John Merrill: Voting Rights Advancement Act is an unjustifiable power grab

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John Merrill

Earlier this month, H.R.4 was introduced by Representative Terri Sewell, who represents Alabama’s 7th Congressional District.

H.R.4 is the latest attempt by Washington Democrats to nationalize our federal electoral system. In reality, H.R.4 is a solution in search of a problem. H.R.4’s advocates refuse to acknowledge the substantial progress our nation has made since the enactment of the Voting Rights Act of 1965. The legislation extends the practice of preclearance, the federal approval of any state’s election administration changes, to every state in the union and threatens to overturn many popular election integrity laws, such as Voter ID laws. What justifies this federal takeover of elections? The answer is nothing. It has never been easier to vote in America than it is today. Washington Democrats are attempting to manufacture a crisis in order to justify their unconstitutional power grab.

At the Constitutional Convention, the framers were careful to ensure that each state retained its right to administer its own elections. However, today’s congressional Democrats assert that the Elections Clause of the U.S. Constitution grants them the authority to enact H.R.4, but many disagree with that assertion. The Elections Clause is a constitutional fail-safe, which is only applicable if a state is unwilling or unable to conduct their own federal elections. Many Federalists, like Alexander Hamilton, worried that the federal government could not survive if a portion of the states either refused to hold elections or were unable to hold elections due to war.

In Arizona v Inter-Tribal Council of Arizona Inc., the Supreme Court confirmed that the Elections Clause was “the Framer’s insurance against the possibility that a state would refuse to provide for the election of representatives to the Federal Congress.” It is important to note that the Voting Rights Act has historically been justified by the 14th and 15th Amendments, but after a string of unfavorable court decisions, congressional Democrats have resorted to this approach. H.R.4 not only lacks proper legal standing, but current conditions do not justify the extraordinary measures that H.R.4 would implement nationwide.

When examining the VRA’s coverage formula in their landmark decision, Shelby County, Alabama v. Holder, the Supreme Court stated, “The question is whether the Act’s extraordinary measures…continue to satisfy constitutional requirements. As we put it a short time ago, ‘the Act imposes current burdens and must be justified by current needs.” In Shelby, SCOTUS ruled that Section 4 of the VRA was unconstitutional because its “extraordinary” measures were no longer justified by current needs, and similarly, the burdensome measures proposed by H.R.4 are not justified by the conditions of 2021.

It has never been easier to vote than it is today in Alabama and the rest of the nation. Since the beginning of my term as Secretary of State in 2015, we have registered 1,902,057 new voters, and we have a total of 3,602,266 registered voters. Since 2016, we have set records for voter participation in every primary and general election. In Alabama, 96% of African-Americans, 91% of White-Americans, and 94% of all eligible residents are registered to vote. Our office works hard each and every day to ensure that every Alabamian is able to register to vote and has access to some form of government-issued photo ID.

It is beyond foolish to pretend as if we still live in the Alabama of 1965. I completely agree with Chief Justice John Robert’s observation that “no one can fairly say (the record] shows anything approaching the ‘pervasive,’ ‘flagrant,’ ‘widespread,’ and ‘rampant discrimination that clearly distinguished the covered jurisdictions from the rest of the nation in 1965.” If H.R.4 is enacted, then every state in the Union will be treated as if they were the “covered jurisdictions” of 1965 and placed under the authority of unelected federal bureaucrats.

In fact, H.R.4 goes beyond the requirements of the original preclearance regime by requiring that all states seek approval from the Justice Department for certain voting practices regardless of whether they are discriminatory or if the state has met any other criteria for preclearance coverage. The goal of “practice-based preclearance” is obvious. Congressional Democrats want to cater to their far-left base by overturning current state election laws and stop any state from enacting future election integrity legislation in the future.

H.R.4 is an attempt to outlaw Voter ID laws and other similar election security measures. Despite the fact that ID laws maintain widespread public support, the Democrats continue to claim that ID laws are discriminatory against minorities. However, the public disagrees. According to Rasmussen, 69% of African Americans support voter ID laws, and the Atlanta Journal Constitution also found that two-thirds of Georgia voters support voter ID laws. As John Adams famously said, “Facts are stubborn things,” but it does not appear that any amount of factual evidence will stop the congressional Democrats’ attempt to manufacture a crisis for their partisan agenda. Democrats continued to push this narrative despite the fact that Alabama increased participation in every primary and general election since 2016. The disparities of 1965 are not the realities of 2021, and congressional Democrats should stop refusing to acknowledge that fact.

I encourage every concerned Alabamian to reach out to Senator Richard Shelby and Senator Tommy Tuberville and ask them to stop this unconstitutional federal takeover of our electoral system by congressional Democrats. If you would like to make your voice heard, please call Senator Shelby’s Office at (202) 224-5744 or Senator Tuberville’s Office at (202) 224.4124.

John Merrill is currently serving as Alabama’s 53rd secretary of state.