Today the House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the Democrats’ political reform bill, and though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) will never allow it to be considered in the Senate, it’s still an important statement of what Democrats believe in and what they intend to do if and when they gain control of Congress and the White House, say after next year’s elections.
The bill contains a lot of different provisions, but I want to zero in on one set: those concerning voting.
Again and again, McConnell has asserted that this bill is nothing more than an attempt to alter the system so more Democrats can get elected. As he wrote in The Post, “Their proposal is simply a naked attempt to change the rules of American politics to benefit one party. It should be called the Democrat Politician Protection Act.”
I’m not sure if McConnell understands what a startling admission that is on his part.
Because what McConnell is saying is that if our voting system were more efficient, more open and more fair, then the inevitable result would be fewer Republicans winning elections. In other words, Republican success depends on the system working in ways that restrict access to the ballot.
I happen to think that's fairly obvious and has been for some time. But it's remarkable to hear the second most powerful Republican in America admit it.
Let’s run through the major voting provisions in the bill and consider exactly how they might harm the fortunes of the GOP:
- Voter registration: Requires automatic voter registration and same-day registration, and limits the ability of states to purge voters from the rolls.
- Access: Requires states to promote ballot access for voters with disabilities.
- Voter caging: Prohibits this practice, in which letters are mailed to (certain) voters, and if the letters aren’t delivered, then that is used as a pretext to remove them from the voting rolls.
- Deceptive practices and voter intimidation: Prohibits spreading false information about elections to hinder voting, such as the old tactic of calling minority voters and claiming the election has been delayed to Wednesday, and increases penalties for voter intimidation.
- Felon disenfranchisement: Requires that those with criminal convictions have their voting rights restored once they have served their time.
- Vote verification: Requires voter-verified paper ballots to reduce errors and provide a paper trail for recounts.
- Early voting: Requires 15 consecutive days of early voting.
- Vote by mail: Requires states to allow anyone to vote by mail.
- Election integrity: Forbids chief state election officials from overseeing federal campaigns they’re running in.
Now let’s examine these through the window of McConnell’s insistence that the goal of all of it is to make it harder for Republicans to win elections. What he is claiming is the following:
- If registration were easier and more people who are not registered now did so, that would mean Republicans would lose more elections.
- If it were easier for people with disabilities to vote, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If the practice of voter caging were outlawed, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If we cracked down on deceptive practices and voter intimidation, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If we let those with criminal convictions who have served their time vote, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If we mandated paper trails for ballots to ensure accuracy, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If more Americans were able to vote early if it’s convenient for them, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If more Americans could vote by mail if they chose, Republicans would lose more elections.
- If secretaries of state couldn’t administer their own elections, as Brian Kemp did in Georgia last year, Republicans would lose more elections.
And you know what? He's almost certainly right.
Perhaps not in every case — there are some provisions that, if implemented, wouldn’t advantage one party or the other. But as a general matter, Republicans benefit when voting is as limited and difficult as possible, because the wealthier, whiter, older voters whom they rely on are more likely to get past the hurdles and make it to the polls. They also want tools such as purges and voter caging to be available so they can throw voters off the rolls when they’re more likely to be Democrats.
Republicans might argue in response that the real reason all of these measures would advantage Democrats is that making voting easier will enable voter fraud. But that could be true only if you think Democrats are as a rule more likely to attempt voter fraud than Republicans.
And there’s absolutely no evidence that’s the case. As the recent election fiasco in North Carolina’s 9th district showed, Republicans are perfectly happy to cheat when they have the chance. And the kind of in-person voter impersonation that Republicans claim to be so worried about is vanishingly rare, whether it’s attempted by Democrats or Republicans.
In a different world, Republicans might say they share the goal of making voting easier and more inclusive, and they just disagree with Democrats on the best way to accomplish that goal. But that’s not their position. Their position is that they don’t want voting to be easier and more inclusive. They would prefer it if all Americans didn’t vote.
Which, if you believe in democracy, is a morally repugnant position to take. But they know exactly what they’re doing.