An expert at the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said that the Democrat-led election reform bill would eviscerate ballot security measures, amounts to a federal takeover of elections, and is a “threat to American democracy.”
Hans von Spakovsky, senior fellow and manager of the election law reform initiative at the Heritage Foundation, told The Epoch Times in an interview that H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act of 2021, essentially “voids all of the safety protocols and security measures and states have been put in place to protect the integrity of the election process.”
The bill passed the Democrat-controlled House on March 3 on a largely party-line vote of 220-210, with all Republicans voting against it as well as Rep. Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.).
The Biden administration, which has strongly pushed for the bill, praised its passage, saying the legislation is “urgently needed to protect the right to vote and the integrity of our elections, and to repair and strengthen American democracy.”
President Joe Biden speaks about his administration’s COVID-19 response, in the State Dining Room at the White House in Washington on March 2, 2021. (Kevin Lamarque/Reuters)
Von Spakovsky, whose credentials include formerly serving as a Federal Election Commissioner disagrees. In a recent analysis, he called the bill a “threat to American democracy. Period.”
“H.R. 1 would usurp the role of the states, wipe out basic safety protocols, and mandate a set of rules that would severely damage the integrity of elections,” he argued.
The controversial election reform package, which spans nearly 800 pages, seeks to impose requirements on voting procedures across the entire country. Its provisions include transferring authority over how elections are administered from states to the federal government, mandating automatic voter registration in all 50 states, and legalizing nationwide vote-by-mail without the need to provide photo ID to obtain an absentee ballot.
“Many states have passed voter ID laws so that someone has to authenticate their identity when they show up to vote,” von Spakovsky told The Epoch Times. “This law would eviscerate state voter ID laws—they basically would not be able to enforce them,” he said.
Hans von Spakovsky, manager of the Election Law Reform Initiative at the Heritage Foundation, at an immigration event at the Heritage Foundation in Washington on Oct. 17, 2017. (Benjamin Chasteen/The Epoch Times)
Democrats have framed the bill as a crucial step against voter suppression.
“Our democracy is in a state of deep disrepair,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) after re-introducing the bill in January. “During the 2020 election, Americans had to overcome rampant voter suppression, gerrymandering and a torrent of special interest dark money just to exercise their right to vote.”
A previous version of H.R. 1 passed the Democrat-controlled House 234-193 at the beginning of the 116th Congress in 2019 but ultimately did not get taken up in the Republican-controlled Senate.
Supporters of the bill, including left-leaning think tanks, have praised H.R. 1, with the Brennan Center for Justice calling it “America’s next great civil rights bill,” alleging “years of voter suppression efforts” under President Donald Trump.
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds her weekly news conference one day after Congress passed a $1.9 trillion COVID-related stimulus package at the U.S. Capitol Visitors Center, in Washington, on March 11, 2021. (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
Von Spakovsky called the voter suppression argument “a ridiculous claim.”
“There’s no voter suppression going on. In fact, we have seen turnout in U.S. elections consistently go up in the last few elections that we’ve had, while the states have been doing things like putting in voter ID laws.”
“Frankly, I really can’t see any reason for these provisions, other than to make it easy to cheat and easy to manipulate election results,” he added, echoing remarks by other critics who have called the measure a Democrat power grab.
“It takes all the problems we saw in last year’s election and now cements them into federal law, and actually makes things worse,” von Spakovsky said.
Other provisions of the bill that are of concern to von Spakovsky include making it more difficult for states to remove ineligible voters from registries or confirming the eligibility and qualifications of voters. He said the bill would make it impossible for states to enforce a witness signature requirement for absentee ballots, a measure some states have in place to authenticate whether it was actually the voter who filled out the ballot.
“They would no longer be able to enforce that,” he said.
The reform measure would also override state laws that prevent third parties from picking up absentee ballots and delivering them to polling stations.
“That’s a very unwise policy, because what the federal law is saying is that states have to allow everyone—from candidates and campaign staffers to party activists and political operatives—to be able to go to people’s homes and pick up their absentee ballots, which means you’re putting ballots in the hands of those who have a stake in the outcome of the election,” von Spakovsky said.
“The problem with this bill is it’s basically a federal takeover of the administration of elections, which have been run by our states since our founding,” he added.
President Joe Biden has said he would sign the bill into law if it reaches his desk, which may be a tall order since the proposed legislation would need 60 votes to overcome the Senate filibuster, meaning at least 10 Republicans would have to buy in.
Von Spakovsky said he believes the only way Democrats will succeed in passing the measure is if they blow up the filibuster, a longstanding rule meant to prevent partisan domination of the upper chamber.
“Republicans, I think, have made a promise that they’re going to stick together and they’re going to filibuster the bill,” he said. “So I think they can stop it unless Chuck Schumer violates the rules that govern the Senate to end the filibuster, which I think is one of the only ways they could do that,” he added, referring to Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has teased ending the filibuster as a move that could be considered but has not endorsed it.
Senate Majority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to the press at the U.S. Capitol, in Washington, on March 6, 2021. (Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images)
Democrats have so far been reluctant to reach for the so-called “nuclear option” of scuttling the Senate filibuster, a rule that means most legislation has to meet a 60-vote supermajority threshold. But momentum may be building for that to change.
“If Mitch McConnell is not willing to provide 10 Republicans to support this landmark reform, I think Democrats are going to step back and reevaluate the situation,” Rep. John Sarbanes (D-Md.), one of the co-authors of H.R. 1, told Vox in a recent interview. “There’s all manner of ways you could redesign the filibuster so [the bill] would have a path forward.”
In February, a coalition of progressive groups wrote a letter to Schumer, urging him to end the filibuster, ostensibly to end congressional “gridlock and dysfunction.”
Cindy Drukier contributed to this report.