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HR1/S1 Hypocrisy: Under The Guise of ‘For the People’, Democrats Support Voters Rights, But Suppress Voter Choice

With S1 going to markup before the U.S. Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, May 11, the inherent hypocrisy behind HR1/S1 - the ‘For the People Act’ must be called out. But it won't happen as part of the public hearing process, because there won’t be any one present that will raise it.

From the Democratic Party side, the Rules Committee hearing is expected to focus on responding to concerns from election officials about requirements and timelines related to HR1/S1’s mandates for early voting, voting by mail, automatic voter registration and voting system standards. From the Republican side, it will be to propose amendments to weaken the voting protection rights contained in the bill. 

However, ignored within this internecine duopoly struggle will be the hypocrisy that the Democratic-sponsored bill defends voting rights, but suppresses voter choice. 

HR1/S1 contains incredibly important and urgent voting rights protections that must be passed into law, even if the filibuster has to be waived to do it. But, the bill also contains a clause that would drive smaller parties off the ballot, eliminating minor party competition for the Democrats. 

For Green Party members like myself, this isn’t surprising, because Democrats have long pursued legal challenges to deny Green candidates a place on the ballot before the voters. 

Hypocrisy and double standards

What makes HR1/S1 so outrageously and deliciously hypocritical - and yet so predictable - is that the same principle the bill rightfully applies in favor of needed voting rights protections does not apply to protecting voter choice - meaning Democrats want to protect your right to vote, as long you vote for them.

HR1/S1 supporters correctly argue that election laws enacted by Republican-controlled state legislatures have a disproportionately negative impact upon communities of color and other traditionally marginalized groups - and that HR1/S1 needs to override these laws with guaranteed federal protections for voting rights. Yet, when changes in HR1/S1 to the federal presidential campaign financing system would have a negative impact on minor parties and voters that support them, these same HR1/S1 supporters feign ignorance and look the other way.

In other words, ‘federal law should protect the right to vote, but still allow parties in power to use election laws to eliminate their competition.’ Perhaps this is because HR1/S1 is designed to convey partisan advantage to the Democratic Party?

Elections only for some of the people

HR1/S1 would raise the threshold to receive presidential primary matching funds to put it out of reach of most minor party presidential candidates; when the bill could easily provide for a two-tier matching funds system that would preserve the ability of the public to fund minor party campaigns. Losing presidential primary matching funds would not only substantially weaken minor party presidential campaigns, but it would mean those candidates and their parties will also have a harder time getting on the ballot.

Onerous state ballot access laws passed by Democrats and Republicans already mean minor party presidential candidates often have to qualify themselves and their parties via expensive petition drives, on an election-by-election, state-by-state basis. These petition drives are supported in many cases by matching funds — a practice long recognized by the Federal Elections Commission as a proper use of these funds (see FEC Advisory Opinions 1996-45, 1984-25, 1984-11, 1975-44).

Without matching funds, minor parties and their presidential candidates are unlikely to appear on the general election ballot in many states. Without state party ballot status, neither may many minor party, down-ticket state and congressional candidates --tossing aside voter choice for millions of voters who prefer to vote for minor party candidates 

To maintain party ballot status in many states, minor party presidential candidates must receive a certain percentage of the general election vote. But they can’t if they aren’t on the ballot. According to Ballot Access News, because of laws written by Democrats and Republicans for minor parties, 11 states require a presidential result to stay on the ballot. In another 22 states, the presidential result is an option to stay on the ballot among qualifying statewide races, an option that would be lost as a result of HR1/S1. 

As a result of the domino effect of (a) already existing overly-restrictive ballot access laws, and (b) the new loss of federal presidential matching funds as a result of the raised threshold, minor parties will begin to disappear under HR1/S1 — further clearing the field for the major party duopoly — at the same time polls show support for a ‘third party' in the U.S. at an all-time high.

In a misleading response (that was forwarded to the Green Party), Common Cause — which co-wrote the campaign finance section of HR1/S1 — said this to a Common Cause member who wrote to them concerned HR1 would hurt minor parties:

Hi Claire,
Thanks for your email. The claim that H.R. 1/S. 1 disadvantages third parties is untrue -- the bill treats all parties equally….The update to the qualifying threshold is merely modernizing the presidential small donor system to account for inflation and the increasing costs of presidential campaigns.

This is an incredible statement to make for a national organization that stands for voting rights and integrity in government. Just because a bill may treat all political parties equally, doesn’t mean it won’t disadvantage some compared to others in the process!  

Cynically, this Common Cause letter employs the same sleight-of-hand reasoning as used by Georgia Republicans in adding a voter identification requirement to the process for requesting an absentee ballot, after previously only requiring voters to sign an application, and simultaneously shortening the time frame to request a ballot.  “It treats all voters the same” argue supporters of the new Georgia law, while ignoring the well-known disparate impact of the requirement upon communities that disproportionally lack the requisite ID or access to getting them.

In the case of HR1/S1 and presidential primary public matching funds, Federal Election Commission records show that under the current system, nominees of six different minor parties have qualified for presidential matching funds on 13 different occasions since 1980, along with several independents.  But HR1/S1 would raise the total dollar threshold by 500% of the current level, and the minimum number of donors by 625% - beyond the reach of most minor party candidates.

This will clearly and unequivocally disadvantage ‘third parties’ and voters who support them. 

So what Common Cause is saying is not true. In a national campaign. For voting reform.

Amend HR1/S1

HR1/S1 is expected to come for floor vote in the U.S Senate no later than September.  

At issue is whether Senate Democrats will waive the filibuster rule to pass it in the Senate by a simply majority vote, as the bill is facing vociferous Republican opposition and is not expected to receive any Republican support, certainly not the ten votes to reach the 60 needed to override the filibuster. 

The Green Party’s position has been to seek amendment of the bill so that the existing presidential matching funds thresholds remain in place. Greens want the voting rights protections in HR1/S1 to pass, but not the hatchet job on voter choice.  

This kind of amendment should be in the interest of all voters. Because without real voter choice, we don’t have a real democracy. Certainly not a democracy ‘For the People.’

What is this story missing? Let us know. >>What is this story missing? Let us know. >>

About the Author

Michael Feinstein

Michael Feinstein is a former Santa Monica Mayor and City Councilmember, a co-founder of the Green Party of California and a 2018 Green candidate for California Secretary of State

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