What’s the matter with H.R.1, Part 1

H.R.1: U.S. House Resolution 1, “For the People Act of 2021” <read H.R.1> It is a 790 page omnibus election reform bill supported largely by Democrats. There is a companion bill in the U.S. Senate.

It is endorsed by a huge number of good government groups. I wonder how many have read it in detail and understand its ramifications? Like many such bills it has some good provisions and some not so good provisions. I have read only those portions having to do with voting and election administration, about half the bill, pp78-407 – areas where I can claim a level of expertise. I have also spent hours with a team of experts reviewing those provisions in further detail.

Be careful what you endorse! All of this bill is well-intended, yet not all workable. 

In this 1st post I will concentrate on just three concerns that make it especially tough for states like Connecticut. Overall in its voting and election administration sections one could say it seems to be intended to make all states voting more like California and Colorado which encourage voters to vote by mail, while offering extensive early (in-person) voting, along with polling place voting.

First, overall its too much too quickly. Most of its provisions apply to all Federal elections (Federal races*) starting with November 2022, others apply by January 2022. Most previsions apply to Federal elections, primaries, run-offs, and special elections. For a state like Connecticut, you will see that it will be ongoingly expensive and in the near term challenging to implement so much. Overall we estimate doubling to quadrupling election costs in our cities and towns.

Second, significant changes in absentee voting. H.R.1 would allow all citizens the opportunity to vote by mail, yet with significant additions that will be especially challenging for Connecticut. It will mandate that mail-in packets must be processed if they are postmarked by election day** and received within 10 days after the election. Then if such ballot packages are rejected (for instance without a signature), voters must be notified and given at least 10 days to ‘cure’ (correct) the problem. That might sound good and fair, however:

Currently Connecticut law requires all ballots to be counted, recounted, and finalized within 10 days of the election. For state races, that 10 day deadline is in the Connecticut Constitution. So, in November 2022 and thereafter for every even year, the deadlines for Federal races would have to change to about 30 days after the election. State laws and election procedures should be changed to account for all requirements and to correct all subsequent deadlines (i.e. swearing into office) to conform to those Federal requirements, at least for even-year and other Federal elections. That’s all tall order to complete in, at most, a year and a half. Yet there is more. Federal law can not override our Constitution for state contests, so every two years, until our Constitution is changed we would have to effectively run two elections, with two deadlines for accepting ballots, counting ballots, calling and completing recounts (actually recanvasses in Connecticut). Realistically the earliest a Constitutional amendment could pass would be 2024, to be in effect in 2026. Connecticut could keep some or all of our current laws and deadlines for municipal races, yet that would create additional challenges and confusion for voters and for officials. Plus for the Federal races there would be no-excuse absentee voting, yet under our Constitution only absentee ballots for those with excuses could be counted for all other contests. So that would likely require two absentee ballots, one type for those with excuses, and another for those without an excuse that has only the Federal races.

The law also makes election officials responsible for the delivery of absentee ballots to individuals requesting them five days or more before the election. What about the elderly person who cannot use the Internet who requests a ballot five days before? What is an election official to do, but deliver it by hand?

Third, gargantuan early voting requirements.
Background: Connecticut does not have in-person early voting. In the past proposed Constitutional amendments have allowed the General Assembly to mandate a maximum of five or eight days of early voting in a specified period prior to an election or primary. In California there are currently 11 days of early voting, even that seems to be overkill for California, where 70% of voters mail-in their ballots, 20% vote on election day, and just 10% vote on those 11 days of early voting. Statistics are similar in Colorado.

H.R.1 would mandate a minimum of 15 days of early voting, not just any days, but each of the 15 days before election day and election day itself. It would mandate at least 10 hours a day of early voting, with all days required to be the exact same hours. And that early voting must use the same methods as election day voting, e.g. check-in lines, scanners, etc. So even the smallest, single polling-place towns in Connecticut would have to staff an early voting site for 15 days, with a minimum of six pollworkers, before election day and on election day. By my estimates likely contributing to quadrupling election costs  for some towns, in an already busy period for registrars and clerks. Perhaps ‘only’ tripling costs for mid-size municipalities, and ‘only’ doubling them for large cities. Another implication is that because early voting hours must be the same every day, early voting could not be open early some days, late other days, and vary for weekend days. Finally, if you desire to use an early voting location to double as an election day polling place that would mean all early voting hours would need to be from 6:00am to 8:00pm – most small one-polling place towns would find it easier to have two venues open on election day rather than do 15 days of 6:00am to 8:00pm. Staffing 15 days of 10 hour (actually 12 hours for staff) early voting would seem to require at least three crews plus registrars and clerks available.

This is perhaps the bulk of the work, yet not the end of H.R.1 and requirements that seem to have been written without the benefit of consulting those who have to implement them. Read <Part 2> and <Part 3>.

*We try to use ‘race’ when we mean a race for office and ‘contest’ when we mean both a race or a question on the ballot. When it comes to Federal elections, there are only races.

** For the most part when we use ‘election’ in this post we mean election, primary, run-off, or special election.


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