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HR1 bill threatens our democratic system

The recent Mississippi freeze was indeed historical, but let’s not forget something even stranger: Hell freezing over.

I’m pretty sure it did after Mississippi Congressman Bennie Thompson voted against House Resolution 1 (HR1). He was the only Democrat in his chamber to do so.

Thompson joined with all Republicans late last Wednesday to vote against the House Democrats’ top legislative priority, known as the For the People Act of 2021.

Thompson’s vote was surprising since he was a co-sponsor of the legislation along with the rest of the Democratic caucus. But Thompson said Thursday his constituents weren’t supportive of the election overhaul, so he stood with them rather than his party.

HR1 gives sweeping new power to control our elections at the federal level, pushing state laws and procedures to the background. The bill legalizes ballot harvesting, mandates mail in voting and online registration, subsidizes campaigns with 6 to 1 matching tax dollars, restricts voter roll purging, gives felons the right to vote, creates independent voter redistricting panels and limits voter ID requirements.

Thompson issues a statement explaining his opposition to HR1: “My constituents opposed the redistricting portion of the bill as well as the section on public finances. I always listen and vote in the interest of my constituents.”

Putting the pros and cons of HR1 aside, it’s refreshing to see a Congressman representing his constituency rather than kowtowing to the party line. Nowhere in our Constitution did our founding fathers create or even mention political parties. In his parting address, George Washington warned that political parties could undermine the new government.

Think about what a political party really is. “Hey, let’s create a private organization and take over the government.”

As it turned out, our two-party system has evolved into a fundamental aspect of our system. Over time, the two political parties have acquired quasi-governmental status through statutes and court rulings.

Political scientists will argue our two-party system has provided unusual stability over the centuries, allowing for both choice and continuity, something a fractious parliamentarian multi-party system doesn’t enjoy. Think Italy, where a typical government only lasts a few months.
As for HR1, I think this is a bad law for multiple reasons.

First, I am against increasing federal powers at the expense of the state government. The best government is the government closest to the people. The United States is a huge diverse land. Trying to make the entire nation fit in one box is doomed for trouble.

Our founding fathers, my political heroes, knew this well. They created a nation of limited federal powers and strong states’ rights. Their greatest fear was an all-powerful federal government that would eventually infringe on the individual rights of its citizens.

To prevent the monopolization of federal power, our founding fathers took great pains to separate powers among the legislative, executive and judicial branches. Today, we also have the bureaucracy and the military to balance the other branches of government. So far, it has worked well.

The Tenth Amendment of our Constitution states: “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.”

Article I, Section 8 of the United States Constitution lists what powers are given to the federal government. It is quite detailed. Regulating the election laws of every state is not one of the enumerated powers of the federal government.

The citizens are free to amend our Constitution and bestow this power to the U. S. Congress. But that would require a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress or ratification by two-thirds of the states. That’s a high bar. There have been 27 amendments to our Constitution since the founding of the United States.

Of course, as we all know, the United States Supreme Court has found a much easier way to amend our Constitution by elevating vague, general phrases in the Constitution.

Number one abused clause is the “general welfare clause.” It reads: “ The Congress shall have Power To lay and collect Taxes, Duties, Imposts and Excises, to pay the Debts and provide for the common Defense and general Welfare of the United States; but all Duties, Imposts and Excises shall be uniform throughout the United States.”

The courts have allowed the “provide for the general welfare” phrase to expand federal power far beyond the reach of its original enumerated powers, thus the concept of the “living Constitution” which can be changed at whim by nine members of the U. S. Supreme Court.

Ironically, we now have one of the most conservative U. S. Supreme Courts in decades. By conservative, I mean the justices who believe in interpreting the Constitution to be what it actually says, not what you want it to say based on changing contemporary values. The notion of unlimited federal powers may be about to be checked.

I am also opposed to HR1 because I think it’s bad law. The integrity of our elections is fundamental to our republican democracy. Just look how the election changes caused by Covid disrupted public confidence in the legitimacy of our electoral process. We must be very careful and deliberate. Let’s not throw the baby out with the bathwater.

I am all for making it easy to vote, provided we don’t sacrifice integrity. HR1 moves far too fast. There will be huge, bad unintended consequences. Ballot harvesting, for instance, is a noxious practice that is illegal in half our states. Congress is wrong to force ballot harvesting on the rest of the nation.

I have a golfing buddy who is a successful businessman. During the last election, I asked him who he was going to vote for. “Oh, I don’t vote,” he said. Shocked, I asked him why.

“I’m not interested in politics. I don’t care about the issues. Believe me, you don’t want me voting. I think voting should be left to people who study the issues and really care.”

I encourage citizens to become educated in public policy and exercise their right to vote. But I am against pushing uninterested people into voting on issues about which they have little knowledge or concern. That’s a recipe for disaster.

Wyatt Emmerich is president of Mississippi-based Emmerich Newspapers and is the publisher of the Northside Sun.

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