ON MARCH 4, U.S. HOUSE DEMOCRATS passed H.R. 1, the “For the People Act,” a nearly 800-page bill that would drastically overhaul election laws across the country. It would implement a single federal standard for many aspects of election administration that states currently decide individually. Not a single House Republican voted in favor.
H.R. 1 mandates automatic voter registration, requires 15 days of early voting, compels states to send out absentee ballots, sets limits around how states clean voter registration rolls, allows ballot harvesting, and includes a host of other provisions.
Democrats say this is their answer to a Republican-led push to change state laws. But Democrats first introduced H.R. 1 after retaking control of the House of Representatives in the 2018 midterms, suggesting that this is the party’s overall position on election administration. Right now, the bill has little chance of becoming law as long as Democrats can’t get around a filibuster in the Senate.
At the state level, the left-leaning Brennan Center for Justice has tracked 253 bills that would largely restrict access to voting in 43 states, and 704 bills that would expand access in 43 states. The Brennan Center notes that some bills have provisions that would both restrict and expand access.
Yuval Levin, a political and constitutional studies expert at the right-leaning American Enterprise Institute, wrote in a National Review op-ed that “most states are in both categories at once, and most of these bills in both categories aren’t going anywhere.” Levin pointed out that some of the bills in the restrictive category would simply roll back voting laws to where they were pre-pandemic.
Levin also pushed back against the idea that higher turnout is bad for Republicans: He noted that thanks to higher turnout, 11 million more Republicans participated in the 2020 election than in 2016, though Democrats got a bigger increase, with more than 14 million additional voters.
“The 2020 election offers strong evidence against the entrenched Republican view that high-turnout elections are only good for Democrats,” Levin wrote. “But the election was close enough that it should suggest to both parties that making it easier for more people to vote and bringing out more people to do so can enable them to win—a thought that would be unfamiliar to too many Republican politicians.”
“The election was close enough that it should suggest to both parties that making it easier for more people to vote and bringing out more people to do so can enable them to win.”
BUT THE GENERAL ELECTORATE may not be clamoring for all-or-nothing reforms. Kevin Kosar, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, noted that politicians may be more polarized on the issue of voting than the majority of Americans: “Most Americans want to be able to vote early, they want the option of voting in person if they choose, and most people want the option to vote absentee.”
A 2016 Gallup poll found that 4 in 5 Americans support both early voting and voter ID laws. One state several experts have pointed to as charting a third way is Kentucky: Politicians are working along bipartisan lines both to expand voter access and implement security measures.
Kentucky’s Republican-dominated Legislature approved a measure in March that would both expand voter access and tighten security measures. The bill makes permanent many of the emergency changes made during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It allows three days of no-excuse, early in-person voting, including a Saturday. The bill would also allow counties to establish vote centers where voters in the county could vote regardless of their precincts. And the bill creates an online portal for voters to request mail-in ballots, while maintaining restrictions around who can request an absentee ballot.
The bill also bans ballot harvesting, begins a process for replacing electronic-only voting machines for those that create paper trails, and eases the process for removing ineligible voters from voter rolls. Prior to last year, the state did not allow early voting or mail-in voting unless someone met certain age, illness, disability, or geographical requirements.
Meanwhile, Democrats have joined with nearly every Republican in voting for the measure. If it clears a reconciliation process in the Kentucky House of Representatives, Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, will likely sign it into law.
“It’s a really good reflection of the fact that while other states are bickering over voter access and Congress is bickering over security, we’re a national example of reform both enhancing voter access and election security,” Michael Adams, Kentucky’s Republican Secretary of State, told WORLD.
“You don’t have to make it hard for people to vote to make elections safe, and you don’t have to do the opposite,” Adams said. “Unfortunately on the left there’s a myopic focus on access but not much about security, and on the right you’ve got the opposite—concerns about security and a real blindness to access.”
—WORLD has updated this story since its original posting to correct the title of Kevin Kosar.