Our Opinion: Election integrity doesn't require a federal takeover
Matt Slocum | AP photo
Election workers in Chester County, Pa., process mail-in and absentee ballots for the 2020 general election at West Chester University on Nov. 4. Democrats plan to move quickly on the first bill of the new Congress, which would set federal election standards. The For the People Act would require states to offer early voting, same-day registration and the option of absentee voting for all registered voters.
A sweeping overhaul of U.S. voting laws hurtling through the House would steamroll state legislatures and effectively federalize American elections in a brazen congressional power grab.
H.R. 1, titled the “For the People Act of 2021,” is a 789-page assortment of election law changes that would drastically alter North Carolina’s voting procedures and usurp authority the Constitution reserves for the states. With five committee hearings in February alone, this bill is on the fast track for a floor vote.
Rep. John Sarbanes, D-Maryland, introduced the legislation last month with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s backing. All 220 cosponsors are Democrats, and that lengthy list includes Wilson’s Rep. G.K. Butterfield along with Reps. Alma Adams, David Price, Deborah Ross and Kathy Manning of North Carolina.
There are a few commonsense reforms, such as requiring the use of voter-verified paper ballots with direct-recording electronic voting machines and increasing cybersecurity measures to deter hackers, but the good is bundled with the bad and the ugly.
Under the guise of expanding access to the ballot box, H.R. 1 would limit states’ ability to audit and update voter registration lists. Election mail sent to a voter’s address that’s returned as undeliverable would no longer be a basis for removal, and interstate crosschecks would require supplemental information before someone registered to vote in multiple states could be dropped from the rolls.
Though the bill would dilute some states’ voter identification requirements by allowing voters to sign sworn affidavits in lieu of presenting photo ID, it wouldn’t have much practical effect in North Carolina.
The 2018 law implementing our voter ID constitutional amendment already allows affidavits for voters who lack qualifying ID cards due to a reasonable impediment or a religious objection. Voter ID is on hold here as legal challenges wind their way through the courts.
Any voter who wishes to cast a ballot by mail could do so without a notary stamp or witness signature. H.R. 1 also requires states to allow ballot harvesting and would prevent any limitation on the number of ballots an individual could return on others’ behalf.
Encouraging middlemen to ferry ballots between voters and polling sites undermines confidence in our elections. That’s an obvious objection that carries no hint of partisanship. After all, the most recent ballot harvesting scandal involved Republican operative McCrae Dowless, who’s accused of tampering with Bladen County ballots in 2018 to benefit GOP candidate Mark Harris in the 9th Congressional District.
Members of both parties have used ballot collection schemes to secure unfair advantages and undermine voters’ will. Why would congressional Democrats countenance a discredited practice that likely cost one of their own candidates a rightful victory?
A provision in H.R. 1 would automatically restore felons’ voting rights upon their release from prison. That may be a compassionate and prudent policy, but whether and when to re-enfranchise North Carolina convicts are decisions that reside in Raleigh rather than Washington.
“Section 2 of the 14th Amendment gives states the constitutional authority to decide when felons who committed crimes against their fellow citizens may vote again,” the Heritage Foundation explains on its website. “Congress cannot override a constitutional amendment with a statute.”
Several H.R. 1 provisions pose thorny First Amendment conflicts. Notably, the bill seeks to criminalize “false statements regarding federal elections,” a broad swath of speech including, but not limited to, inaccurate information on voting times, days and locations.
Last month, federal prosecutors charged Douglass Mackey, aka Ricky Vaughn, with election interference under existing law for sharing memes on social media that encouraged Democrats to cast their votes via text message. It should go without saying that texts aren’t a valid voting method.
Telling one’s political opponents to “be sure to vote on Wednesday” when elections are held the first Tuesday in November is a well-known joke often delivered with a belly laugh and a roguish wink. If our laws can’t distinguish cornball humor from coordinated voter suppression, wide-ranging crackdowns on political satire could land Bill Maher behind bars and sic FBI agents on The Onion.
We support free and fair elections and encourage all eligible voters to carry out their civic duty regardless of political persuasion. Voting laws may require some tweaks, but H.R. 1 applies a sledgehammer to a delicate task that calls for a scalpel.
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