Do we need the ‘By-The-People Act’ to ensure access to voting?

Steve Clark and Alison Anderson
Editor’s note: Both authors of the following article refer to “ballot gathering” or “ballot harvesting.” The term refers to unions or other interest groups collecting mail-in ballots from members and mailing them for the members. Another term in the article is “voter caging.” This is sending a letter to all registered voters. If a letter is returned as “undeliverable,” it is considered to be evidence the voter no longer lives at the address, and the voter may be purged from the rolls. 

Question

The Brennan Center for Justice, a nonpartisan organization that defines its role as defending democracy, reforming justice and protecting the Constitution, says “access to the vote is in unprecedented peril” in the United States.

Between Jan. 1 and June 21, 2021, 17 states have enacted 28 laws restricting access to the vote. To be fair, 14 states have passed 28 laws expanding voter access.

Do we want every American citizen 18 or older to vote or not? Is it time for a federal law such as the “For-the-People Act,” which sets minimum standards for ballot access in federal elections in all states?”

Steve Clark

For 186 years the question of who could vote in federal elections was been in flux, with women, Jews, blacks, Native Americans and non-property owners excluded at various times.

In 1965 the Voting Rights Act definitively settled the question by mandating that every U.S. citizen 21-years-old or older (later amended to 18 years) have the right to vote. (Felons are excluded in most states.)

The Constitution leaves it to the sovereign states to determine how federal elections are conducted within their boundaries and how eligible voters are identified at the polls.

The Brennan Center for Justice, cited as authority for the premise of this question, is a decidedly left-leaning organization headquartered on the campus of New York University.

Its statement is correct, but not for the reason it postulates. The “unprecedented peril” to voting rights is a concerted left-wing campaign to lower the voting-rights bar to the point where the system facilitates fraudulent voting acts such as Arizona’s ballot gathering practice, which has just been struck down by the Supreme Court.

The issue goes further than voter eligibility. At the core or the issue is the ability of the various states to exercise their sovereign authority to craft their own election rules.

By federalizing election standards, presumably to the advantage of the left, the proposed “By–The-People Act” would usurp the authority the Constitution gives to the states to control their own voter rolls.

This would be tantamount to putting New York, California, Illinois, etc. in charge of Utah’s election rules. I don’t think that’s such a good idea. Do you, Alison?

Alison Anderson

Actually, Steve, our own Sen. Mike Lee has characterized the For-the-People Act as “written in hell by the devil himself.” So I’m relieved to see that what bothers you about it is the fact that it proposes to make election rules more uniform among the states—and you’d prefer that urban “blue” states not dictate to sparsely populated “red” states like Utah.

According to the congress.gov website, the bill in truth addresses voter access, election integrity and security, campaign finance and ethics for the three branches of government. 

It expands voter registration and voting access, and limits voter purging.  It requires states to establish independent redistricting commissions. Personally, I don’t see how any of these things gives either party an advantage.

I’ve been interested to discover that many blue states (New York, notoriously, for one) have had very restrictive voting policies, and are currently moving toward expanding voter access. 

Red states, which have had easier voter access (more mail-in voting, closer polling places, etc.) are now pushing for tighter voter restrictions.

This is in response to the record turnout (actually from both parties) in the 2020 election. Interestingly, these restrictions may hurt Republican candidates, since they’re likely to motivate Democrats to work even harder to retain their “say” in places like Georgia and Arizona.

I do think we need to make it equally easy to register and vote in all states, and I think a bipartisan approach as to how to do that would produce the best result.

Personally, I’m a real believer that all American citizens should have equal access to voting, and when the minority party holds onto power by trying to limit who may vote, the result will not contribute to a more just, inclusive society.

Steve’s response

It’s interesting how you so willingly slide around the Constitution in this matter. The Constitution makes no provision for Congress to federalize state elections.

I, for one, am not willing to cede Utah’s sovereignty to the federal government in this matter. That’s the stuff of which the American Revolution was made.

I must say that I agree with Sen. Lee’s assessment of the bill. It would mandate automatic voter registration without proof of citizenship or residency; would place a federally mandated committee in charge of Utah’s redistricting allows “no-excuse” mail-in voting; and restricts laws against ballot harvesting (a practice just struck down by the Supreme Court) and voter caging.

It restricts voter ID laws, permits federal campaign funding, and seeks to cancel out the Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision with no corresponding prohibition against campaign contributions by organized labor.

In my opinion, registering should include at least a requirement to produce a birth certificate or proof of naturalization. I favor showing proof of ID at the polling place and the requirement to show proof of citizenship when requesting an absentee ballot.

I think screening at polls should be rigorous enough that squeezing under the door and around reasonable regulations should be difficult and carry a very heavy penalty.

I served my country to protect the rights of American citizens, not those who would pretend to be. I believe in the principal of “one person, one vote,” not the principal of “grab as many ballots as you can and stuff them into the nearest ballot box.” In short, voting should require effort and standing, not merely existence.

Alison’s response

In researching further, I’ve discovered that this bill was originally designed as a “message bill,” one that included an enormous wish list from the progressive wing and was never intended to pass in its current form. 

In fact, a much more moderate bill has been put forward by Joe Manchin, who is the Senate’s great champion of bipartisanship. Yet Senate Republicans won’t even give it a glance.

Truth be told, Democrats don’t want voter fraud any more than sane, honest Republicans do—and I might remind you, Steve, that the only recent example of real voter fraud via absentee ballot harvesting in a national election was a 2018 congressional election in North Carolina where a Republican PAC gathered and submitted fraudulent ballots. The election was thrown out. 

To my knowledge, not one substantial example of fraud in the 2020 presidential election has been verified by the courts or by legitimate election officials.

Democrats believe in careful voter registration, ID being required for in-person voting, secure mail-in ballots and fair access to absentee voting for legitimately registered voters. 

In general, Utah has a system that is fair and works very well. Where we have concerns are states where intimidation, limiting polling places, making registration difficult, preventing mail-in/absentee voting and purging voter rolls serve to suppress voting by the poor and people of color.

The effort of some leaders to restrict the benefits of living in the United States to a select few is a threat to our democracy. I think we have to look at the motivation of these stricter voting laws—are they created to avoid election fraud, or to prevent Democrats winning elections? The legitimate way for any party to win elections is to convince more voters that their policies are best for the country. 

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