H.R.4 Would Give Federal Government More Control Over Elections

Democrats are touting the new H.R.4 (John R. Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act) as a "momentous step to secure the sacred right to vote for generations to come." In a statement during the introduction of the bill, Nancy Pelosi accused her partisan opponents of conducting a "campaign of voter suppression" and assured listeners that Congress has a "moral responsibility" to pass the legislation.

See Pelosi's full statement here.

The bill seeks to restore provisions of the Voting Rights Act that were invalidated by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder, and gives the federal government additional control over voting procedures.

The John Lewis Act is the second version of H.R.4 (full text here).

The embedded Fox News article highlights the fact that Democrats have painted a false picture of America as a systemically racist country, and of Republicans as determined to deprive certain groups of their rights. It then explains how H.R.4 changes preclearance procedures:

The biggest, but not the only, major change is that H.R. 4 would reinstitute the practice of requiring federal preclearance (i.e., federal permission) for any state election change, no matter how minor.

Under H.R. 4, the federal government could veto and block any, and potentially all, state election reforms (plus redistricting) under the guise of fighting discrimination. However, there is no requirement to actually prove that anything a state was proposing would be discriminatory. If a state sought to fight the federal government’s decision, rather than requiring the federal government to prove that a new law would result in discrimination, the burden of proof would fall on the states.

A Wall Street Journal Opinion further elaborated,

Without a valid way to establish where it applied, the VRA’s preclearance process went dormant. H.R.4 would resuscitate it, while greatly expanding its reach. Every jurisdiction in the country would need to be on guard, since H.R.4 says that some election changes would automatically need federal preclearance, nationwide. These include many voter-ID rules, along with new district lines and polling locations in certain areas with a substantial proportion of racial or linguistic minorities.

This old formula is what the Supreme Court struck down in Shelby County v. Holder (2013). As Chief Justice John Roberts explained, black voter registration before the VRA was 6.4% in Mississippi. By 2004 it was 76.1%, higher than among whites. Black turnout in the most recent election, the Chief added, “exceeded white voter turnout in five of the six States originally covered.” The VRA’s formula, he said, bore “no logical relation to the present day.”

There will be a hearing on the bill on Monday, and it could be passed as early as Tuesday. It is unclear how the bill will fare in the Senate. There are a few Senators that could vote either way on the bill, including Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia.

The bill was introduced on August 17th, and several groups have already begun speaking out against it. The Election Transparency Initiative tweeted:

The Honest Elections Project, quoting their executive director Jason Snead, also tweeted:

Despite the fact that many states are reforming their voting procedures to make them more fair and accessible, Democrats, with the media on their side, have created a durable narrative that such reforms only serve to further perpetuate discrimination. Fox News addressed this:

The purpose of H.R. 4 is not to protect voting rights, it is to stop voting reforms going on in the states that are making our elections more transparent, secure and accountable.

H.R. 4 should be rejected in favor of using the current Voting Rights Act – Sections 2 and 3 – which have already proven to be effective in fighting true discrimination where and when it has existed.

Not only does the bill take power away from states, but it is also purports to take authority away from the Supreme Court in election matters. One news source attributes this to Democrats getting serious about "protecting the Constitution from the Supreme Court," and "reining in an out-of-control Supreme Court." The same article admits, clearly, that "H.R.4, in short, is court reform." The article continues,

H.R. 4 is a frontal assault on every component of the Supreme Court’s voting rights shadow docket. It repeals the Purcell principle...[i]t bars the justices from considering “a state’s generalized interest in enforcing its enacted laws”...the Supreme Court may not set aside a lower court decision expanding voting access unless it finds that burdens on the state “substantially outweigh” the “public’s interest in expanding access to the ballot." The court may not set aside the district court’s factual findings unless they’re “clearly erroneous.” And it must provide a “written explanation” laying out its reasoning.

Real Clear Politics stated, "H.R. 4’s goal is to eviscerate the right of states to manage their own elections with appropriate transparency and ballot-security safeguards. It will attempt to misuse the 1965 Voting Rights Act to achieve this goal."

With respect to the earlier version of the H.R.4, former Rep. Doug Collins and others expressed a similar concern regarding the ability of states to control their own procedures:

This bill would essentially federalize state and local election laws when there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever that those states or localities engaged in any discriminatory behavior when it comes to voting.

Republicans and Democrats alike should always strive to ensure fair and honest elections. But partisan legislation designed to advance a one-sided political agenda is an unacceptable means to that end. Republicans should vote against H.R.4 until both sides of the aisle are able to come together and adopt a more reasonable bill that will actually protect the voting rights of American citizens—not dump more power into the hands of the federal government.


H.R.4 Resources


Further Reading