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An Affront to the States

March 8, 2021
Weekly Columns

Last week, Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives put forward their highest priority legislation with introduction and passage of H.R. 1. Unfortunately, I regret that their bill has nothing to do with the priorities and needs of the American people and everything to do with trying to preserve and expand their present majority in Congress. Indeed, while the bill might be titled the “For the People Act,” the policies contained therein clearly contradict that lofty promise. Since its aim is to federalize state election systems and to change campaign finance law in a way that would direct taxpayer dollars toward political campaigns, a much better name for H.R. 1 would be the “For the Politicians Act.”

As the largest expansion of the federal government’s role in elections in history, H.R. 1 is an outrageous affront to all 50 states and their traditional role in conducting their own elections. To be clear, that does not mean election system reforms are not needed by certain states. However, state legislatures are fully capable and equipped to make commonsense changes on their own. But it makes no sense to punish states with great success in running free, fair and secure elections by mandating one-size-fits-all rules.

For example, H.R. 1 would weaken election security by making it virtually impossible for local election boards to protect against voter fraud. It would automatically register voters from the Department of Motor Vehicles and other government databases while preventing election officials from removing ineligible voters from their rolls. It also prescribes a one-size-fits-all voter registration system, including forcing states to provide same-day voter registration whether they want it or not.

In the state of Oklahoma, the consequences of federal mandates would be incredibly costly and damaging to our gold standard system. Recently, in a letter to Oklahoma’s congressional delegation, Oklahoma State Election Board Secretary Paul Ziriax described in detail how the federal mandates proposed in H.R. 1 would negatively impact Oklahoma’s election system. He noted, “H.R. 1 would supersede most of Oklahoma’s election administration and election integrity laws, making our elections less secure, more complicated to administer, and much more expensive to conduct.” Moreover, he warned that the enactment of H.R. 1 would surely lead to costly and lengthy litigation rightly challenging its constitutionality. 

Even more egregious, H.R. 1 completely undermines the right to free speech protected by the First Amendment through repeal of the Lois Lerner rule. Put in place after the Internal Revenue Service began targeting the speech of conservative organizations in determining their qualification – or not – for tax exempt status, this rule protects organizations, corporations and individuals and their ability to freely exercise a fundamental right guaranteed under the Constitution without threat of penalty. 

Aside from the misguided mandates it would impose on state election systems, H.R. 1 essentially sets up a campaign ATM. In practice, it would create a small-dollar campaign contribution matching program using hard-earned taxpayer dollars, matching contributions under $200 at a six to one ratio. In reality, it would mean your taxpayer dollars could go to fund candidates you don’t even support.

The truth is that the federal government does not need to expand its power into the affairs of states. Indeed, this bill is merely a power grab and would surely have serious consequences for certain states and further erode election confidence in voters.