TO HEAR Republicans tell it, a bill that the House passed late Wednesday night would spell the end of the republic. It is “unconstitutional, reckless, and anti-democratic,” former vice president Mike Pence proclaimed. The bill is “the most divisive, unconstitutional and destructive piece of legislation of my time in Congress,” Rep. Garland “Andy” Barr (R-Ky.) railed. “It would effectively make it legal to cheat.”
The bill that has these politicians frothing is H.R. 1, a long piece of legislation with a noble purpose: making it easier for Americans to vote and encouraging the government to be more responsive to the people. Republicans’ apocalyptic rhetoric is so wildly disproportionate to the contents of the bill, one must wonder what they are really worried about.
Conservatives complain that the bill would mandate early voting, no-excuse absentee voting, provisional ballots for people who accidentally vote out-of-precinct, same-day voter registration and automatic voter registration. So? There is nothing scary or even unusual about these reforms, which many states have embraced without seeing the pervasive fraud Republicans predict and claim falsely has occurred.
Opponents argue that counting mail-in ballots that arrive in the days after Election Day, as long as they are mailed on time, would produce uncertainty about the results on election night. Big deal. It is far more important to count Americans’ votes, even if the U.S. Postal Service delays their delivery, than it is to soothe impatient election night viewers.
Critics also warn that state legislatures would have to turn over congressional district map-drawing to independent commissions. And? Extreme partisan gerrymandering makes the need for nonpartisan redistricting, which has worked in state after state that has tried it, more acute.
There is more to the bill, including an innovative campaign finance reform that would boost the power of small donors. If Republicans simply objected to that section, or a controversial provision on absentee ballot collection, or a requirement for an ethics code for Supreme Court justices, their position would be more defensible. But they seem to attack with greatest ferocity the provisions that should be least controversial: those that would encourage more Americans to vote.
In his screed against H.R. 1, Mr. Pence claimed that the last election was marked by “significant voting irregularities” and that “it is time for our nation’s leaders to help America heal.” In fact, there were no significant irregularities, and healing is needed only because Mr. Pence and his boss lied about that, and now they are fanning unjustified fears about the supposed dangers of policies that would ease voting. Then they profess alarm that half the country mistrusts the electoral system, and they insist that the only remedy is to preserve and enhance barriers to the ballot box, restrictions that — surprise! — would discourage turnout especially among Democratic voters.
H.R. 1 now moves to the Senate. If Republicans there object to elements of the bill, they should seek to amend it. If they reject the effort out of hand, it will be yet another sign that they have embraced a strategy of voter suppression because they fear that, if the rules are fair, they will lose.