With the House having recently passed an historic election reform bill (HR1), Utah Sen. Mike Lee’s immediate response was “Everything about this bill is rotten to the core. It was written and held by the devil himself.”
More recently, after Georgia Republican legislators passed a restrictive voter election law that Delta Air Lines and Coca-Cola criticized as a blatantly suppressing the minority vote, Lee ranted, “I find that kind of intrusion unseemly and inappropriate. It’s wildly partisan what they’re doing. I think they should both issue an apology to the voters of Georgia.”
Reviewing some of the provisions of the Georgia bill, I wondered what he found so unseemly, inappropriate and requiring an apology. It limits the number of drop boxes in every county as well as the hours they can be open. It prohibits automatically sending by-mail ballot applications to registered voters and shortens the period such requests can be made. It tightens ID requirement for casting an absentee ballot. It prohibits anyone from giving food or drink to voters waiting in line at a polling place. Everything contrary to voting in Utah and obviously intended to make it harder for minorities to cast their votes.
Reviewing the main elements of HR1, I wanted to see exactly what may have caused that visceral rejection by Lee.
Historically, what many consider to be one of the most profoundly significant legislative achievements in American history, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in 1965. It enforced voting rights guaranteed by the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, most significantly attempting to ensure the right to vote by Black Americans.
Section 4 of the VRA targeted states with a history of racial discrimination including a system of requiring federal oversight and approval of voting legislation concerning racially imposed voting restrictions, but then came the rub. In a 2013 decision in Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court ruled this part of the VRA unconstitutional and that those targeted states no longer had to get federal approval. This decision has since resulted in a concerted and seemingly never-ending onslaught by Republican-controlled legislatures to restrict the minority vote.
In an effort to pass a new federal law intended to pass Supreme Court scrutiny, the Democratic controlled House has passed HR1, intended to expand, not reduce, voter registration and access. It limits attempts to minimize minority participation at pole sites and voter drop boxes. It requires states to establish nonpartisan redistricting commissions to draw congressional district boundaries. It requires candidates for president submit 10 years of tax returns.
Senate Republicans have made it clear they will vote against the bill, making it impossible to achieve the filibuster-proof 60 votes required for passage. They claim it would unduly hinder state efforts to eliminate alleged substantial voter fraud, a claim that has been proven baseless time after time, including Donald Trump’s continual rant of Democratic election-rigging leading to his loss to President Joe Biden.
There now appears to be an unprecedented nationwide attempt following the 2020 election by Republican state legislatures to reduce future Democratic votes. A study by the liberal Brennan Center for Justice recently identified 250 Republican-sponsored bills in 43 states primarily intended to restrict opposition voting, particularly directed against minorities. Why? It’s clear the demographics of American voters has morphed to include a larger percentage of minorities more inclined to vote Democratic.
I realize I’m a partisan Democrat, but I fail to find any reasonable justification in Lee’s outburst that everything thing about the HR1 is “rotten to the core” and a product of the “devil himself.” What am I missing? To the contrary, I think those characterizations more aptly apply to the voter restriction laws currently being propagated nationwide by state Republican legislators.
The problematic reality is passage of HR1 in the Senate is unachievable unless the filibuster is disbanded/amended with all Democrat Senators on board. That currently appears to be a longshot at best.
Raymond A. Hult, Bountiful, is a retired FBI special agent whose duties included investigating violations of the Voting Rights Act.