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.

Eliminate daily press briefings and make president more accessible

Kayleigh McEnany had a difficult job in the Trump administration. And now the same can be said for Jen Psaki in the Biden administration. It’s less about the person and more about the role.

White House press secretary briefings are unproductive time-wasters and should be eliminated.

The purpose of the daily briefing is to inform voters on important issues. The reality is that it gives reporters too much time to showboat, giving little consideration to what the American public desires to know. Reporters, friendly to the administration, lob cute, softball questions. Others, gunning for the president, ask gotcha questions. We all know that they’ve all taken sides. They’re either for the president or against him. The biased media is only there to prove what they think they already know, not to learn and uncover new information that will help our country.   

In the reporters’ defense, it’s tough to learn something new at the briefings. It’s not the Psaki administration, and she doesn’t have the freedom to go off script. She’d be fired if she did that. The press secretary serves at the pleasure of the president. He was elected. She was not. The press briefings will always be some type of regurgitation of a policy coming from President Joe Biden. There aren’t usually a lot of new insights.

Voters want to hear from the one they elected—Biden, not Psaki.  

The better way to provide the people with more useful information is to go straight to the president.

That, of course, requires access.

Former President Donald Trump had a tumultuous relationship with the press. The media hammered him, and he was perfectly capable of returning fire. But it never interfered with accessibility. Again and again, he showed up. Each day was a new day to ask questions and get answers. It seemed that every time Trump left the White House, he was engaging with reporters.

It’s a better model than press secretary briefings. So let’s do away with those and replace them with the expectation that every time the president leaves the White House, he must spend a minimum of 15 minutes answering reporters’ questions. 

Leaving for Camp David? Heading to Detroit to tour a Ford plant? Going golfing? Spending time with the Carters in Georgia? It’s all good. But not before you face a watchdog press that’s there to bring transparency to the American people about tax increases, the deficit, the illegal immigration crisis, rising crime rates, the increase in gas prices, foreign policy concerns, and more. That, Mr. President, is your job. Your answers or non-answers to questions you don’t know are coming, until they’re leveled at you, will tell us a lot.

And it shouldn’t be a difficult 15 minutes. It’s easy to tell the truth.

A bonus to this format is the scarcity of time provided. If the press knew they were getting limited time, maybe they’d ask more pertinent questions on issues vital to voters.

Of course, there is a flaw to a system like this. In order for it to work effectively, the president must actually leave the White House on a regular basis. Trump was always on the move, so it wasn’t a problem. Biden, on the other hand, proved during the campaign that he’s pretty good at holing up at home for long periods of time.

His home now is the White House, an even better place to hole up.

If you didn’t want to face the press. Or the American people.

Biden’s next executive order should address election integrity

Image by Shutterstock.

Unity was the theme of President Joe Biden’s inaugural speech. But unity, like respect and loyalty, cannot be achieved with demanding—or even pleading—words. It occurs after meaningful actions.

And nothing will bring unity faster than to solve problems important to most Americans.

Responses to a recent Gallup poll uncovered this list of top five problems to solve: coronavirus, the government and poor leadership, economic issues, racism, and election reform.

As the Unifier-in-Chief, Biden has issued plenty of executive orders to begin tackling problems.

Twelve have addressed the coronavirus. And because the economy was roaring before the virus arrived, it’s clear that any order dealing with COVID-19 will, at least indirectly, affect the economy.

One order focused on government and poor leadership. It’s the “Ethic Commitments by Executive Branch Personnel.” These individuals will be required to make an ethics pledge. Pledges are nice. It’s why children recite the Pledge of Allegiance in school, elected officials take an oath to defend the Constitution, and why we stand for the national anthem.

“Advancing Racial Equity and Support in Underserved Communities through the Federal Government,” will give increased support for racial issues. Rioting and protests broke out across the country for much of last year, sparked by the police killing of George Floyd, a Black man, in Minneapolis. It’s just one order that wholly speaks to racism, but it’s a start. 

But of the top five problems that Americans have identified, Biden has given zero attention to election integrity. And, according to this poll, election reform scored as a higher concern than health care, immigration, the environment, education, crime, and several other categories.

State legislatures seem to concur. The National Conference of State Legislatures reports a flurry of activity since the election.

Alaska introduced a bill to require signature verification and establishes an election offense hotline. Arizona has pending legislation on creating a voting systems technology study committee, investigating voting irregularities, and using death records to help establish a more accurate voter database. Florida introduced a bill that prohibits use of voting systems and software that is made or designed in a foreign country. Indiana legislators correctly want voting systems that must store votes as whole numbers—one person, one vote—without the use of decimals or fractions. They are also working to establish a commission on election integrity. Kansas introduced a bill that prohibits backdating of postmarks on mail ballots. Kentucky has pending legislation requiring that no voting system be connected to the internet. New Jersey wants the Secretary of State to create a website for voters to report irregularities with mail ballots and establishes a commission to study voting by mail. They also introduced a bill requiring that half of any future, federal election funds go toward voting systems with paper records.

There are many more.

We’ve heard a lot from Biden about choosing hope over fear and facts over fiction.

The truth is that legislative activity at the state level and the Gallup poll show real concern that many have about election integrity. There’s also plenty of chatter in Congress about it.  

Mr. President, issue an executive order (or at least a memorandum) that allows for a bipartisan investigation into 2020 election procedures. Do not be fearful of what you will find. You’ve been installed as the 46th president of the United States. Nothing will change that. Instead, be hopeful that investigation results and facts will help to unify our country. Then you will have a better chance to “build back better.”  

A president, who truly wants to represent all the people, would address issues most important to the citizenry.       

And that’s a fact.