H.R. 1 would maintain voting rights and voting integrity that states saved amid COVID-19

Our View: For the People Act isn't perfect, but it's better than what the Republican Party is trying to do — rolling back voter access in at least 43 states.

The Editorial Board

The next great debate for Congress is guaranteeing fair and accessible elections for American voters.

We wish that was mere hyperbole, but it's not. There is considerable election freedom at stake across the country as H.R. 1, otherwise known as the For the People Act, went to the Senate on Wednesday after approval early this month in the House of Representatives.

Most secure presidential election

The issue is breathtakingly simple:

Passing H.R. 1 would make it easier to vote, building off the resounding success of the 2020 election, when more Americans than ever cast ballots. 

Rejecting H.R. 1 would make it harder to vote, particularly as Republican legislatures across the country institute "reforms" that would limit balloting.

Voting on Nov. 3, 2020, in Los Angeles.

The tragic paradox over voting rights is that steps taken by states to preserve voting integrity during a deadly pandemic — things like expanded mail-in balloting, early and curbside voting, and drop boxes for absentee ballots — are now being abolished by GOP legislatures in the name of voting integrity. Such proposals are underway in at least 43 states, according to the Brennan Center for Justice.

How can that be? The reason, at its core, is that Donald Trump lost the presidential election.

Excuse to roll back voting access

Never one to admit defeat, the defeated Trump launched a disinformation campaign so dishonest and so virulent that millions of supporters believed him (and believe him still) when he said (and still says) the election was stolen.

His Big Lie fomented an insurrectional riot that led to the U.S. Capitol being overrun on Jan. 6 and put the lives of then-Vice President Mike Pence and members of Congress at risk.

Scores of judges, many of them Trump appointees, found no evidence of major voter fraud. And the same was true of audits, recounts and findings by state and federal election officials and Trump's own attorney general. No election was stolen.

Trump's own election security chief, a lifelong Republican, declared the 2020 vote one of the most secure in history — and was promptly fired for doing so.

But the Big Lie still became an article of faith within the vast Trump wing of the GOP. And for Republican politicians, it proved to be a convenient excuse to roll back voting access that they believe advantages Democrats — despite the fact that Republicans won in numerous down-ballot races across the country in November and won back swing seats in the House.

Pence articulated this dogma in a recent op-ed attacking H.R. 1: "I share the concerns of millions of Americans about the integrity of the 2020 election." But he doesn't mention how those "concerns" are the direct result of Trump's widely promulgated Big Lie and not the facts. 

Get rid of flaws in H.R. 1

H.R. 1 puts a stop to this dangerous nonsense. It draws on some of the best examples of improved voting access developed by various states and sets minimum standards all states must follow. The Constitution grants Congress explicit power to take such steps (the same authority that allowed for the pivotal Voting Rights Act of 1965 that did away with Jim Crow laws.) H.R. 1 would, among other things, establish minimum requirements allowing voting by mail, early voting, hours for voting to avoid long lines, and automatic and same-day voter registration. It would prevent states from conducting certain forms of voting roll purges that would disenfranchise legitimate voters.

Somehow, these commonsense standards frighten Republican leaders. "Everything about this bill is rotten to the core," GOP Sen. Mike Lee of Utah told Fox News. "This is a bill as if written in hell by the devil himself."

Certainly it's true that as with any sweeping reform, H.R. 1, at 800 pages, is not perfect.

There are sections devoted to tightening campaign finance rules that risk violating constitutionally protected speech and advocacy — the Americans Civil Liberties Union cited a dozen problems that could chill public electioneering discourse.

Such areas would need to be jettisoned or revised.

But the bottom line is that without a federal law guaranteeing that voting access will be preserved, fewer Americans will vote in 2022 and 2024 because of restrictions being imposed in dozens of states.

And most Americans get it. Surveys show a majority of rank-and-file Democrats, independents and even Republicans favor H.R. 1

They know that the more people vote, the healthier American democracy will be.