Wednesday, March 17, 2021

Time to Calm Down about HR1

There are two things that should help calm one down about HR1. The first is that its passage is not quite the existential challenge many Democrats make it out to be. The fact of the matter is that Republican voter suppression attempts via monkeying with the mechanics of voting have been remarkably ineffective at what Republicans presumably wanted: reducing turnout in general and turnout of Democratic constituencies in particular. I follow this research closely and Ross Douthat's summary of what this research has typically shown is fair (note: if you are inclined to disregard anything said by someone who is on the conservative side of the political spectrum, you are probably reading the wrong blog). It therefore follows that further attempts by Republicans along these lines, by doing various things that make voting more challenging, is unlikely to be a game-changer.
"Republicans have long championed voter ID laws as a bulwark against alleged voting fraud, while Democrats have countered that such restrictions unfairly burden many Americans, racial minorities especially, in the exercise of their hard-won right to vote....
[L]ots of studies suggest that voter ID laws don’t do either thing. They don’t prevent much (or any) fraud, but they also don’t have much (if any) effect on turnout, for minorities or any other group....
Now Republicans all over the country are advancing bills that answer the “theft” of 2020 with new ID requirements and new limits on absentee and early votes, while Democrats are advancing a national bill that would essentially federalize election law and make certain Republican restrictions impermissible. And each side is talking as if this were an existential fight, with the very concept of fair democratic elections hanging in the balance.
But the facts continue to suggest otherwise, with two new studies adding to the case for compromise and calm.
The first study, from the Democracy and Polarization Lab at Stanford University, looks at the effects of no-excuse absentee voting on the 2020 elections — the kind of balloting that a lot of states expanded and that many Republican state legislators now want to roll back. Contrary to liberal expectations, easing the voting rules this way seemed to have no effect on turnout: “States newly implementing no-excuse absentee voting for 2020 did not see larger increases in turnout than states that did not.”
Then contrary to Republican fears, the easement didn’t help Democrats at the G.O.P.’s expense: “No-excuse absentee did not substantially increase Democratic turnout relative to Republican turnout.” Overall the authors argue that what drove higher turnout in 2020 was simply “voter interest” in the elections, not the major voting rule change, which “mobilized relatively few voters and had at most a muted partisan effect.”
The second study comes from a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Oregon, and it looks further back in time to assess the effects of Shelby County v. Holder, the Supreme Court revision of the Voting Rights Act that made it easier for states to impose voter ID laws and other restrictions. Using data from six federal elections, the author finds no post-Shelby divergence between white and African-American turnout in states affected by the ruling. Indeed, if anything, the jurisdictions saw African-American turnout rise relative to white turnout in the 2016 elections, suggesting that new obstacles to voting prompt swift mobilization in response.
So rule changes favored by Democrats that make it modestly easier to vote probably didn’t help Democrats win the 2020 elections, and rule changes favored by Republicans that make it modestly harder to vote probably haven’t suppressed minority votes."
That said, I'm in favor of most of the voting rights components of HR1. By and large, from a small d democratic perspective, we should always try to make it as possible for citizens to vote, regardless of any presumed partisan effect.
The second reason to relax a bit about HR1 is that it's highly unlikely to pass in its current form. Therefore, it is time to start thinking about compromises. John Judis:
"I’m second to no one in praising Joe Biden and the Democrats for passing the $1.9 trillion relief bill. But I have doubts about a few other initiatives coming from Biden, the House Democrats, or both. One of these is HR 1, the For the People Act, passed by the House. I’m all for it, but it won’t pass the Senate, and the Democrats need to pass something that will repudiate Republican attempts at voter suppression.
I’m not sure how or whether the Republican bills will actually affect outcomes. They could even prod Democrats to vote. But they represent an attempt, whether successful or not, to subvert our democracy. And in fighting them, Democrats have a chance to perpetuate the kind of coalition that opposed Donald Trump’s attempt to “stop the steal” — a coalition that included Republicans and Independents. Unfortunately, HR 1 may not be the way to go about it.
The 886-page bill is a Christmas tree of political, and not merely voting, reform provisions. It includes automatic voting registration, reform of the Federal Election Commission, campaign finance reform, mandatory donor disclosure in political ads, sweeping redistricting reform, voting rights for felons who have served their terms, support for a Constitutional amendment to overturn Citizens United, and an affirmation of Congress’s power to make the District of Columbia a state.
It forbids the use of taxpayer money to fight employment discrimination suits, sets limits on the use of funds for inaugural committees, and requires presidential and vice-presidential candidates to disclose their tax returns for the prior ten years. It would also make general election days a federal holiday. That’s just a few of the provisions.
Republicans will not support the bill, and I suspect some Democrats might not either....What I would suggest is that the Democrats boil down their efforts to several measures that would frustrate current voting suppression efforts and that very possibly might command the support of ten Republicans who opposed Donald Trump’s attempt to steal the last election. I am not a legislative expert and cannot say exactly what those provisions would be. My guess would be making general election day a federal holiday, which is very popular, ensuring that polling places are readily available in number and distance. and ensuring that voters can vote by mail. I would stop there at these popular measures."
A similar approach is suggested by Richard L. Hasen in the Post. I particularly like his suggested skinny list of reforms.
"Are Democrats in Congress and their good government allies going to blow it again on voting rights? It sure looks like they could — by portraying the 791-page For the People Act, or H.R. 1, as the only hope to save American democracy from a new wave of Republican voter suppression.
This mammoth bill has little chance of being enacted. But a more pinpointed law, including one restoring a key part of the Voting Rights Act, could make it out of the Senate to guarantee voting rights protections for all in the 2022 and 2024 elections....
A narrower bill targeted at protecting voting rights more directly would appear to have a better chance of passage, by assuring that there are more than 50 senators — including perhaps some moderate Republicans — to support the bill. Such a narrower bill still might require blowing up the filibuster for voting rights reform, but that target seems much more achievable with a pinpointed proposal.
What would be in the new, narrower bill? There are many parts of H.R. 1 and of the John R. Lewis Voting Rights Act that are worth copying or modifying, and at least some of these could attract moderate Republican support.
First, Congress could restore a key provision of the Voting Rights Act. In 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder killed the preclearance provision in Section 5 of the 1965 law that had required states with a history of discrimination in voting to get federal approval for changes in voting rules before they could make them. These states had to demonstrate that the proposed changes, such as cutbacks in days of early voting, would not make minority voters worse off. The court held in Shelby that the formula for determining which states needed to get advance clearance was outdated because it was not tied to current voting discrimination. Congress could reenact preclearance with a new coverage formula tied to current evidence of discrimination.
Second, Congress could require that states offer ample registration and voting opportunities to voters. For example, lawmakers could require that states offer online registration opportunities; 40 states already do, and when Texas was ordered to do so recently as part of litigation, half a million more people registered to vote. Congress could also require that states offer two weeks of some form of early voting — whether in-person, by mail or both — in all federal elections. It could even require that states offer no-excuse absentee balloting.
Third, Congress could require states to assure election security. Lawmakers could require states only to allow voting for federal elections on machines that produce a piece of paper that can be counted in a recount, assuring that the totals announced by voting machines can be verified by hand. Congress could also require states to have certain procedures in place to protect the integrity of voter registration databases and other pieces of critical election infrastructure. These requirements are important for both to assure that election results reflect the people’s will as well as to promote public confidence.
Finally, Congress could end partisan gerrymandering of congressional districts by requiring states to use bipartisan or nonpartisan commissions to draw the lines. Ending the scourge of partisanship in redistricting will not only assure that members of Congress are more representative of the will of the voters; it will also help to create the conditions where candidates appeal to the center and are less driven by partisanship.
A more tightly drawn measure along these lines is likely to get more support than the sprawling H.R. 1. It would reverse many of the new suppressive laws that could be enacted by Republican legislatures, but it wouldn’t reach further into other issues that could pull apart majority support in the Senate."
OK then. Let's think "doable" and get this thing done.

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