In his first post-presidential address, Donald Trump again blasted the 2020 presidential election much to the delight of his most dedicated fans assembled at the annual Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) gathering in Florida over the weekend.
“We have a very sick and corrupt electoral process that must be fixed immediately,” Trump told the cheering crowd in Orlando. “This election was rigged. Our election process is worse . . . than that of a Third World country.”
The former president described a long list of illegalities and abnormalities including an unprecedented volume of mishandled mail-in ballots, lack of voter identification, and “no excuse” absentee voting. Unelected partisans, Trump accurately said, rewrote rules at the last minute in violation of state election laws.
He goaded both his allies and enemies with suggestions he won the election—“maybe I’ll beat them a third time,” teasing a 2024 run—and urged Republicans to fight for election integrity at the state level particularly since the Supreme Court “didn’t have the guts” to hear several election-related lawsuits.
Moments before Trump took the stage, the event’s organizers released the results of a straw poll listing election integrity as the top concern of CPAC attendees. Polls continue to show the overwhelming majority of Republicans view the 2020 election as invalid despite attempts by Democrats, the media, and the U.S. Justice Department to criminalize any expressed doubts that Joe Biden won the White House fair and square.
Rigging the Vote Forever?
Republican state lawmakers are listening to their infuriated constituents. The GOP controls the legislatures in every state that flipped from Trump to Biden; several bills to prevent another election disaster are pending in Pennsylvania, Michigan, Georgia, and Arizona. “Legislators are taking aim at mail voting at every stage, with proposals to circumscribe who can vote by mail, make it harder to obtain mail ballots, and impose hurdles to complete and cast mail ballots,” according to an analysis by the Brennan Center, a nonprofit organization opposed to Republican election remedies.
Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are rushing to supersede any attempt by state Republicans to eliminate COVID-justified election rules. Debate begins this week on HR 1, the “For the People Act,” which not only would codify the pandemic-era voting guidance but greatly expand access to voting in ways that would ensure a Republican never again wins the White House, not to mention many other federal and state offices. HR 1 is the biggest attempted electoral power grab in history, a flagrant and unconstitutional usurpation of the authority individual states have to write election law.
The bill has the support of more than 170 union, environmental, social justice, voters’ rights, and immigration groups as well as President Biden; it’s largely premised on the need to eliminate “systemic racism” from the nation’s voting systems.
“If a bill like that passed, it would immediately shatter the American people’s trust in our electoral process,” Representative James Banks (R-Ind.) told me by email. “Rewriting election rules to tip the scale in your favor is un-American and anti-democratic.”
Under the “For the People Act,” every safeguard to protect a secure election process would be permanently stripped away, the American tradition of Election Day gone for good. States would be forced to begin early voting at least 15 days before Election Day and extend vote-counting until at least 10 days afterward.
The American tradition of in-person voting also would be a thing of the past. Drop boxes, many situated near public transportation sites, and curbside polling sites would collect absentee ballots that are impossible to match to an eligible voter—but that won’t matter because sworn affidavits would replace the need to present proper state identification. Taxpayers would foot the bill for postage and all related costs.
Registration would be a free-for-all. “Each State shall permit any eligible individual on the day of a Federal election and on any day when voting, including early voting, is permitted for a Federal election,” the bill, sponsored by Representative John Sarbanes (D-Md., reads. “A State may not refuse to accept or process an individual’s application to register to vote in elections for Federal office on the grounds that the individual is under 18 years of age at the time the individual submits the application, so long as the individual is at least 16 years of age at such time.”
People claiming any type of disability, even dexterity issues, could register and vote from home, similar to the “indefinitely confined” rule imposed in Wisconsin last year.
People could register online while millions who receive any sort of service at massive federal agencies including “the Social Security Administration, the Department of Veterans Affairs, the . . . Department of Defense, the . . . Department of Labor, and . . . Medicare [and] Medicaid Services of the Department of Health and Human Services” would automatically be registered to vote. Ditto for anyone accessing services at the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services but “only those who have completed the naturalization process.”
What possibly could go wrong?
Stripping States of Redistricting Power
At the same time, barriers would prevent the purging of outdated voter rolls. Vague laws to prevent “voter intimidation” or “false information” would result in prosecution just as more criminals would be added to the eligibility list. Washington, D.C. finally would win statehood and residents of U.S. territories would be eligible to vote for president.
One of the greatest spoils of political victory—the power to redraw congressional and legislative districts every ten years —would be stripped from state legislatures (in most cases) and handed over to a 15-member commission with a “fair” balance of partisans to avoid gerrymandering, a practice refined over decades by Democrats in populous states but now considered verboten as those states lose seats and Republicans gain them instead.
“Mapdrawers (sic) are required to avoid the unnecessary division of communities, neighborhoods, and political subdivisions,” a Brennan Center report explained. “Protections for communities of color also would be strengthened to ensure that the political power of those communities is not undermined.” Voters in each state could challenge reapportionment under the new law “instead of having to rely, as is the case presently, on claims brought under various parts of the Constitution.”
The founders weep.
Other provisions—new ethics and recusal rules for Supreme Court justices, free speech restrictions, public financing for campaigns—clearly favor Democratic incumbents and candidates. Censors of all types, from Big Tech to local officials, could use the sprawling law to justify silencing candidates and banning any campaign content or messaging they deem misleading.
“This monster must be stopped,” Trump said, referring to HR 1. A coalition of conservatives and Trump loyalists are fighting the legislation, an uphill battle to say the least.
Election fraud deniers on the Right failed to grasp that last year’s debacle was a trial run. Now that establishment figures from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) to the editors of National Review continue to dismiss allegations of election fraud as Trumpian conspiracy theories, Democrats, shrewdly describing election fraud as a “Big Lie,” are emboldened to get their way. (It will be amusing to watch those on the Right who defended the integrity of the election object to HR 1.)
For now, it’s a race for Republicans in swing states to shore up their election laws and prepare for a messy legal fight ahead.
There is a reason Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called her 791-page bill, stuffed as it is with her favorite election-related changes, House of Representatives Bill Number 1 or HR 1. It’s that important to her. She has convinced or pressured every single House Democrat to co-sponsor it as it comes up for a vote this week.
That means it will likely pass narrowly given that Democrats have a 219 to 211 majority. It faces more debate and a tougher road in the Senate, which is split 50 to 50 between the parties with Vice President Kamala Harris as tiebreaker. It can be stopped. It must be stopped. It is the worst piece of legislation I have even seen in my 40 years reporting from Washington.
HR 1 would cement all of the worst changes in election law made in blue states in 2020 and nationalize them. Federal control of elections would be the norm. States would be relegated to colonial outposts that carry out Washington DC’s mandates. ‘Democracies die when one party seizes control of the elections process, eliminates the safeguards that have protected the integrity of the ballot, places restrictions on free speech, and seizes the earnings of individual citizens to promote candidates they may abhor,’ says Rep. Tom McClintock, a California Republican. ‘Democracies die by suicide, and we are now face to face with such an instrument.’
Does HR 1 justify such apocalyptic rhetoric? Sadly, yes. Hans von Spakovsky, a former member of the Federal Election Commission, says that while the Constitution does allow Congress to override the power of states to decide ‘the time, manner and place’ of federal elections nothing on the massive scale of HR 1 has ever been attempted.
He consulted other former members and assembled a short summary of the worst provisions of HR 1:
- H.R. 1 would make fraud easier by forcing states to implement early voting, automatic voter registration, same-day registration, online voter registration and no-fault absentee balloting
- Degrade the accuracy of registration lists by requiring states to automatically register all individuals on state and federal databases. This would include many ineligible voters, including aliens
- It would require states to allow 16-year-olds and 17-year-olds to register. Combined with a ban on voter ID, this would allow underage individuals to vote
- Require states to count ballots cast by voters outside of their assigned precincts, a recipe for election fraud
- Mandate no-fault absentee ballots, which are the tool of choice for vote thieves, force states to accept absentee ballots received up to 10 days after Election Day and force states allow ‘ballot harvesting’
- Prevent election officials from checking the eligibility and qualifications of voters and removing ineligible voters
- Ban state-voter ID laws by forcing states to allow individuals to vote without an ID and merely signing a statement in which they claim they are who they say they are
- Create vague and broad language that could be used to criminally charge someone who questions the eligibility of a voter
- Destroy the bipartisan composition of the Federal Election Commission and places a partisan majority in control of every aspect of our federal elections
- Require states to restore the ability of felons to vote the moment they are out of prison
- Force disclosure of names of Americans who donate to nonprofit organizations — thus subjecting them to political harassment
- Declare statehood for Washington DC to be ‘constitutional’ despite evidence it is not
- And finally, HR 1 would effectively ban nonprofits from contacting a member of Congress or their staff about pending legislation — a direct assault on the right of Americans to petition their government
The chief author of HR 1 is Rep. John Sarbanes, a Maryland Democrat. He insists with a straight face that outside of Congress ‘these aren’t controversial reforms’. Stacey Abrams, the civil rights activist who narrowly and bitterly lost her 2018 race for Georgia governor, claims that under HR 1 minority voters will ‘have a right to take our seat at the table and our place at the ballot box’.
Should the power grab masquerading as HR 1 become law it will represent only the latest distortion of democracy. It will undermine confidence in the system far more than anything Donald Trump attempted.
‘When reforms don’t work as advertised, or politicians make end runs around them, Americans get cynical,’ write David Primo and Jeffrey Milyo, the co-authors of the book Campaign Finance and American Democracy: What the Public Really Thinks and Why It Matters. Should HR 1 pass, its so-called ‘reforms’ would likely send that cynicism to levels that make America increasingly resemble a banana republic.