Different Joe, Same No

May 21, 2021

Under President Joe Biden, Democratic policy ideas have gotten so radical that even so-called "compromise" proposals are toxic. Biden's climate plan is nearly identical to the Green New Deal, Fairness for All is almost the same as the Equality Act, etc., and now there's a new "compromise" proposal on election law from Senators Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) that would be more of the same. They've "tried to shift away from the comprehensive overreach" of the first election overhaul, H.R. 1, FRC's Ken Blackwell said, but the truth is, it's just as lethal.

The Democrats' original proposal to unwind election security measures and federalize election law (H.R.1/S.1) ground to a halt in the Senate after a tied committee vote and Sen. Manchin's insistence on finding Republican support for any election law. The Democrats cleverly branded the massive bill the "For the People Act," although a more accurate title would have been the "Corrupt Politicians Act" for the way it would strip power from the people and make cheating easier.

Meanwhile, the Manchin-Murkowski measure, which has yet to win the support of Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.), "would put a chokehold" on states shoring up their election systems, said Blackwell. Manchin has proposed that the U.S. attorney general would have "preclearance" power over "any changes to election processes and policies at the state level." The 2020 election exposed failures in states across the country, and legislatures in 47 states are considering various election reform measures. Under Manchin's voting rights bill, every state would have to get permission from the U.S Attorney General before implementing any of those changes. It's hard to imagine the constitutional anarchy that would ensue if one unelected bureaucrat held veto power over states' ability to conduct their own elections, as the Constitution provides.

The "preclearance" idea didn't come out of thin air. Under the Voting Rights Act passed in the 1960s, nine states with racially discriminatory voting practices had to pre-clear any election changes with the U.S. attorney general. But the preclearance condition only ever applied to states with a racially troubling track record. In 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holderstruck down the preclearance mandate as unconstitutional, saying that it was an "extraordinary departure from the traditional course of relations between the States and the Federal Government," which no longer reflected "current political conditions." In other words, there's no longer evidence of racially motivated voter suppression that would justify subjecting state election reforms to "preclearance" by the U.S. attorney general.

Even this ostensibly bipartisan proposal, Blackwell argued on Thursday's "Washington Watch," "would undermine totally our federalism system, which puts emphasis on state and local control and in our elections. "The most basic level of oversight" should be "at the local level, not [with] some bureaucrats in Washington, D.C." He concluded that Democrats "are really bent on... creating a one party, national system that is... centrally controlled." That's a freedom-killing cocktail, if ever there was one.

The last time the Voting Rights Act was reauthorized, the Senate voted unanimously. Given the Democratic Party's lurch to the Left, it's difficult to find that kind of common ground on anything. Senator Joe Manchin should be congratulated for defending the filibuster, and for trying to find common ground on an issue so central to a free republic's civic life. But the best intentions cannot salvage bad policy. The latest iteration of the voting rights law has too much interference in election rulemaking by unelected bureaucrats. So it's hard to see how Republicans could ever accept it.