“If you’re earnestly for the people, if you want everyday citizens to have the power that only comes through their ability to hold officials accountable at the ballot box, you’d have to send this bill back to the drafting table—because the bill before us today throws a strong left hook at the Constitution and expects voters to take it on the chin.”
WASHINGTON – Ranking Member Doug Collins (R-Ga.) made the following opening statement for the Judiciary Hearing on H.R. 1.
Below are the remarks as prepared.
Ranking Member Doug Collins: I’m confident every lawmaker in this room agrees that our democracy depends on protecting voting rights and election integrity. Congress has the authority to prohibit discriminatory treatment in voting based on race or ethnicity as part of its duty to ensure the sanctity of every vote. Unfortunately, this bill actively undermines these goals. The bill before us today federalizes elections in ways that have nothing to do with outlawing discrimination. Instead, it federalizes elections in ways that actually disenfranchise state voters. H.R. 1 would deprive state voters of their own right to determine their state’s voting qualifications, district lines and means of guarding against ballot fraud.
The official title of this bill is the “For the People Act.” This bill, though, is not for the people. It’s not for everyday citizens. This bill siphons power from state legislatures, local elected officials and voters, and it cedes power to Washington lawmakers, unelected federal judges and lawyers. This bill is, in particular, for the unelected elites. It’s for people who don’t answer directly to the voters. Contrary to its name, this bill takes power away from the people, and it does this by violating the Constitution, by trampling over both the spirit and the letter of our most foundational laws.
One of the interest groups buoyed by this bill is lawyers. This “For the Lawyers Act” creates a private cause of action for lawsuits related to title III of the Help America Vote Act of 2002, called HAVA. You all might remember the whole point of that legislation was precisely to avoid the kinds of lawsuits that brought chaos to the 2000 presidential election. HAVA requires that all voting systems allow voters to verify their candidate selections before casting their ballots, provide voters with the opportunity to change their selections before casting their ballots and notify voters when they make multiple selections for the same office. HAVA requires all states to enable people to vote by provisional ballot.
To ensure that states comply with HAVA requirements, Congress gave the Department of Justice the authority to bring civil actions against a state or jurisdiction, whenever the facts—assessed by career prosecutors—justified action to bring states into compliance with HAVA’s Title III requirements. To ensure that states appropriately spend HAVA funds, the Election Assistance Commission has authority to audit each state or jurisdiction. The Department of Justice Civil Rights Voting Division has the authority to enforce HAVA and develop a broad election-monitoring program to oversee the administration of elections.
Since that time, we haven’t seen another post-election litigation nightmare like the 2000 presidential election. But under the “For the Lawyers Act,” the possibilities for election disruption and voter disillusionment could be limitless.
H.R. 1 would upend HAVA’s enforcement system. It would instead allow disgruntled voters and activist groups, who are intent on getting federal judges to overturn elections, the ability to file unlimited private lawsuits. Does a candidate need a million more votes to win? This bill allows a losing candidate to rely on disgruntled voters or advocacy groups in all fifty states to cherry pick like-minded judges. These judges could then use the lawsuit to overturn election results by swinging votes from one column to another. Such lawsuits would effectively take time and money away from the state and local election officials who desperately need those resources to administer fair elections, not pay bogus legal fees.
We can also call H.R. 1 the “For the Unelected Judges Act.” The bill denies state legislatures the right to draw district lines according to the will of the voters—who elected those state lawmakers—and reassigns that power to unelected commissions and a federal court in Washington, D.C. Nine states already have redistricting commissions, but theirs would be overridden by the commissions created under H.R. 1. The advisory redistricting commissions and backup commissions that have been established in eight other states would also fall victim to H.R. 1’s new commissions. This section also allows for a “private right of action,” stating “Any citizen of a State who is aggrieved by the failure of the State redistricting plan which is enacted into law . . . to meet the requirements for such plan . . . may bring a civil action in an appropriate district court for such relief as may be appropriate to remedy the failure.”
We see that, under H.R. 1, not only can lawyers run wild after every Congressional election, but they can cripple duly elected state legislatures before elections by challenging every inch of the redistricting lines drawn by the commissions under this bill. Instead of simply allowing voters to hold state legislators accountable for their actions—which happens every election cycle—this bill steals this election authority and hands that power over to unaccountable federal judges, judges who enjoy lifetime tenures and judges who voters can’t replace.
I’m sad to say that H.R. 1 is also the “For the Violent Criminals Act.” I’ve worked with many of my friends across the aisle and on this committee to make reasonable justice reforms a reality. We agree on the power of redemption and necessity of rehabilitation in promoting justice and public safety. We believe in helping people who have served their debt to society to become productive citizens. Any commitment we share in that area, however, does not empower lawmakers to take power away from voters and the state representatives they elected. Yet H.R. 1 does just that. It denies state voters their ability to limit the vote to people who haven’t been convicted of murder, violent felonies or other serious crimes—including voting fraud. Do state voters believe that a person who has been convicted of murder or perpetrating fraud in our election system has forfeited their right to vote? H.R.1 overrides those voters and their communities.
These provisions aren’t just anti-democratic. They’re patently unconstitutional. The Supreme Court, including liberal Justices Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor and Kagan, all held just a few years ago that—and I quote—“Surely nothing in [the Elections Clauses of the Constitution] lends itself to the view that voting qualifications in federal elections are to be set by Congress.” Further, the Fourteenth Amendment of the Constitution itself explicitly recognizes the right of states to deny the vote for—and I quote—“participation in . . . crime.”
In addition to prioritizing violent felons over law-abiding voters, H.R. 1 forces taxpayers to expand the dark web of anonymous donors. This “For the Politicians” bill spends your money by forcing a 6 to 1 taxpayer match based on anonymous small dollar donations. That means that for every $1 in small donations someone makes to a candidate, this bill compels America’s hardworking citizens to forfeit $6 of their income to further fund that candidate and their priorities—even if you’re morally opposed to those priorities.
Not only is this system cloaked in darkness, it’s abusive. There’s no transparency here. No room for freedom of conscience. No room for debate. Just compulsion cloaked in secrecy.
If Democrats wanted to work on true campaign finance transparency, H.R. 1 could require all donations to congressional candidates be disclosed, from 1 dollar to 2700. It’s simple: you donate, you disclose. One 2018 Congressional candidate, for example, raised $100,000 in anonymous donations. The only listed donor was Act Blue. That tells voters nothing about who is supporting candidates, why and to what end. H.R. 1 would take more money from voters, but shines no light on the hidden web of anonymous donations that it would support. What are my Democrat colleagues hiding?
H.R. 1 could also be called the “For Voting Fraud Act” because it makes it unlawful for states and localities to help verify voter residence by sending out cards to addresses. If the card goes unanswered within a reasonable period of time, that information could be used to help remove names from the voter rolls until a voter’s true residence can be verified. Why do responsible officials take these steps? Because they want to protect the sanctity of every vote by guarding against voter fraud.
This practice is entirely legitimate when its purpose is to identify individuals who are not properly registered to vote and to prevent other individuals from voting illegally. Just last year, the Supreme Court upheld Ohio’s voter registration laws which use a registered voter’s failure to return a card verifying their address, combined with such person’s vote inactivity over four years, as a reason to remove the name from the voting rolls. This practice is authorized under the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which President Clinton signed into law, as well as the Help America Vote Act of 2002. Justice Alito, writing for the majority, wrote that Ohio’s law “does not strike any registrant solely by reason of the failure to vote” and “instead, as expressly permitted by federal law, it removes registrants only when they have failed to vote and have failed to respond to a change-of-residence notice.”
Justice Alito noted that such procedures are used because voters are required to live in the district in which they vote, and more than 10% of voters move every year, so states must be allowed some means of verifying a person’s address to avoid potential fraud in which, for example, the same person votes multiple times based on multiple listed residences. The Supreme Court has already told us that promoting election integrity in this way is both legal and necessary. Nevertheless, H.R. 1 rejects that decision and insists on widening the pathways to voter fraud.
In sum, Mr. Chairman, my sense is that if you’re for lawyers running elections, support this bill. If you’re for unelected judges running elections, support this bill. If you’re for multiplying the opportunities for voting fraud and restoring voting rights for those who commit voting fraud, then support this bill. And of course, if you want to take away the ability of democratically elected representatives to write laws according to the will of the people who sent those representatives to their state legislatures, then support this bill.
But if you’re earnestly for the people, if you want everyday citizens to have the power that only comes through their ability to hold officials accountable at the ballot box, you’d have to send this bill back to the drafting table—because the bill before us today throws a strong left hook at the Constitution and expects voters to take it on the chin.
I look forward to hearing from all our witnesses here today.