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H.R. 1 and Herd Count Democracy

Zero effort voting is the latest liberal power grab.

Is it a federal civil rights violation if citizens have to get off their butts in order to cast their votes? Democrats are pushing a national election “reform” bill that would entitle Americans to zero-effort voting and also obliterate established safeguards against election fraud. Rather than fortifying voters’ rights, H.R.1 would unleash politicians in perpetuity.

The House of Representatives passed H.R. 1, the For the People Act, on a party-line vote and the bill is now before the Senate. This bill would force all states to adopt the most unreliable electoral procedures some states implemented last year on the pretext of the COVID pandemic. The bill would compel all future federal elections to permit paid ballot harvesting and universal mail-in voting, prohibit checking voter identification, and require states to count ballots that arrive ten days after an election. What could possibly go wrong?

The political push for H.R. 1 portrays any and every restriction on casting ballots as a “new Jim Crow” outrage. In the 1960s, voting discrimination often involved forcibly blocking black Americans from entering polling booths. Nowadays, voting discrimination supposedly refers to not permitting any procedure that lets any person (or purported person) cast a ballot without ID, or a verified address, or anything beyond a scratch on a piece of paper that eventually turns up mysteriously at a government office.

H.R. 1 presumes that the solution for the problems of democracy is more ballots from clueless citizens. The bill would require states to automatically register voters, regardless of whether they wanted their names on polling databases. Automatic registration is necessary because, as a Washington Post editorial complained, “same-day [voter] registration just helps those who already know when Election Day is and where their polling places are.” This is the class of would-be voters who supposedly upgrade American democracy: people who don’t even know when Election Day occurs.

Clueless voters are an entitlement program for politicians to abuse their power. The less effort required to vote, the less likely many voters will bother becoming informed. Mass ignorance among voters makes it easier for winning politicians to boast that their decrees fulfill the people’s will. When the Electoral College certified the presidential tally on December 14, Biden proclaimed that his 81 million vote total was “a number so big that this election now ranks as the clearest demonstration of the true will of the American people.” But it is unclear if many of the new voters had any political beliefs beyond “Orange Man Bad.”

Even before last year’s electoral chaos, America was already an Attention Deficit Democracy. As Harvard professor Jennifer Hochschild has observed, “As democracies become more democratic, their decision-making processes become of lower quality in terms of cognitive processing of issues and candidate choice.” Hochschild, writing in the Election Law Journal, noted, “Most expansions of the suffrage bring in, on average, people who are less politically informed or less broadly educated than those already eligible to vote.” For instance, reforms in recent decades to permit felons to vote have “lowered the average socioeconomic status and level of education of the population eligible to vote…. Incarcerated people are among the least well-educated Americans,” Hochschild observed in 2010. But that uncomfortable truth did not deter political stampedes to entitle convicts in prison to cast ballots last year.

Democrats and their media allies have already canonized the 2020 presidential election as “the most secure” in the nation’s history—regardless of the vast distrust that the final tally continues to evoke among Republicans. H.R. 1 would canonize many of the reforms adopted by states last year to minimize detection of fraud. The 2020 election was determined in part by the novel doctrine that verifying ballots was a crime against democracy. The Elections Clause in the Constitution specifies that the rules for federal elections (president and Congress) “shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” That constitutional provision was trampled last year in many states, resulting in torrents of votes being counted that would have been rejected in prior elections.

With the media’s help, Democratic politicians have swept most of the debacles from the 2020 election under the rug. In Nevada, Democrats responded to the pandemic by mailing absentee ballots to all voters. Biden won the state by 33,596 votes. In the primary election, more than 200,000 ballots were sent to wrong addresses. In the November election, more than 92,000 mail ballots went to wrong addresses in a single Nevada county, as lawyer J. Christian Adams reported last week. But Nevada’s Democratic legislators consider that “close enough for government work” and are pushing a bill to mandate universal mail voting for future elections. In Wisconsin, election results were partly the result of political appointees exhorting residents to ignore state law. The Wisconsin Election Commission  and local election officials encouraged all “voters to unlawfully declare themselves ‘indefinitely Confined’—which under Wisconsin law allows the voter to avoid security measures like signature verification and photo ID requirements,” as a brief to the U.S. Supreme Court from the state of Texas declared. In December, the Wisconsin Supreme Court ruled that election officials had acted illegally, but that did nothing to nullify the hundreds of thousands of votes that came in via that illicit loophole. Biden carried Wisconsin by 20,000 votes.

Last year’s electoral procedure reforms and the push to enact H.R. 1 are driven by a dogma that election fraud is a myth—something as rare as unicorns with zebra stripes. This dogma requires expunging the history of election scams going back hundreds of years. But presuming that voting procedures are automatically trustworthy requires even bigger delusions about the nature of politicians. As James Madison wrote in the Federalist Papers, “If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” The 2020 election reforms and H.R. 1 tacitly presume that any politician or government officials involved in elections is trustworthy. But election safeguards have evolved over centuries based on recognition that, as Thomas Paine warned, “the trade of governing has always been monopolized by…the most rascally individuals of mankind.” This is why vote counts are required to be in the open—why observers are entitled to view the proceedings—and why safeguards existed to confirm the status of voters and the chain of custody of ballots.

Democrats and their liberal allies are portraying abolishing voting safeguards as a sign of their devotion to democracy and the American people. But their reverence is a flag of convenience which can be quickly lowered when a chance appears to pirate more political power. In Michigan, Georgia, and elsewhere, state and local officials largely abolished any effort to verify the signatures on absentee ballots. But the rules are different in the California recall drive targeting Governor Gavin Newsom. As Richard Grenell, one of the likely Republican gubernatorial challengers, scoffed on Twitter: “Suddenly, California officials want aggressive signature verifications.” In New York, a team of 55 Democratic lawyers fought ceaselessly to overturn the election of Republican Claudia Tenney to the House of Representatives, seeking to block counting of provisional ballots in her favor; a New York state trial court judge finally ruled last month that Tenney won and could take her seat. Last week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi signaled that she and her Democratic colleagues might overturn the Iowa congressional election that was won by six votes by Republican Mariannette Miller-Meeks, who was re-certified as the winner in a recount. But the Democratic candidate has swayed the House Committee on Administration to consider flipping the seat in her favor, reviving abusive precents that the House has not used in more than 100 years.

H.R. 1 and the canonization of the 2020 election procedures signal how legitimacy now arises solely from vote counts. Any method or rigamarole that permits Democrats to produce more votes is justified, regardless of whether the votes are from illegal aliens, non-residents, or simply fabricated out of thin air. As long as progressive candidates win, their media allies will thunderously denounce anyone who criticizes the election as an enemy of democracy. Even open bribery is now acceptable. Biden’s agenda is moving forward in Congress thanks largely to his (unfulfilled) promise that the feds would send Georgia voters $2,000 each if they elected two Democrats to the Senate in that January run-off race.

What is the end goal for election procedures for progressives? President Obama revealed the answer in 2016, when he taped a personal message saluting the television program American Idol. After proclaiming that voting is the “most sacred right for democracy,” Obama declared that casting a ballot in national elections “should be just as easy as voting on American Idol, and we’re working on that. Can you imagine? Voting from your iPhone in the comfort of your own home over your morning cup of coffee instead of having to wait in line at your precinct?” Obama also endorsed making voting mandatory, perhaps to ensure that no one has an excuse for disobeying election winners.

“Your morning cup of coffee” is a comforting image until people realize that tapping one icon on their cell phone screen would designate the person who, for the next 1,460 days, can drag the nation into undeclared wars, run up ruinous national debt, unleash legions of enforcement agents to scourge his political opponents, and issue arbitrary decrees that disrupt vast swaths of American life. But this is not how the media would portray cell phone voting. Instead, lucky citizens would merely need to tap that page on their phone a couple times a decade and the president would take care of them. And as long as winning candidates regularly send four-figure “stimulus” checks to anyone not on millionaire row, all’s well. And when inflation explodes or foreigners cease buying federal debt, then it will be too late to cry over spilled milk.

Even without cell phone voting, America is making it easier and easier for citizens to confer ever more power on their rulers.  Presidents are obliged to take an oath to uphold the law and defend the Constitution. But this has long been an empty ritual, akin to Roman emperors making public sacrifices to pagan gods they knew did not exist. Especially in the post-9/11 era, presidents assume they are entitled to all the power that they claim to need to do what they think is best. As long as presidential candidates can fool enough of the people enough of the time, they can continue expanding their power over everyone. And the vast secrecy surrounding presidential powers assures that voters will not find out most of the inside machinations until decades later.

Will elections become herd counts that merely determine who gets to fleece the herd? H.R. 1 offers Americans pious claptrap in lieu of honesty and due process. If it becomes law, masses of citizens will be mobilized to give their assent to rulers who will do as they please after polls close. Is it too late to remind Americans of Thomas Jefferson’s 1786 admonition: “An elective despotism was not the government we fought for”?

James Bovard is the author of Lost RightsAttention Deficit Democracy, and Public Policy Hooligan. He is also a USA Today columnist. Follow him on Twitter @JimBovard.