What’s the matter with H.R.1, Part 2

Yesterday in <Part 1> we covered our three greatest concerns with the election administration portions of H.R.1: U.S. House Resolution 1, “For the People Act of 2021” <read H.R.1> Here we will cover the rest of our major concerns, these alone argue that the bill should not be passed without a number of major and minor changes:

  • In states, like Connecticut, with an elected Chief Election Official (in CT Secretary of the State), when they are on the ballot, they are required to step aside and appoint someone else to perform their role for the election – appoint someone who does not report to them. For instance, if Denise Merrill were to run for reelection in 2022, under H.R.1, she would need to do that. Its a complex job to learn and in Connecticut there are few sufficiently knowledgeable or experienced  individuals who could quickly step in – even less individuals willing to stop what they are doing and take over a more than full time job. Worse that would apply to all future Secretaries of the State. Perhaps many future Secretaries would choose for the benefit of election management, limit themselves to a single term. The voters of the State might well suffer from missing the benefits of an experienced Secretary of the State.
  • H.B.1 requires that drop box ballots be counted like early voting ballots. Instead, they are normally counted like absentee ballots, yet this law seems to preclude that. Early voting ballots are normally provided to voters in person, voters who fill them out in the early voting place, have an opportunity to replace them to re-vote, and then the voter feeds them into a scanner. Perhaps this is just an oversight, yet it needs to be corrected or clarified.
  • H.B.1 also requires that drop boxes be accessible to all those with disabilities. It would be straight-forward to make them accessible to those who use wheelchairs, yet presumably there other disabilities where that would be all but impossible and prohibitively expensive, e.g. to provide independent access to a severely limited paraplegic.
  • In a similar vein, H.B.1 requires that all those with disabilities be a able to vote independently and privately. While that is a laudable goal it is all but impossible to serve everyone, with every actual disability, or combination of disabilities. While this is required the bill recognizes the limitations of actually available products when it, laudably, offers grants for researching such solutions.
  • H.B.1 requires Election Day Registration at every early voting site. That is certainly a convenience for voters, yet we point out it is another significant additional amount of work both for early voting place officials and for registrars in Connecticut.
  • The bill requires that voting arrangements should be such that for election day and for early voting that voters must not ever have to wait more than 30 minutes in line. Anyone familiar with queuing theory would know that to achieve that is all but impossible. Election officials have no way of predicting when and how many voters will arrive at a polling place or early voting center, especially when polling places open on election day and the 1st day of early voting. I have served at polling places in Connecticut where the only line over five minutes was at 6:00am. The 1st time I served in Nov 2008 the media hyped up that voting would be difficult with long lines, we had a 6:00am backup that was about 20 min – it could have been much longer, most of the rest of the day. we were mostly idle. In Nov 2020 and the Jan 2021 run-off in Georgia there were many stories of long lines in Georgia and other states on the 1st day of early voting, the stories seemed to go away after that initial crush. I agree that voters should not have to wait in lines for long times and generally less than 30 minutes, yet that is absolutely impossible to guarantee. Worse, there are unpredictable problems that take time to cure that could interrupt or slowdown voting e.g. ePollbook and voting machine breakdowns, sick pollworkers, power and internet failures, broken water pipes etc.
  • Another provision requires IDs on some ballots to identify the voter with their ballot. This is violates the, so called, Secret Ballot, or as the Connecticut Constitution calls the right of secret voting. Any method of linking a voter to a ballot should be illegal, rather than mandatory. Note that a ballot package with such an ID on an outer or inner envelope is fine, as long as the process does not result in an opportunity for the ballot to be read while still linked to such an envelope.
  • Finally, the bill has very strong enforcement provisions that go well beyond what we have in Connecticut. We have Secretary of the State’s Office’s hot lines, Election Enforcement hot lines, Elections Enforcement processes, and the opportunity for redress in the courts. A small error by an official should normally be referred to the processes we have now, yet this law would provide extensive legal recourse for a voter who had to wait in line more than 30 minutes, a single voter with disabilities who could not be served independently and privately, a single voter with disabilities unable to use a drop box unaided, a single voter not receiving an absentee ballot when they applied as late as five days before election day, etc. Who would want to be a pollworker, registrar or clerk under such potential risk?

In <Part 3> we address what is clearly good in the election administration portions of the bill and what might be changed to meet the well-intended goals without the, likely unintended, unnecessary detailed requirements and consequences.

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