The "For the People Act" is for the birds

Earlier this week, we previewed the Democrats’ new “voting rights” bill that was expected to be hitting the floor. This “reimagining” of the way people vote all across the nation would be mandated at the federal level. The roughly 800-page package had only been seen by a handful of people as of Tuesday morning, but they apparently didn’t feel like anyone really needed time to bother reading it. Last night, on a strictly party-line vote, the Democrats passed the “For the People Act.” The final details of the bill look just as bad as the preview we were originally given. (NY Post)

House Democrats passed a sweeping voting rights bill over Republican opposition late Wednesday.

The For the People Act, also known as House Resolution 1, was approved along party lines on a 220-210 vote.

The legislation aims to lower voting barriers, expand access to the polls, put an end to partisan gerrymandering and set up public funding for congressional races.

Assuming this bill receives the same amount of Republican support in the Senate that it did in the House (which would be zero), I don’t see this bill going anywhere. Since there’s very little money involved except for public funding for congressional campaigns, I’m not seeing any way that they can try to jam it through via reconciliation either. If that turns out to be the case, the Senate will begin lining up tombstones to become the legislative graveyard that Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer fear it will.

But just in case the bill shows signs of life, let’s take a look at what’s in it. Right off the bat, we are seeing any number of mandates in this bill that look constitutionally dodgy and would likely draw court challenges before the ink is even dry on it.

One of the first items to catch my eye was the bill’s intent to “put an and to partisan gerrymandering.” Actually, that sounds great to me, but I’m waiting to hear precisely how they plan to do it. Are the Democrats actually claiming the right for the federal government to overrule how the individual states draw their congressional district maps? And if so, how do they propose to make it “nonpartisan?” Somebody has to draw the maps, so what will they do? Call in the United Nations to do it? Personally, I’ve always liked the idea of setting up a computer algorithm to start at one side of each state and just divide it up into blocks based on population, but that doesn’t seem to be a popular idea in many places. Also, unless they want to amend the original Voting Rights Act, the goal can’t be achieved because the VRA allows for “racial gerrymandering” to ensure majority-minority districts.

The bill would also mandate that every state must allow mail-in ballots for anyone who wants one. In other words, 2020 will be the “new normal” in elections. Fifteen days of early voting and same-day registration are included as well. And they are insisting on all of those features without saying one word about forcing the states to clean up and maintain their voter rolls before doing all of this. There were some changes to the provision that would largely ban voter ID requirements, but we’ll dig into that more later.

Finally, the breathless, overarching goal of the bill is being described as an effort to “lower voting barriers and expand access to the polls.” Once again, I feel compelled to ask what should be the obvious question. Where are all of these eligible people who supposedly can’t vote? We just finished an election with a record turnout, particularly among women and minorities. There are countless resources available to help people register if they are unable to figure it out or obtain the proper forms. On election day, Uber and Lyft will drive you to your polling place for free. It is literally easier to go case your vote than it is to go grocery shopping.

As I said, this bill’s prospects don’t look very good in the Senate, but even if they do manage to pass it, large portions of it will probably be immediately tied up in the courts. This is looking more and more like a show pony than a serious effort at improving our system of voting.