WALTER OLSON, CATO INSTITUTE
A report in the New York Times makes it official: election reform omnibus H.R. 1 not only places impossible burdens on local election administrators, but is full of other problems too. This after the House of Representatives already passed the bill Mar. 3 by a 220–210 margin. Now they tell us! [earlier here and here]
The Times report, dated Tuesday, catches readers up on some of the practicality problems well documented earlier in Jessica Huseman’s Daily Beast piece, while setting that in wider context: some prominent Democrats have doubts about many other provisions in the “sweeping liberal wish list” as well. Some highlights:
* Prudential federalism is alive and well and living in West Virginia: Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III, without whose support the measure is doomed, “said last week that he opposed allowing the federal government to wade into election law, which is typically left to the states.”
* Relatedly, the bill’s one‐size‐fits‐all prescriptivism ignores differences among “the scores of thousands of jurisdictions that oversee the vote. One Democratic state elections director said the early‐voting mandates in the bill would require a county of 2,000 residents to keep polls open for 15 days, 10 hours a day, even for an off‐year congressional primary that draws only a handful of voters.
“Such an inflexible requirement, said the director, who spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of political repercussions, would create problems, not solve them.”
* Meanwhile, some party bigwigs “believe the small‐dollar public financing plan, which sets a six‐to‐one matching program for donations under $200, could incentivize and turbocharge primary challenges, particularly from the far left.” For many of us, that’s someone else’s fight — we find good reasons to oppose the matching scheme no matter whom it might help or hurt — but incumbents do tend to put self‐interest front and center in evaluating political reforms, something to bear in mind when thinking about why they might be interested in passing other parts of the bill.
As I mentioned last week, there are likely some individual ideas buried in this vast kitchen‐midden that would merit a respectful hearing if introduced on their own. But “many of the bill’s proponents — including dozens of groups focused on campaign finance, voting, gerrymandering and nearly every other liberal policy priority that would stand to benefit from Democratic control in Washington — have locked arms to insist the package cannot, under any circumstances, be broken up.”
Lemmings, your cliff awaits.
Walter Olson is a senior fellow at the Cato Institute’s Center for Constitutional Studies. His books include The Rule of Lawyers, on mass litigation, The Excuse Factory, on lawsuits in the workplace, and most recently Schools for Misrule, on the state of the law schools. His first book, The Litigation Explosion, was one of the most widely discussed general-audience books on law of its time. It led the Washington Post to dub him “intellectual guru of tort reform.” He blogs at Overlawyered.com.