression

Heritage Explains

Voter Suppression

The Case for Stopping the For the People Act in the Senate

Many on the left claim that voter suppression is not only happening throughout America, but we need to pass sweeping legislation (H.R. 1/For The People Act) to federalize all elections, putting our democratic process in the hands of Washington, D.C. bureaucrats.

But the Census Bureau’s recent 2020 election survey of voters clearly demonstrates that those who have been claiming, without justification or evidence, that we have been experiencing a wave of so-called “voter suppression” have a lot of explaining to do. This week, we dig into this new report, and build the case for stopping the For The People Act in the Senate.

Tim Doescher: Hey, it's Tim here. Before we get into the episode this week, I wanted to just, first of all, thank you for listening to Heritage Explains. Thanks for that download each week, for leaving five star ratings. And for, of course, leaving us comments. We read them, we learn from them, they matter. Thank you again.

Doescher: Did you know that Heritage Explains has a Facebook page? We're constantly adding things to it from short, explainer videos to entire episodes of the podcast. It's just another way you can stay in touch, you can stay engaged, and share Heritage research and policy priorities with friends and family. 

Doescher: Okay, onto this week's episode.

Doescher: From The Heritage Foundation, I'm Tim Doescher, and this is Heritage Explains.

Stacey Abrams: Voter suppression acts as a means of denying those policies' reality. And it is baked into the DNA of America. It has been perfected in recent years, in the last two decades, in a way that lets us forget that it's real because it has so many pieces. And that's the architecture. Voter suppression isn't simply saying you can't vote. Voter suppression is both the physical activity, but it's also a psychic effect. Telling people their votes won't count, telling people that the system is rigged, has the act of actually stopping people from trying to use it.

Vanita Gupta: The way that people are experiencing suppression right now is in things like Texas limiting dropboxes in really densely populated places where mostly black and brown communities live. It's the long lines outside of polling places that can become dispiriting, or for folks, who've got a lot of family and work obligations, low-income folks, folks of color and others that can be dissuading from voting.

Kristen Clarke: These efforts to make voting more difficult, it was almost a direct response, a backlash, to the election of our nation's first African-American president. And those efforts have only intensified in the last three years. And most certainly, race seems to be the driving force here. Race, absolutely colors this story.

Doescher: Those voices are former Georgia gubernatorial candidate and activist Stacey Abrams, U.S. Associate Attorney General Vanita Gupta, and U.S. Justice Department nominee, Kristen Clarke. The clips were taken from interviews leading up to the presidential election in 2020, where they all made the case that voter suppression is happening, and continues to happen, in America.

Doescher: Well, if that's true, it is a serious problem. So what is their solution? They're advocating the passing of the so-called For The People Act, or as we've referred to it on several previous episodes of Heritage Explains, H.R. 1. This would completely federalize the election process, taking control out of the state's hands and giving this power to bureaucrats in Washington DC.

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 U.S. 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: That's Heritage Senior Fellow Hans von Spakovsky, from a previous episode of Explains. Where he spelled out how the so-called For The People Act would be the most consequential law ever passed, fundamentally changing America.

Doescher: But remember, liberals say that we need to pass it because it would fix voter suppression throughout the U.S. But we have to ask, is voter suppression actually happening?

Doescher: This week, Hans joins us again to talk about a new study by the U.S. Census department that gives us the real, data-driven story behind voter suppression in the U.S., and why it's imperative that the so-called For The People Act must be stopped in the senate.

Doescher: Hans, this week the Senate will mark up S1, which is the For The People Act. And we've explained H.R. 1, we've done an episode on that earlier this year. Basically, it would totally federalize the election process in America. And we are firmly against that. And we're going to talk about that later in the interview, but I wanted to focus on your recent piece in Fox News, which I think really helps frame this discussion, and it's going to give us a lot to consider and talk about as the Senate takes this up.

Doescher: It's called, Voter Suppression? Dems Flat Out Wrong. Census Data Gives Real Story About U.S. Elections. So, before we get into the numbers, what is this census data? What's it measuring, and is it reliable?

von Spakovsky: Yeah, the Census Bureau does a survey after every federal election. So this goes back for a very long time. And what they do is they go out and they see, well, what was the voter registration? What was the turnout across the country? And they break it down by sex, and age, and race. So you can get very detailed information on who registered to vote and who turned out to vote in the last election.

>>> America's Biggest Issues: Election Integrity

von Spakovsky: And then you can compare that to prior elections to see, well, did voter registration go up? Did it go down? Did turn out go up, did it go down? And we had a remarkable turnout in the 2020 election. As the census Bureau says, it was the highest turnout in a presidential election in this century.

Doescher: Yeah. So let's get on to turn out. What is it saying about voter turnout?

von Spakovsky: Well in 2020, they say the turnout was 66.8%. to put that in perspective, that was almost three percentage points higher than in 2008 when Barack Obama was elected. It came close to being the highest recorded turnout presidential election. It was just short of beating the record, which was 1992 when 67.7% of Americans turned out to vote.

Doescher: Wow. I mean, that says a lot about candidates. The candidates running, I think. I mean, that says a lot about that.

von Spakovsky: It does.

Doescher: Not necessarily suppression, that just says what's driving people to the polls, I think, more than anything.

von Spakovsky: Right. But, remember, I mean, at one point I think it was Kristen Clarke. Kristen Clarke is the radical nominee that the Biden restoration has put forward for the civil rights division. And at one point she said last year that the states were suppressing votes by making it really difficult to register to vote.

von Spakovsky: Okay, well the census survey shows that the voter registration rate of Americans was 72.7%. to put that in perspective, that was higher voter registration than in the 2000 election, the 2004 election, the 2008 election, and the 2012 election, after the Obama folks had been in charge for four years.

Doescher: Voter registration is something that the left says we're severely lacking in. What are they saying that we need to do more of? Because those sound like good numbers. It sounds like whatever they're doing, it's working.

von Spakovsky: No, it is working. But see, what they want to do is get rid of all of the security protocols that are in place for things like voter registration. For example, S1, which we were talking about earlier, puts in all these restrictions on states being able to maintain the accuracy of the roles, and take people off who have died or moved away.

von Spakovsky: Because they say, oh, but we just don't have enough registered voters. Well, we're having record numbers of people registering. Because it's just basically true, it's easier to register to vote and easier to vote today than ever before in our entire history.

Doescher: Yeah. It's funny, I was reading a study as I was prepping for this by the Brennan Center, and they're on the left for sure. Yes. And they say that one of the biggest problems is clearing out these voter rolls. We have to be careful that we don't remove people from voter rolls who are actually going to vote.

Doescher: And I was sitting there thinking to myself, I said, well, this census report completely debunks that claim, almost. Because we are seeing that people are not only registering, but they're turning out now.

von Spakovsky: Yeah. And that was, by the way, remember, part of this myth, this narrative myth pushed by the left, and this includes by the way, Kamala Harris the vice-president, Eric Holder, the former attorney general, is that all the supposedly voter suppression laws passed by the States or aimed at minority voters.

Doescher: Yeah, oh yes, absolutely. I wanted to get into that because you deal with that. That minority groups, the voting. So yeah, just give us a little bit on how we're doing there.

von Spakovsky: Well, in 2020, 63% of black Americans turned out to vote, compared to only 60% in 2016. Now, the reason that's important is remember in 2016, the Democrats, Obama and Biden, had been in charge of what? The U.S. justice department for eight years.

Doescher: Yeah.

von Spakovsky: Which meant that if there really were voter suppression laws being passed by state legislatures, why, they could have sued. They could have gone after them under the Voting Rights Act. And yet, obviously, black turnout was higher after four years of the Trump administration than eight years of the Obama-Biden administration.

Doescher: Wow.

von Spakovsky: And by the way, same thing for Asians. Asian-Americans turned out at 59% in last year's election. In 2016, after eight years of the Obama administration, they only turned out at 49%. That's a 10 percentage point hike in the turnout of Asian Americans across the country.

Doescher: The narrative of voter suppression, the narrative of suppressing turnout, is pushing one of the most, if not the most consequential pieces of legislation to ever come through Washington, DC. I want to get into it a little bit more. Just remind us what's at stake with S1 now, For The People Act.

von Spakovsky: Well, unfortunately, the house version of S1, H.R. 1, already passed the house. And it passed on a completely party line vote with only one exception.

Doescher: Wow.

von Spakovsky: Benny Thompson, who's Democrat from Mississippi, voted against it. Sole Democrat to do so, saying that well, he liked parts of the bill, but his constituents didn't like parts of it. Such as, it has a public funding program for people running for Congress.

von Spakovsky: So in other words, if you're a taxpayer, your tax money may be used to subsidize the campaign of somebody running for Congress who you would never vote for in a million years. Okay. but the worst parts of it are all the election administration changes. I mean, it outlaws voter ID laws. It tells states that if they have, for example, a witness signature requirement on absentee ballots, they can't enforce them. I mean, it's just one thing after another like that, that seems to be intended to make it easy to cheat in our elections.

Doescher: From what I've seen, the left is pushing, they're not necessarily pushing that this is going to fix the election issues. They are pushing that. But what they're pushing is sunshine and openness in the process. We're going to expose all these big corporations that are donating money and stuff, that's kind of how they focus on. So there is a portion of this bill that focuses on that. Can you talk a little bit about that?

von Spakovsky: Yeah. That's a whole nother section of the bill that makes all these changes in federal campaign finance laws. But again, in a bad way.

von Spakovsky: Look, political organizations already have to disclose all their donors. But what this bill is intended to do is to go after nonprofit associations and organizations, and it'll affect everybody from the NAACP to the National Rifle Association. And the intent here is to expose the donors and members of those organizations so that they will be harassed and intimidated. And the support for organizations will dry up.

von Spakovsky: And in fact, it is a clear violation of first amendment rights and the associational rights that Americans have to associate with other people who share their beliefs on all kinds of different issues.

Doescher: And we've seen this happening now in this so-called woke corporate America.

von Spakovsky: That's right.

Doescher: Where they get ahold of information and they say, you can't use our server, Parler. We, as a corporation, are going to respond to this so-called campaign set forth by this. And so this would basically be institutionalized ability for corporations to single people out like this.

von Spakovsky: Yeah. And I mean, people always talk about the blacklisting that occurred in Hollywood in the fifties. This would make that seem amateurish by comparison, because what you would have going on is blacklisting of individuals. And the thing that didn't exist in the fifties, which is these social media platforms that make it easy to intimidate and harass individuals.

Doescher: So this census report, is this something that conservatives or Republicans could actually use against, in making the argument against S1 and passing it? Is this something that they should use?

von Spakovsky: Yes, they should use it. And what I found most interesting about this, as you mentioned, I wrote about this for Fox. There's been hardly any comment on this report from left-wing media sources. Hardly anybody has said a word about it because it so counters the story they've been painting.

Doescher: It's so funny you should say that, because I did quite an extensive search on this report, and your piece was pretty much the only thing that came up in a Google news search. So that something. Google doesn't like to put your pieces out there.

von Spakovsky: No. The other side doesn't like it when facts actually surface the show that they are misleading the American people, and that's what this census survey does.

Doescher: Voter Suppression? Dems Flat Out Wrong. Census Data Gives Real Story About U.S. Elections. This is a piece on Fox I'm going to link to it in the show notes, Hans. What else can you tell us of the state of play that's happening here? Is this going to be a sole party line vote, where Kamala Harris is the tie breaker and S1 passes? What does this look like right now?

von Spakovsky: Well, S1 is about to get marked up in the Senate. Which is, as you know, the process by which they make changes through the committee process, et cetera.

von Spakovsky: We don't know yet what Joe Manchin of West Virginia is going to do on this bill. He hasn't made it clear whether he'll vote for it or against it. The one thing he has said is that he's not willing to end the filibuster rule. And if the filibuster rule isn't ended, well then the Republicans have the ability to potentially stall this bill on the floor of the Senate, and prevent it from getting to a vote.

von Spakovsky: Because what a filibuster means is, it takes 60 votes to end a filibuster. Which means you then no longer have debate, and you finally vote on the bill. And if he's not willing to change that rule so that a small number of votes can do it, then hopefully the bill will be stopped.

Doescher: Okay. Well, we're going to hope that he holds strong on that. Because it sounds like he is the sole person that is standing in the way of, again, one of the most consequential pieces of legislation to ever pass Congress and then be signed in law by a president. So hopefully we can keep tracking this.

Doescher: Hans, thank you so much for joining us this week and thank you for your piece.

von Spakovsky: Sure, thanks For having me.

Doescher: And this week's episode of Heritage Explains is over. Thank you so much for listening. Go ahead and check out the show notes, I've linked to a lot of information that helped build out this week's episode. So log-on, check it out. As always, we can't wait to upload the next episode, Sunday at 8:00 PM. We'll catch you then.

Heritage Explains is brought to you by more than half a million members of The Heritage Foundation. It is produced by Michelle Cordero and Tim Doescher, with editing by John Popp.

Show Notes:

Voter Suppression? Dems Flat-Out Wrong. Census Data Gives Real Story About U.S. Elections

The Census Bureau's Report on the 2020 Election

Heritage Foundation Voter Fraud Database

How States Can Improve the Integrity of Elections