Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell on Thursday accused House Democrats of plotting to “nationalize” elections, arguing that legislation headed for a vote next week would mandate mail-in voting and forbid states from implementing voter ID laws.
“In this country, states and localities run elections,” Mr. McConnell said on the Senate floor. “Those of us in the federal government do not get a stranglehold over the ways in which voters decide our fates. House Democrats want to change that.”
The Kentucky Republican said the For the People Act would result in a national policy on election issues such as early voting, registration and no-excuse absentee balloting. He called the bill a “sweeping federal takeover” of state and local election procedures.
“They want to force all 50 states to allow the absurd practice of ballot harvesting, where paid operatives can show up at polling places carrying a thick stack of filled-out ballots with other people’s names on them,” Mr. McConnell said. “They want to forbid states from implementing voter ID or doing simple things like checking their voter rolls against change-of-address submissions. They want to mandate no-excuse mail-in balloting as a permanent norm, post-pandemic.”
Both parties in states coast to coast are pushing to address election security and integrity in the wake of the bitterly disputed 2020 presidential contest.
At least 704 bills in 43 states so far this year seek to expand access for voters, according to the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University law school. At least 253 measures have been introduced in 43 state legislatures with provisions that would restrict access, the center said Thursday.
The battleground states of Arizona and Georgia, which Joseph R. Biden won narrowly over President Trump on Nov. 3, led the way with 22 election bills each. Pennsylvania legislators have proposed 12.
A South Carolina proposal would mandate a signature match for absentee ballots. A New Hampshire bill would allow anyone to observe polls “without obstruction.” A Texas proposal would require the Department of Public Safety, instead of county clerks, to verify the citizenship of voters.
House Democrats say their bill would make it easier for people to vote, with provisions requiring states to enact automatic voter registration and same-day registration. The House approved a similar version of the legislation in March 2019, but the bill died in the Senate.
Some analysts have called the measure essentially a Democratic wish list. The bill does not mandate voting by mail, but it generally would make it easier for voters to cast mail-in ballots. States could not require voters to provide IDs to vote by mail or require notarization or witnesses of voters’ signatures to cast absentee ballots, according to PolitiFact.
States still would be allowed to set deadlines for accepting mail-in ballots.
House Democrats also announced this week that the bill would include an amendment for tracking all mail-in ballots. It would require all ballots mailed in federal elections to include a U.S. Postal Service trackable bar code on the envelope “to enable boards of elections and individuals to track sent ballots,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, New York Democrat and sponsor of the amendment.
“Allowing voters to track their ballots will reduce concerns about ballots not being counted, as well as eliminate fears of ballots being counted that were mailed in after required deadlines,” she said. “This legislation will also help speed up counting mail-in ballots in an accurate manner by implementing specifications for ballot envelopes helping us protect the sanctity of future elections.”
The legislation includes provisions that its sponsors say would increase transparency in campaign finance and close dark-money loopholes.
As far as ballot harvesting, the House bill says states “shall permit a voter to designate any person” to return their sealed absentee ballot, as long as the person who collects the ballot isn’t paid based on the number of ballots returned. It would forbid states from limiting the number of ballots that any person could collect from voters.
Mr. McConnell said House Democrats “want to try to use their slim majority to unilaterally rewrite and nationalize election law itself.”
“They want to use the temporary power the voters have granted them to try to ensure they’ll never have to relinquish it,” he said. “Somehow, House Democrats have looked at the division and the disunity of the last several months and decided that what American elections really need is a one-size-fits-all partisan rewrite by one side here in Washington.”
He said the party in power must “pass sound policies” if its members want to get reelected.
“House Democrats do not get to take their razor-thin majority — which voters just shrunk — and use it to steamroll states and localities to try and prevent themselves from losing even more seats next time,” Mr. McConnell said.