Washington Post columnist James Hohmann forcefully echoes the point Rick Hasen made in the aftermath of President Biden’s press conference remarks about the upcoming midterms. There are a lot of good lines in the piece, but I found this paragraph particularly powerful:
“It’s time to decouple legitimate concerns about states restricting ballot access in ways that disadvantage racial minorities from the liberal dream of federalizing elections. Election Day does not need to be a federal holiday. Ballot drop-boxes make voting marginally more convenient, but they’re not essential. Requiring people to show an ID to vote is not Jim Crow 2.0. Democrats and Republicans both need to respect the rules and follow them.”
In my view as well as his, there has been a lot of excessive rhetoric leading up to this week’s vote claiming that voters would be unable to cast ballots, and thus disenfranchised, unless Congress enacted all elements in the omnibus electoral reform bill that the Democrats proposed. This has been “playing with fire,” as Hohmann correctly contends. I’m a big fan of many of these proposals, including making Election Day a federal holiday. But I think it is imperative not to claim that eligible citizens will be unable to cast a vote if my preferred electoral reform policies are not enacted.
If we are worried about long lines at the polls actually preventing voters who show up from casting a ballot (whether on Election Day itself or during available periods of in-person early voting), then we should think specifically about measures designed to ameliorate the long-line problem. I for one would be open to the idea of adding to the Help America Vote Act a guarantee that any voter standing in line for over an hour should be able at least to cast a provisional ballot without having to wait any longer. I recognize that there are questions that would be necessary to address in order to implement that kind of guarantee. But as Hohmann indicates, there are ways to assure that no American is improperly disenfranchised without the kind of federalization of election administration that Democrats don’t have the votes in Congress to enact.
Thus, when evaluating whether the results of the midterms are to be respected as a genuine exercise of democracy, we must focus on whether there is any improper disenfranchisement–which presumably federal courts would be ready to enjoin or remedy under existing law–not on whether or not voters had the added convenience of the kind of electoral reforms I would prefer but may not exist in every state given the absence of national uniformity in election administration.