Washington, D.C.—From the Senate floor today, U.S. Senator Susan Collins expressed her opposition to S.1, a partisan attempt to preempt states’ election laws:
The text of Senator Collins’ remarks is below:
The right to vote is the hallmark of a democracy. It is what distinguishes us from authoritarian regimes where elections are tainted -- if they are held at all -- where the free and fair elections that define America do not exist.
President Abraham Lincoln once said, “Elections belong to the people.” Voting is an action we choose to take to exercise a fundamental freedom our Constitution grants to the people.
So when we hear of a bill entitled “For the People,” we naturally would assume at first that it must be enhancing our democracy. But a closer examination suggests otherwise.
In fact, S.1 would take away the rights of people in each of the 50 states to determine which election rules work best for their citizens.
Let’s start with some indisputable facts. This legislation was first introduced in 2019 – prior to last year’s presidential election. It was not considered in the Senate. It did not become law.
Nevertheless, according to the Census Bureau, the 2020 election saw the highest voter turnout in the 21st century. Equally significant, Asian Americans and Hispanic Americans voted in record high percentages, and there was higher turnout across all racial groups, including Black Americans, than in 2016.
The Census Bureau also asked eligible non-voting Americans why they didn’t vote in 2020. The majority of respondents said that they were not interested, didn’t like any of the candidates, were too busy, or simply forgot.
The point is, with the record high turnout in 2020, it is very difficult to make the case that this bill is necessary, as some have said, to “save our democracy.” This is a bill that was introduced to enhance partisan messaging, not to enhance participation in our elections – as the over-the-top rhetoric about this bill highlights.
Consider, for example, the debate over Georgia’s new election law.
In many ways, Georgia’s election law actually makes it easier for citizens to vote than in other states that have not been subject to the same backlash. Georgia allows “no-excuse” absentee ballots; Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, and Connecticut do not. Georgia’s new law provides a minimum of 17 in-person early voting days; Delaware, New Jersey, and Connecticut had no in-person early voting days at all in 2020. Although New Jersey enacted a new law to allow early voting earlier this year to great fanfare, it actually has eight fewer early voting days than Georgia.
Despite having these and many other different election rules, Delaware, Connecticut, and Georgia had very similar levels of Black voter turnout in the 2020 election. Massachusetts, by contrast, had just more than half the Black voter turnout of Georgia.
This information contradicts the underlying premise in S. 1 that we must overturn the law of every state in our nation in order to preserve the right to vote.
This legislation would force numerous changes to laws in states that have been successfully conducting elections for a very long time. Let me use the State of Maine as an example, a state that consistently ranks at or near the top of the nation in voter participation, I am pleased to report.
Maine does not have early voting.
Maine does not allow ballot harvesting.
Maine does not count absentee ballots that arrive after the polls close on election night.
Maine does not allow voters to receive absentee ballots automatically without requesting them.
Yet, in 2020, 71 percent of Mainers cast a ballot—that’s four and half percentage points above the national average. These results further demonstrate that absent a compelling need, the federal government should not be pre-empting the election laws of all 50 states.
Now let’s examine the burdensome list of federal mandates that advocates of this bill would impose on each and every state. Allow me to highlight just a few of the significant flaws:
· The bill would require states to allow “ballot harvesting,” where third-parties, usually political operatives, collect ballots from voters. This raises obvious and significant concerns about voter intimidation, coercion, and ballot security.
· The bill would prohibit Voter ID, overturning existing law in 35 states.
· It would require that absentee ballots be accepted up to seven days after the election, which could lead to chaos and distrust, particularly in close races.
· It would transform the Federal Election Commission into a partisan entity, which would jettison the requirement for bipartisan agreement on significant issues and lead to partisan enforcement.
Another problem with this bill is that it would allocate billions of federal dollars to congressional campaigns, forcing Americans to subsidize the campaigns of politicians with whom they vigorously disagree or simply dislike. Even very wealthy office holders would be eligible for public financing.
Do we really need more money in political campaigns when federal funds could be used to combat the opioid epidemic, or to reduce hunger among children, or to spur economic development and the creation of more jobs?
There are, of course, times when it’s compelling and appropriate for Congress to intervene. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is an excellent example. It was passed at a time when many Americans, particularly Black Americans, faced overwhelming barriers designed to prevent them from voting.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act is still in effect today. It prohibits voting practices and procedures that are discriminatory. It also allows the Department of Justice to sue any state or local government to enforce this provision.
Certainly, there are improvements that can be made in our election laws. For example, I support efforts to disclose “dark money” in campaigns. I support mandatory reporting to the FBI if a foreign government contacts a political campaign with an offer of assistance. And I have worked with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to provide generous grants to states so that they could better secure their voting infrastructure against cyber threats and foreign intrusions.
Unfortunately, S.1 is not legislation that could ever form the basis of a reasonable, bipartisan elections reform bill. And it is far more likely to sow more distrust in our elections than to ease the partisan divisions in our country. For the reasons I have discussed, I shall cast my vote against this flawed bill.