Murkowski Outlines Concerns on Election Overhaul Bill

“The bill is not so much about voting rights as it is a partisan, federal takeover of the election system”

Prior to a failed procedural vote on the For the People Act, the election overhaul bill before the Senate, U.S. Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) spoke on the Senate floor to express her concerns with the legislation. She noted some aspects of the bill she does support, such as allowing for early voting, easier voting registration, and no-excuse absentee voting, but that the bill overall contains provisions that go too far, are bad policy, or are simply beyond the power of Congress to regulate. Murkowski called the bill a partisan, federal takeover of the election system and committed to her colleagues that she will work with anybody to ensure access to voting is equal, fair, and free from discrimination.

For the past three sessions of Congress, Senator Murkowski has been the lead Republican cosponsor of the Voting Rights Advancement Act, now known as the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Murkowski noted that the For the People Act is “sprawling”, while the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act is more narrowly focused.

For the People Act Floor Speech 

CLICK HERE for video of Senator Murkowski’s floor speech.

During her speech, Senator Murkowski spoke to issues over how the bill nationalizes our federal elections.

“The way the bill is being advertised—that we can’t count on states to do elections right or fairly—is a premise that I have a problem with.  We have demonstrated that we can run a proper and an honest election.  We’ve proven this time and time again.  So much of my concern with what we have in front of us is that when you nationalize something, when you have the federal overall oversight, it ends up being a one-size-fits-all mandate coming out of Washington, D.C. that in many cases doesn’t work in a place like Alaska.

Another concern Senator Murkowski outlined—mandates automatic voter registration. The State of Alaska has already put in place a system where Alaskans are automatically registered to vote when they sign up for their Permanent Fund Dividend, unless they specifically opt out. Murkowski noted support for efforts to allow for easier registration, such as Alaska has done, but her opposition to imposing burdensome mandates.

Murkowski also noted significant concerns over same-day voter registration requirements.

“In Alaska, we’ve been doing a pretty fair job as to how we run our elections.  I think it’s reasonable that we be allowed to establish voter registration deadlines that work for the administrators in their respective states. States should have the latitude to implement a registration system that works with the state’s geography, IT infrastructure, election funding, and other limitations that they may have.”

The bill also requires states to allow paid campaign staff to collect ballots – a practice known as ballot harvesting or vote trafficking.

“This is another area that I have a problem with.  This practice involves paid campaign operatives going out, collecting ballots, and returning them to be counted.  I look at this one and see so many ways in which this can be abused and exploited.  If a state wants to permit this practice, with certain parameters that the state thinks would prevent abuses, that’s fine.  But not all states should be forced to do so by the federal government, and be made subject to D.C.’s idea of what actually works here.”

The bill restructures the Federal Election Commission by reducing the number of seats on the Federal Election Commission from six to five, with no more than two from one of the major parties. 

“So what this could mean is that a President would simply find someone who would vote in his or her favor each time, but never registered as a member of a particular political party.  This newly partisan FEC would also be given the responsibility of handing out loads of cash from the public coffers.  I take issue with this and I think you’ve got a fair amount of folks in my state and across the country that do take issue with that as well in terms of public funding.”

On the issue of public funding, the bill creates a new structure of public financing of campaigns that matches small dollar donations on a six-to-one basis.

“I’ve got concerns that anyone thinks it is a good idea to have even more money in politics.  But it’s easy to me to see how this could be exploited by a partisan board holding the purse strings here.” 

The bill also contains provisions Murkowski cited are likely unconstitutional, such as requiring states to create redistricting commissions, limit or compel speech, and change how state chooses its electors to the Electoral College.

“I recognize that we are at a place and a time where credibility and faith in our institutions is at a really weak moment, a very weak moment. And so when we think about the things that are core to our institutions, one of those fundamentals is the fairness of our elections.  And so, ensuring that we are taking an approach in this nation where all people feel that the election process is for them as equal and fair as it is for their neighbor down the street or their fellow American all the way across the country.  How we are able to deliver on this promise is something that we need to continue to try to strive toward.  So, I’m going to continue to work on voting rights reform and I’m going to be doing that through the template of the John Lewis Voting Rights Act.  Americans need to have faith in our institutions.  They need to know that our elections are fair, that they are easy, and accessible for all, and we can’t instill that trust with a wholly partisan effort.”