There is no shortage of problems for Congress to fix. Crime rates are rising in American cities, inflation is driving prices skyward, and our departure from Afghanistan has been an unmitigated disaster. Trust in government is near historic lows. But rather than fix these problems, Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s go-to solution is the same as it has always been: Stir up drama, spend more money, and deepen political divisions.
This time, Pelosi’s most pressing issue—so pressing that she needed to fly the House back to Washington—is to pressure colleagues to pass massive budget and infrastructure bills, and to push through an unpopular election bill that will give the federal government more ways to bully the American people.
The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act (H.R. 4) is the House Democrats’ latest attempt to override state election reforms by giving the federal government power over local polling place locations, voter ID requirements, maintenance of voter rolls, and more. The bill has nothing to do with expanding access to voting and everything to do with federalizing elections and pushing back against the 18 states that have passed commonsense reforms following the 2020 election.
While most of the media attention is on the Democrat infighting over the budget, this vote will have profound implications for the way elections are managed in the United States. It will limit the ability of states to control their own elections and give whoever is in the White House partisan political power over registration efforts and election procedures. No wonder Democrats aren’t talking about it.
H.R. 4 would reinstate an outdated and unconstitutional “preclearance formula” included in the original Voting Rights Act of 1965, which had required select jurisdictions to get approval from the Department of Justice or a D.C. court before changing their own election laws. It was a temporary fix to combat racial discrimination in voting access during the Civil Rights era. H.R. 4 would make a few minor modifications to the formula in the hope that it might narrowly pass another constitutional challenge. It will not.
From 1965 to 2013, the preclearance formula assumed that in certain jurisdictions, any change to a voting law was racist until proven otherwise. Even proposals as minor as relocating a polling location down the street had to be justified. All the while, those same changes made in other jurisdictions not covered by the formula would be presumed legal. In 2013, the Supreme Court ended the use of the formula as turnout and registration of African American voters in those jurisdictions became equal—and in some cases exceeded—that of white voters, indicating the disparities that justified the preclearance formula had ended.
To be clear, the Voting Rights Act continues to exist. It continues to outlaw voter discrimination based on race, color, and membership in certain language-minority groups in all 50 states. H.R. 4 would not strengthen these protections in any way—it would reinstate the ability of the federal government to override state election laws for whatever purpose it sees fit.
No due process, no equal treatment under the law. H.R. 4 would allow the federal government to directly target certain states to override state election laws, and in doing so will provide special interest groups with an opportunity to undermine voters and advance their own agendas using expensive court battles—all paid for by taxpayers.
The American people are far from sold on this bill. June polling from the Center for Excellence in Polling found only 33 percent of all voters are likely to support it, while 32 percent are unsure about their position on the bill. That means two out of three Americans are either unsure about their opinions about it or they know they don’t like it. Again, no wonder Democrats aren’t talking about it.
In fact, those on the Left are doing their very best to make sure the debate over H.R. 4 stays far away from policy. Instead, they’re distracting voters by fomenting racial politics.
Speeches are being given in Selma, Ala., where John Lewis and others were viciously beaten on Bloody Sunday during the Civil Rights struggle. Other groups are planning a march on Washington to correspond with the 58th anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.’s iconic "I Have A Dream" speech. Meanwhile, former Attorney General Eric Holder is calling for more extreme action, telling MSNBC that “citizens need to be in the streets…raising the consciousness of people by demonstrating, by getting arrested, by doing the things that ended segregation."
While Democrats sink to the lowest levels of discourse to keep the focus on racial politics rather than policy, the reality is that many African American voters support safeguards to prevent fraud in our election systems.
A recent Foundation for Government Accountability poll found 58 percent of African American voters nationwide support requiring a government-issued photo ID to vote, so long as those IDs are made available free of charge.
Sixty-four percent of African American voters nationwide support requiring states to review their voter registration rolls at least twice per year to remove inactive and deceased individuals from the system.
People want safe and secure elections. They want the process to be neutral and protected from outside influence. H.R. 4 advances neither of these goals, and instead takes control of election processes away from states and localities and instead places it in the hands of the same D.C. bureaucrats who bungled the Afghanistan pullout and led the disastrous response to COVID-19.
But we can be sure we won’t hear Democrats talk about that, either.
Nick Stehle is the vice president of communications at the Foundation for Government Accountability.