Point of View: HR 1 could undermine state system
Election nights in Oklahoma never end without a full count by midnight in our memory, if ever. On the rare occasion that recounts are necessary, they are conducted by the letter of the law. And the manner in which the state operates a fair and honest system is second to none. There are no surprises in our system.
But Congress is now working to undermine the state system that we have come to trust. Last week, the United States House of Representatives passed House Resolution 1, the For the People Act, which contains a sweeping overhaul to the way we elect our leaders.
Setting aside the parts of the act that are esoteric like opt-in public financing of congressional elections, already existent like permitting federal candidates to use campaign funds for child care or facially unconstitutional like effectively prohibiting political groups from running ads in support or opposition of candidates, what’s left is an ill-advised federal power grab.
The act strips powers away from the states to determine how to best conduct elections, imposing a one-size-fits-all approach nationally.
Article I, Section 4, Clause 1 of the Constitution dictates that the time, place, and manner of electing Senators and Representatives is a power delegated to state legislatures, not Congress.
The act ignores that and prescribes mandates, including requiring votes cast in the wrong city to be counted, preventing election officials from checking the eligibility and qualifications of those wishing to register to vote, and superseding state deadlines on requesting and submitting absentee ballots.
What’s more, the act inserts partisanship in the two most important institutions that must remain nonpartisan: the Federal Election Commission and the Internal Revenue Service.
The act decreases the number of seats on the FEC from six to five and would transfer many powers currently held by the full bipartisan commission to the partisan chair of the Commission. Of equal concern, the act would empower the IRS to evaluate the policy positions of organizations before granting them tax exempt status.
The IRS could, for instance, determine that abortion rights groups advocate on healthcare topics and thus qualify for nonprofit status, while anti-abortion groups advocate on political topics and thus are not eligible for nonprofit status. This may seem far-fetched until you remember that the IRS’s Lois Lerner scandal was less than a decade ago.
Many in our state have raised question or doubt about how elections are conducted in other states. There is no question about Oklahoma’s system. Perhaps Congress should encourage our system as model legislation rather than recrafting the wheel. There are no hanging chads here.
Ross and Ferate are election law attorneys in Oklahoma City.