by Ken Cuccinelli
Democrats have already passed H.R. 1, also known as the For the People Act, in the House of Representatives; fortunately, the bill faces a much tougher road in the Senate. Among the bill’s many serious problems are a wide array that I would characterize as “mechanical,” in the sense that they dictate the nuts and bolts of how states would run elections. H.R. 1 attempts to dictate these elements in a way that is either impossible to put into effect or would gut the effective administration of elections. One example is how H.R. 1 dictates, through its Section 1621, that states must deal with signature verification – a cornerstone of election security, especially with the growth of mail-in balloting.
A bit of context is in order. Today, most states have a variety of security steps to protect their elections, such as requiring voters to show a picture I.D. or list their driver’s license number on mail-in ballots. However, in parts of H.R. 1 other than Section 1621, many of these current security practices are outlawed. You read that right – outlawed. For example, the 36 states that today require voter I.D. would be banned from imposing such requirements. It is apparently irrelevant to the drafters of H.R. 1 that every category of Americans supports voter I.D. to secure elections, including Democrats, blacks, and Hispanics.
So it’s important to realize as one considers the signature-verification rules in Section 1621 that other forms of security are not taking its place – rather, under H.R. 1 those other forms of security would be stripped from state laws.
Back to Section 1621: It would require the agreement of at least two judges, including at least one from each party, to reject a ballot-signature match. Typically, when mail-in or absentee ballots are reviewed and verified, two judges, one from each major party, are called on to compare the signature on the returned ballot with the signature on file in the voter rolls. Either judge can question whether the signatures match.
H.R. 1 puts forth a new standard: In order to reject a ballot based on an unverifiable or incorrect signature, both judges would have to agree that the signature on the ballot is questionable. Since the standard operating procedure in most localities is that two judges be present, H.R. 1 essentially states that the authorization of only one judge is needed to approve signatures, regardless of how they compare with the signatures on file.
This failure of election mechanics opens the door to a partisan veto built into the process. H.R. 1 would devastate the effectiveness of signature verification, as regardless of any issues with signatures – no matter how clear or evident – either party could choose to verify any amount of dubious signatures.
This is a truly dangerous standard. In essence, it will allow either party to decide to approve any mail-in ballots based on the signatures provided. Without the agreement of judges from both parties, any and all ballots would count, regardless of evidence suggesting that the signatures are fraudulent.
Further, there is nothing in the bill to prevent either party at the local, state, or national level from encouraging its election judges to refrain from rejecting ballots. One could argue, convincingly, that an election judge would be violating his oath if he were to refuse to reject dubious ballots. But there is no enforcement mechanism to force judges to render unbiased decisions on this issue; they would be making personal determinations. Thus, there would simply be no consequence for judges making politicized decisions on ballot signatures.
In short, Section 1621 of H.R. 1 would open up our elections to partisan interference and fraud. By intentionally barring even the most basic verification of mail-in ballots, H.R. 1 would worsen Americans’ distrust of our election system. Section 1621 is one important reason – but far from the only one – why H.R. 1 is wrong for America and should be defeated.
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Ken Cuccinelli is the former Senior Official Performing the Duties of the Deputy Secretary of Homeland Security.