Opinion: CJ Opinion

HR1 would make elections less secure in North Carolina and nationwide

The U.S. Capitol Building, facing east, home of Congress, and located atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.
The U.S. Capitol Building, facing east, home of Congress, and located atop Capitol Hill at the eastern end of the National Mall in Washington, D.C.

Even as election officials and those concerned about election security deal with the fallout of the 2020 election, we are facing a threat to election security and effective election administration from Washington.

House Resolution 1 is called the “For the People Act” by its sponsors, but a more accurate name would be the “Corrupt Politicians Act.” Proponents claim that their bill is designed to restore the right to vote. However, it is hard to buy the argument that there is massive disenfranchisement that needs to be addressed when we have just experienced the largest voter turnout in modern American history.

Available space does not permit full coverage of all the problems with the 886-page bill, so I will focus on some of the ways it would attack election integrity and administration in North Carolina.

If implemented, H.R. 1 would attack the security of our elections well before election day through automatic voter registration (AVR) at the Department of Motor Vehicles and other government agencies. North Carolina already has “motor voter” in which people interacting with government agencies are asked if they would like to register to vote. Unlike North Carolina’s “opt-in” system, AVR would require people who don’t want to register to vote to “opt out” by completing and returning cards that election administrators will be required to send them; if they don’t submit the card, they remain registered. In addition to the additional administrative burden AVR would place on election administrators, it is already subject to errors, such as the over 100,000 errors in California and the hundreds of noncitizens registered to vote in Illinois.

Additionally, and even as North Carolina works through court cases over the voter ID law mandated by the state constitution, H.R. 1 threatens to functionally invalidate our voter ID law. It would require election officials to permit individuals to sign a card in lieu of presenting an ID. One way election administrators could work through that problem would be by making those ballots provisional until they can confirm the identity of the person voting. However, H.R. 1 also bans them from treating the ballots of those who sign such cards any differently from those who present an ID, meaning that it would be impossible for election administrators to verify that the person voting is actually the person he or she claims to be.

Perhaps the most pernicious part of H.R. 1 is that it would require North Carolina to legalize ballot trafficking (also known as ballot harvesting), a process that allows third parties to collect and deliver ballots to boards of elections. North Carolinians are aware of the dangers of ballot trafficking, having seen one of our congressional elections invalidated just two years ago.

Not only that, but the bill would also permit political machines to pay people to traffic ballots with the only stipulation that they cannot pay “based on the number of ballots” their workers traffic. To make sure that the flow of trafficked ballots is not impeded, HR1 would prevent election officials from setting any limit on how many ballots individuals could traffic, meaning that we could see scenes of ballot traffickers taking boxes containing hundreds of ballots to county boards of elections offices. To put this in perspective, if H.R. 1 had been law in 2018, Mark Harris would have been elected to Congress in the 9th Congressional District.

To make matters worse, the bill would also destroy North Carolina’s requirement that witnesses affirm that the person completing a ballot is the actual voter. The witness requirement is a key tool in absentee ballot fraud investigations, and its elimination, combined with automatic voter registration and legalized ballot harvesting, would create a system in which well-financed political machines trafficking ballots would overwhelm the votes of citizens freely casting their votes.

Not all of H.R. 1 is destructive of election security. For example, the bill would require that, when a person moves to the state and registers to vote, government officials in the voter’s new state must notify authorities in that voter’s previous state that he or she no longer intends to vote there. That would allow authorities in the voter’s former state to remove that person’s voter registration from their rolls. Doing so would help election authorities better maintain their voter rolls and help prevent counties from having more registered voters than voting-age citizens.

However, H.R. 1 takes a bunch of steps in the wrong direction and would make elections in North Carolina and the rest of the nation less secure.

North Carolinians have struggled to make our elections more secure and well-administered, and we have made progress in that struggle. H.R. 1 threatens to wipe out that progress and institute corrupt practices that will substitute political machine dominance in the place of free and fair elections.