The People’s Law is too broad – InsideSources
Editor’s Note: For another perspective, see Point: Why We Must Preserve Our Freedom to Vote.
The For the People Act is too broad and seeks to nationalize many democratic reforms that would be better left to the states.
The first version of the law was launched in 2019 after Democrats took control of the House of Representatives. With Republicans leading the White House and the Senate, he had no chance of becoming law. It was an aspiration, a declaration of Democratic values on democratic reform, and a blueprint for many specific political changes Democrats could highlight as opposed to Republican politics.
And that plan was incredibly broad and ambitious: setting numerous federal standards for how states administer elections, introducing forms of public funding for election campaigns, demanding highly detailed independent redistribution commissions that would remove the redistribution power of legislatures. States, to name just a few of the more important proposals.
But in those big brushstrokes and also in many details, there was little bipartisan consensus for reforms, some of which have been bitterly debated for years. In addition to the lack of agreement between the parties, the bill would undo many future or existing state reforms that states would adapt to their own citizens.
Some Republicans mistakenly claim that electoral laws are the purview of states and states alone. Specifically, the Constitution authorizes states to make election laws, but in most cases Congress can enact federal laws that will prevail or override state laws. In practice, however, states have played a prominent role in elections, and it is only in specific cases that Congress has intervened with federal laws, so that U.S. elections, unlike those in other countries, are extremely decentralized. States maintain significant differences in the way they organize elections, from the balance between postal voting and in-person voting, adoption of voting technology, polling stations and the questions that appear on ballots. voting, during voting hours in polling stations. It is only in some very specific cases that Congress has set federal standards in law: voting rights, registration of “motorized voters”, post-2000 reforms and out-of-country voting, for example. example.
While such a decentralized electoral system may have flaws, states have often been engines of change. Major reform efforts such as the adoption of the secret ballot and the introduction of postal voting and advance voting in person have taken place state by state, without any federal mandate. While states are sometimes qualified as laboratories of democracy, they can also be laboratories for democratic reform.
Fast forward to 2021, a Democrat is in the White House and the party has a slim majority in the House and Senate. The For the People Act, which in 2019 was more of a statement of principle, now appears as a transformational opportunity for enthusiastic Democratic reformers. The difficulties Democrats face today in passing the law, however, stem from the mismatch between aspirations and reality. Republican support is almost non-existent, so attracting 60 votes to invoke Senate closure is extremely unlikely. Even without obstruction, holding the 50 Democratic senators together will be a challenge. And finally, state opposition would likely sink this big bill, as Democratic lawmakers and election officials could oppose provisions that overturn their state’s reforms.
A more realistic path for democratic reforms is to undertake small reforms one by one and undertake them in states. Democrat-controlled legislatures in Nevada and New Jersey, for example, have implemented substantial changes to increase the use of postal voting.
And while there has been strong Democratic criticism of the electoral changes proposed by Republican legislatures, they are much more likely to pass because they are much more modest than the For the People Act. First, they apply only to the state in question, not to the nation as a whole. Second, while Democratic critics have been vocal, Republican reforms have been incremental, small changes in the dates of mail and advance votes, some regulation of the treatment of mail ballots and election observers. Compare that to the hundreds of pages of For the People Act reform.
Supporters of the For the People Act seem to think that because the subject is democratic reform, the normal rules of how bills are democratically passed do not apply. Democratic reforms will only succeed as they have in the past if they achieve some level of consensus at the federal level, or through hard work of state-by-state reform.