‘For the People’ Is About Helping the Party

May 13, 2021

It was only a fundraising appeal, but Sen. Cory Booker (D., N.J.) made a few big mistakes when he asked Tuesday, “Will we let today’s Republican Party revive Jim Crow, seize partisan control over how elections are run, and impose permanent undemocratic control of government?”

First, it dishonors those who fought real Jim Crow laws to suggest GOP voting reforms are synonymous with the effort—perpetrated by many white Southern Democrats—from the 1870s through the mid-20th century to wipe out black voting rights through poll taxes, literacy tests, and often violence and intimidation.

Second, Mr. Booker’s interest in election law is curiously recent. He never made voting reform a priority in any of the eight campaigns he’s conducted since 1998, though New Jersey has long had one of America’s more restrictive election regimes. Only this fall, for instance, will the Garden State start allowing in-person early voting, and for about half as many days as Georgia will.

Mr. Booker’s behavior seems to be the rule, not the exception, among Democrats these days. Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer also attacked Republicans Tuesday: “We are witnessing an attempt at the greatest contraction of voting rights since the end of Reconstruction and the beginning of Jim Crow,” he said. Hmmm. New York allowed early voting for the first time in 2020, but only for nine days, again about half the minimum period required in Georgia. And the Empire State hasn’t yet finally approved universal no-excuse mail-in ballots. Like the senator from New Jersey, Mr. Schumer never made his state’s restrictive voting laws a focus in any of his 16 campaigns since 1974.

But back to Mr. Booker. His accusation that the GOP wants to take permanent control of government undemocratically is a classic example of projection. That’s exactly what congressional Democrats seem to be trying to accomplish with S.1, the so-called For the People Act.

If the 817-page power grab passes, Washington would dictate how states run elections, even though the Constitution reserves that power to the states. The measure would gut voter-ID requirements while allowing partisan operatives to collect and submit an unlimited number of ballots, a practice called “ballot harvesting” that most states outlaw. S.1 would also prohibit states from cleaning registration rolls by removing people who haven’t voted for years and failed to return a postage-paid card affirming they’re still at that address—even if the Postal Service says they’ve moved and didn’t leave a forwarding address.

The bill requires automatic voter registration when people apply for a driver’s license, Medicaid or other government services, even though that means noncitizens could be registered mistakenly. Colleges are designated as voter-registration entities and rewarded financially for registering students and providing transportation to the polls, but no similar treatment is given to senior living communities, gun clubs or farm and ranch organizations. I wonder why.

S.1 would also impose the “permanent undemocratic control of government” Mr. Booker claims to fear by taking away the right of state legislatures to draw district lines. Instead, it mandates that “independent commissions”—often gamed in practice—or a three-judge court draw redistricting maps. These plans would then have to be approved by the Justice Department.

The bill goes further, undermining free speech by requiring companies and organizations to reveal all political spending that aggregates to more than $10,000, even if it’s limited to issues rather than campaigns. Democrats would impose no similar requirements for unions. The bill would also force nonprofits organized under Section 501(c)(4) of the tax code to reveal donors of more than $10,000, ignoring a unanimous Supreme Court decision that said keeping such information private protected donors from intimidation and abuse.

S.1 would transform the Federal Election Commission. The body is politically balanced, composed of six commissioners of which no more than three can be from the same party. S.1 would limit the total number to five and each party to two commissioners—leaving one independent tie breaker. Given that the president appoints the commissioners, you can see where this would likely end up.

The bill would also create federal financing of Senate and presidential candidates with a 6-to-1 match for donations up to $200 and reverse longstanding policy by allowing a group’s ideology to be considered when the IRS decides on its tax-exempt status.

These are only a few of the bill’s sundry mandates and dicta. There are so many that if S.1 became law no state would be able to comply with them all by next year and still run a competent election. Nor is it credible to argue S.1 is essential for removing obstacles to voting. Last fall the U.S. had its highest voter turnout in 120 years.

The bill’s name—“For the People”—is misleading. It’s designed to protect not American voters but Democratic politicians’ hold on power. Sens. Schumer and Booker and their colleagues should just admit it.


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