The Rhetorical Framing of HR1

A truly silly characterization from Senator Mike Lee.

I was looking over some items I had bookmarked and I came across this screencap of Senator Mike Lee (R-UT) from an FNC appearance:

He is referring here to HR1, which I discussed in some detail a while back. And lest anyone think that the tweet is exaggerating, here is the headline from the FNC write-up: HR1 voting expansion bill ‘written in hell by the devil himself,’ says Mike Lee. The piece describes the bill thusly:

The bill removes a multitude of restrictions created within the U.S. voting system and proposes to expand voting rights to felons, allow people to vote with a sworn written statement as opposed to a valid ID, and institutes automatic voter registration nationwide. 

Sooooo, it “removes restrictions” in the voting system, expands voting rights to felons who have served their time, and it allows people without IDs to swear, under penalty of law, that they are who they say they are.

Demonic, indeed.

The piece quotes Lee:

MIKE LEE: “I think I disagree with every single word in HR1, including the words ‘but,’ ‘and,’ and ‘the.’ Everything about this bill is rotten to the core. This is a bill as if written in hell by the devil himself. This takes all sorts of decisions that the federal government really has no business making. It takes them away from the states, makes them right here in Washington D.C. by Congress.

Apparently in an effort to ensure an institutionally, revolutionary-democratic party of sorts. One that can remain in power for many decades to come. It does this by taking away these decisions. Elections in America have always been conducted at the state and local levels…

They are completely flipping that principal on its head so that all these things can be micromanaged from Washington. That’s wrong. That’s really wrong, it’s bad policy. As much as anything else, it’s wildly unconstitutional.”

Ultimately, the devilry here is centralization, I guess. While I can intellectually understand that there are philosophical arguments to be had over national-level rules versus state-level rules, I have to admit that I don’t think Satan has a view on the subject.

Based on listening to the clip, the whole of the objection is about centralization, but the stated reasons for why centralization is bad is because that isn’t the way we’ve done it, or “micro-managing” is bad or something. In the realm of actual argument, these don’t really qualify.

Moreover, the constitutionality issue strikes me as pretty straightforward.

Allow me to quote the US Constitution, from Article I:

Section. 4.

The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

If the House has Article I powers to regulate the “manner of holding elections” for the congress, it seems pretty clear that they pretty substantial regulatory power over elections as a general matter. Might some provisions of the law be amendable to challenge in the courts, sure. But this is true of most laws.

Let’ get back to that graphic that is supposed to be a scary devil-spawn.

  1. Automatic voter registration just makes it easier for people to vote. Full stop, nothing demonic about it. Indeed, it seems to me that given current technological capabilities it is a sin not to have all citizens automatically registered.
  2. The ability to use a sworn statement in lieu of ID strikes me as a fair way to deal with people who might not have ID. I suppose Beelzebub’s hordes might try to fool election officials en masse by a coordinated perjury campaign. But this seems unlikely.
  3. Expanding mail-in voting is, I will admit, following the lead of the godless heathen in dope-smoking states like Colorado and Oregon, so I suppose the devil might be involved. Weirdly, Utah has predominantly mail-in voting, but Mike Lee doesn’t agree with a single word of HR1. This is confusing! But, since a lot of Southern Baptists and other conservative evanlgelicals consider Mormonism a cult, I guess it all checks out!
  4. It is known that once you commit a crime, you are not to be considered a real person, so restoring voting rights for felons sounds pretty bad! And since they like bad things down in H E double hockey sticks, this checks out as well!
  5. You just think that DC stands for District of Columbia. It really is an abbreviation for the Devil is Cool. So, obviously encouraging DC statehood is also a Bad Place thing.

All snark and silliness aside, the rhetoric does not meet the reality in the least. For the most part the above, and other provisions, simply increase citizen access to voting. As I keep saying: if your party fears more voters voting the problem is with your party, not with the rules. (And to be fair, there are a lot of other provisions beyond the ones listed above).

Now, clearly, from a political power calculus POV, the GOP should oppose HR1. I accept that. However, that doesn’t mean that the arguments they are presenting are good ones. The thin veil of federalism-based arguments has some vague theoretical basis, but the overall issue for them is that they fear more voters with easier access to voting. Since becoming more palatable to more voters is work, they would rather just oppose the bill.

The felon issue is worth underscoring, as well as DC statehood.

In reverse order, Republicans have every political reason in the world to oppose statehood, because it would net two Democratic Senators and a Democratic House member. And while there are powerful democratic theory and justice reasons arguing in favor of DC statehood, the bottom line remains that the main reason Democrats want it is for partisan power reasons.

The felon voting rights issues cannot be understood apart from race. We have to understand that the impetus for such laws was linked to denying Blacks the right to vote in the post-Reconstruction era. And, let’s face facts when many people hear the word “felon” they think of scary Black males. There is also the fact that in the United States we tend to think that being a “criminal” means you are no longer worthy of being a citizen and you may, in fact, be sub-human. (I mean, look at how we treat the incarcerated).

A side anecdote on this. An acquaintance of mine was convicted of a marijuana-related felony as a teenager. After serving his sentence his right to vote was revoked. He fought for years and at some expense to get his voting rights restored. He was a white kid from an affluent family who had support from people in positions of authority writing him letters of support. And despite all of this the judge who had the final say was hostile to restoring his rights.

Do we really want to be a country wherein a crime committed in one’s youth denies a lifetime of participation in our democracy?

What is even the basis of denying that right in perpetuity?

And if an educated white kid with some level of support has to fight years to get their rights restored, what chances does a poor Black man have?


Fundamentally, the opposition rhetoric on HR1 is beyond ridiculous. But, in fairness, the salvific rhetoric of those in favor is also ridiculously off the charts. I was going to go into that as well, but this has become a much longer post tha anticipated. See, again, my original post on HR1 and my post on single-seat districts.

FILED UNDER: Democracy, US Politics, Voting
Steven L. Taylor
About Steven L. Taylor
Steven L. Taylor is a Professor of Political Science and a College of Arts and Sciences Dean. His main areas of expertise include parties, elections, and the institutional design of democracies. His most recent book is the co-authored A Different Democracy: American Government in a 31-Country Perspective. He earned his Ph.D. from the University of Texas and his BA from the University of California, Irvine. He has been blogging since 2003 (originally at the now defunct Poliblog). Follow Steven on Twitter

Comments

  1. OzarkHillbilly says:

    .@SenMikeLee says of the For the People Act: “This is a bill as if written in hell by the devil himself.” pic.twitter.com/kpob9WO9G1

    Giving everyone a voice in how they are governed is the very essence of evil and trump is God’s chosen one. Says all that needs to be said of today’s GOP.

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  2. Kingdaddy says:

    Among the GOP’s many hypocrisies is their love/hate relationship with punishment. Many GOP officials and voters lovelovelove the harshest punishment, when it falls on the heads of people not like them. Deny people who, in theory, have served their debt to society any chance of voting, or even getting a decent job. Make “drop the soap” jokes about the constant threats of daily life behind bars. Promulgate bizarre legal theories, such as Scalia’s notion that as long as you had a “fair” trial, it doesn’t matter if you were innocent or guilty.

    But when one of their own falls under the shadow of the criminal justice system, they suddenly find their misplaced virtues of compassion, fairness, sobriety, forgiveness, and humility. They stand behind the victims of crimes, who understandably want retribution, a.k.a. “closure.” But you have to wonder about anyone who has a powerful need to hurt, including when you’re pretty certain that someone is guilty of abominable crimes. The point of the justice system is not to satiate some psychological need, particularly our baser ones. And when the targets of dropping the hammer are people conspicuously not like them, you have to wonder more than a little bit about the purity of their motives.

    Side note: the political thinkers on which the Framers built our Constitution, such as John Locke, said that the whole point of a “social contract” forming a society was to protect us from our lust for payback.

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  3. Jay L Gischer says:

    Yeah, centralization is bad. Except when it’s the State of Georgia taking over voting operations from Democratic-controlled precincts and counties. Then its good.

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  4. gVOR08 says:

    Looking at this and your GA election law posts, be careful, Dr. T. If you write a post like this whenever Lee or some other GOP says something stupid you’re going to have to give up your day job. It’s a Gish gallop, you can’t possibly keep up.

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  5. Michael Cain says:

    Utah also only blocks people in incarceration from voting. Felons who have been released, either entirely or on probation, can vote.

    1
  6. Scott F. says:

    The sarcastic tone of this post is evident, Steven, but you still give too much credence to Lee’s completely bad faith arguments. His devilry claims are pure plays for the white evangelical and conservative Mormon votes he needs to hold office. His pharisaical rhetoric should be taken as the insult it is to people who truly care about good and evil.

    Biden calls the voter suppression movement on the right ‘Jim Crow,’ but I found something from Heather Cox Richardson the other day that demonstrates what is really happening here is antebellum South in nature:

    Voting was on the table in March 1858, too…

    In the Senate, South Carolina Senator James Henry Hammond, who rejected “as ridiculously absurd” the idea that “all men are born equal,” rose to speak on the subject. He defended the rule of the proslavery minority in Kansas, and told anti-slavery northerners how the world really worked. Hammond laid out a new vision for the United States of America.

    He explained to his Senate colleagues just how wealthy the South’s system of human enslavement had made the region, then explained that the “harmonious… and prosperous” system worked precisely because a few wealthy men ruled over a larger class with “a low order of intellect and but little skill.” Hammond explained that in the South, those workers were Black slaves, but the North had such a class, too: they were “your whole hireling class of manual laborers.”

    These distinctions had crucial political importance, he explained, “Our slaves do not vote. We give them no political power. Yours do vote, and, being the majority, they are the depositaries of all your political power. If they knew the tremendous secret, that the ballot-box is stronger than ‘an army with banners,’ and could combine, where would you be? Your society would be reconstructed, your government overthrown, your property divided… by the quiet process of the ballot-box.”

    It’s clear that Republicans fear democracy. They understand Hammond’s “tremendous secret” that would reconstruct society to the benefit of the greater populace should Blacks and laborers be fully given their Electoral franchise. The devil they fear is their loss of power, so they will demonize expanded voting until no one listens to them anymore.

    We need to stop taking those like Mike Lee seriously in any way.

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  7. Gustopher says:

    The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.

    Why do I expect that if HR-1 becomes law, Republican run states will make separate polling places for senate races?

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  8. Michael Cain says:

    @Gustopher:

    Why do I expect that if HR-1 becomes law, Republican run states will make separate polling places for senate races?

    It will be interesting to see if they switch state and local elections to odd years. Although those dates are usually in the state constitution, which can be harder for the legislature to change.

  9. Mimai says:

    The issue of voting rights for PEOPLE who were convicted of a felony is something that is not discussed enough. It is one of the more casually accepted injustices in modern society.

    [Allow me to take this time to emphasize the importance of person-first language. These people are all too often dehumanized (as Steven noted), so we should stay vigilant about the language we use that unintentionally contributes to this problem.]

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  10. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Scott F.:

    His pharisaical rhetoric should be taken as the insult it is to people who truly care about good and evil.

    Fortunately for Senator Lee, his audience isn’t at all concerned about good and evil. His comments are for the consumption of people who are perfectly okay with the idea that voting is a privilege and should be limited solely to those who are deserving–in other words, “me” and not “you” (and definitely not those people over in Precinct 12 who are mostly bCLANNNNNGGGG!!!!).

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  11. gVOR08 says:

    @Scott F.:

    It’s clear that Republicans fear democracy. They understand Hammond’s “tremendous secret” that would reconstruct society to the benefit of the greater populace should Blacks and laborers be fully given their Electoral franchise.

    The “makers/takers” and, “we’re a republic, not a democracy” view of politics is more deeply and widely held than we like to believe.

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  12. Just nutha ignint cracker says:

    @Michael Cain: If such a plan will work, that’s on the Democrats for not being willing to show up.

  13. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @gVOR08: The “makers/takers” and, “we’re a republic, not a democracy” view of politics is more deeply and widely held than we like to believe.

    Funny how I see the makers and the takers as the exact opposite of those they do.

    1
  14. OzarkHillbilly says:

    @Just nutha ignint cracker: What can I say, KATR and let Dawg sort them out.

  15. Kathy says:

    That awkward moment when Satan represents the free and democratic option.

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  16. mattbernius says:

    @Mimai:
    Two big notes of thanks! First for emphasizing how backward conviction-based disenfranchisement is and also for highlighting the use of people-first language. The roots of conviction-based disenfranchisement are deeply tied to racism (both direct and structural). It’s also, like most collateral consequences, directly in opposition to the expressed goal of the criminal legal system (i.e. rehabilitation and decreasing recidivism).

    @Kingdaddy:

    Among the GOP’s many hypocrisies is their love/hate relationship with punishment.

    While I appreciate the points you raise, it’s incumbent upon me to point about that both of our major parties have a love/hate relationship with punishment depending on the context. While, generally speaking, Democrats have been better in recent years, they still have a long way to go.

    Likewise, some of the best allies in Criminal Legal System reform movements have been Conservatives who are framing their work within the scope of conservative values.

    But, ultimately, we as Americans are addicted to punishing folks who we think “deserve it.”

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  17. Mimai says:

    @mattbernius: Thanks for the shout out. This hits close to home for me – personally and professionally. I sense that you too have skin in this game. Respect.

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  18. SC_Birdflyte says:

    @gVOR08: Well, James Henry Hammond (who lived about twenty miles from my present residence) was famously delusional. In another 1858 speech, he declared “Cotton is king” and predicted that, if the southern states no longer exported cotton to Europe, the economies of Great Britain and France would collapse.

  19. @Mimai: A very valid point. Thanks for noting it.