There may be no greater testament to the polarization of U.S. politics than the fact that voting is now a partisan issue in America. Across the country, Republican politicians are pushing state laws to restrict voting access, justifying these measures with false claims about widespread voter fraud. As they do, Democrats are advancing two bills in the U.S. Congress to expand voting access: the wide-ranging For the People Act (H.R. 1)—which includes significant reforms to voting, elections, campaign finance, and ethics rules in American government—and the John Lewis Voting Rights Act. Neither is likely to make it through the Senate, given the supermajority of 60 votes needed to pass any legislation there. But if either were to pass, would Democrats gain a partisan advantage? Is opposing these bills really vital to Republicans’ electoral self-interest?

According to Jessica Huseman, a Dallas-based journalist and the editorial director of Votebeat, anything that makes voting easier is better for any party that believes in what it stands for and can communicate that to voters. Neither, she says, does research shows any partisan advantage in states with voting by mail, one of the key voting-access practices this kind of legislation is aimed at expanding. But Huseman doesn’t expect the party of Trump to abandon its conspiratorial and anti-democratic approach to voting policies anytime soon. “Almost nothing Republicans say about voting is accurate,” she says. Still, she’s critical of Democrats’ legislative strategy, believing they could attract more  Republican supporters for their voting-rights legislation if they took a better approach to the reforms it represents.


Graham Vyse: Let’s separate the good from the bad. What are some of the reforms you admire in H.R. 1, the For the People Act?

Jessica Huseman: The bill would require states to offer same-day voter registration for federal elections. It’s an excellent reform that has been instituted across the country.

It also comes with a lot of costs. I don’t know that the people who wrote this bill really understand how same-day voter registration is enacted. The bill also would require states to hold early voting for at least 15 days and establish automatic voter registration, which requires an incredible amount of preparation and effort. What that actually requires is the [Department of Motor Vehicles] database talking to the voter-registration database, and when we’re talking about states that have had these databases since the 1980s, these are databases that may actually not be able to talk to each other.

In order to make that happen, and follow this law, states would have to spend millions of dollars re-upping those databases. I’m not saying that’s a bad idea; it needs to happen. But this bill doesn’t provide the support states would need to make these radical changes to their election infrastructure.

All of these are amazing ideas, but the bill isn’t written in a nuanced way that would allow states to do what they’re being asked to do.

Vyse: You’ve said election administrators across the country were not consulted in drafting this legislation and you see problems with the bill, including requirements for new voting machines, ballot designs, even self-sealing envelopes. Can you explain these or other issues you perceive with the legislation?

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Huseman: The self-sealing envelope thing is the most obvious dumb idea in this bill. I don’t really know what problem they’re trying to solve with that. I don’t know what voter, even in the most impoverished situation, doesn’t have access to their own spit or water. I just don’t know why self-sealing envelopes are even necessary, but they cost about 30 percent more than the envelopes states are using now. They also gum up the U.S. Postal Service machines, because the glue melts and jams the machines.

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