Voting rights bills need further scrutiny

This blog was previously published in the Des Moines Register.

President Joe Biden is pushing voting rights legislation by denigrating anyone who opposes it. He asks, “Do you want to be on the side of Abraham Lincoln or Jefferson Davis?”

Abraham Lincoln is my favorite president.

If we weren’t critical thinkers, the debate would be over.

But hold on. If half of Congress is against this thing, it must not be so simple.

And it’s not.

A reading of the actual text of two, recent voting rights bills reveals more than a few concerns.

Part 1 of the Freedom to Vote Act implements automatic voter registration through the state motor vehicle authority.

Just in the past five years, several states have already started some type of automatic voter registration. Oregon was the first.

But pump the brakes.

Not everyone who has a driver’s license is a citizen. This bill places a huge responsibility on the motor vehicle employee for determining if the person standing in front of them has the legal right to vote in our country. The info is then electronically sent to state election officials. These systems are often fully automated with no paper trail. Not a best practice.   

And the pressure for the motor vehicle employee to get it right—to only submit names who truly have the right to vote—falls away because the bill prohibits prosecution of any non-citizen who accidentally enrolls to vote and any motor vehicle employee who accidently enrolls them. The burden then falls with state election officials to catch errors.

They’re busy, too. It’s tougher to find a mistake than it is to simply start with clean voter rolls.

The automatic voter registration mandate is just one part of this lengthy bill. The full text of all bills should be studied, explained and debated. But they’re usually not. 

It would cost billions of taxpayer-funded dollars to implement the Freedom to Vote Act, without actually increasing confidence in our elections.

Then there’s the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. A section of this federal bill requires “preclearance” from the attorney general before states may make certain voting or election changes.

Sort of sounds like a federal takeover of elections.

If the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights could all be boiled down to one very important message, it would be to be very wary of a federal government that becomes too powerful and intrusive in the lives of its citizens. 

Our Founding Fathers clearly saw the wisdom of federalism and states’ rights.

We’ve seen it, too, these past few years by the very different ways that states have coped with a pandemic. Fortunately, here in Iowa, we weren’t forced to endure a “one size fits all” New York approach.

Biden stated at a recent press conference, “I have not been out in the community nearly enough…I don’t get a chance to look people in the eye…to go out and do the things that I’ve always been able to do pretty well: connect with people…”

Here’s an idea, Mr. President.

Schedule town hall meetings where the actual text of these bills is placed on overhead screens for all to see. Look people in the eye and explain why each part of this bill is good for the country. Invite an elected Republican legislator from the district to explain why there’s opposition. Answer questions from the audience.

Instead of accusing dissenters of being on the side of Jefferson Davis, transparently explain exactly what your side wants to do.

It took parents showing up at school board meetings to shine a light on questionable education practices. Citizens showing up at town hall meetings and combing through the actual text of proposed bills would force transparency from our lawmakers.

Biden said that we must defend our democracy.

We will.

Start lining up those town hall meetings.