"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." --U.S. Constitution, Article I, Section 4.
The stage is set for a battle over legislation that would make major changes in election law. The U.S. House approved House Resolution 1 in a party-line vote, sending it to the Senate.
There it will need 60 votes to break up a promised Republican filibuster -- unless Democrats use their control via the vice president's tie-breaking vote to undo the filibuster rule requiring the 60 votes.
At the root of the matter are the fundamental issues of state control of elections and just how much power the federal government has in the voting process. Democrats want to limit state control via federal mandates while Republicans want individual states to govern voting.
The legislation would appear to favor Democrats by putting an end to nearly all existing voting restrictions or measures being considered in a number of states.
H.R. 1 would:
• Require states to automatically register eligible voters and offer same-day registration.
• Limit states' ability to purge registered voters from their rolls.
• Restore former felons' voting rights.
• Require states to offer 15 days of early voting.
• Allow no-excuse absentee balloting.
• Establish new rules around state redistricting processes to limit so-called "gerrymandering."
As much as undoing Senate rules around the filibuster would take away an important protection against a majority -- even a razor-thin one -- trampling on the minority, doing so in order to approve this legislation would be doubly troubling.
States' authority to govern elections and ensure their integrity should not be undone in the name of partisan politics. Their election laws regularly must pass the fairness test in the legal system, a legitimate part of the process.
That said, South Carolina's experience in the 2020 election has led to the need for some changes coming from Columbia.
There are clear benefits to allowing voters to cast in-person ballots ahead of Election Day. More than 1.3 million South Carolinians voted before Nov. 3 after the General Assembly waived requirements and allowed any registered voter in the state to vote absentee. That compares to 503,000 people who voted absentee statewide in 2016.
Though the standard requirements are liberal enough that just about anyone can vote absentee in any election, formally establishing an early voting period of at least a week makes sense. It would give people of all political persuasions more opportunities to vote. And that is supposed to be the bottom line.