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COMMENTARY: Partisan election reform will divide us further

Last year’s pandemic-inspired changes to our elections have damaged the faith many Nevadans had in the electoral process. With COVID-19 poised to be in the rearview mirror, we all are excited to return to life as it was — and that includes the way our electoral system traditionally operates.

But if politicians in Carson City and Washington, D.C., have their way, our elections will be overhauled and the process replaced by the same one that created so much confusion and mistrust.

H.R. 1, which is currently in the U.S. Senate, is an unconstitutional piece of legislation that would eliminate widely supported and common-sense provisions such as voter ID laws. Although it is not the law here in Nevada yet, requiring a voter ID to cast a ballot is a popular bipartisan proposal that ensures every legal vote is counted. Bills to enact this reform are frequently proposed in Carson City, but if H.R. 1 is signed into law, that option will be stripped away from Nevadans.

The D.C. takeover of our elections would also funnel taxpayer dollars to political campaigns. The federal government will fund attack ads that consume our television screens and mailboxes during elections. This may be good for politicians and their high-priced consultants, but what benefit do families gain when money that could go toward expenses is instead being used by politicians to win votes?

H.R. 1 federalizes our state and local elections. But the framers of the Constitution were very clear that the details of how to run elections should be left to the states. Article I, Section 4, states, “The times, places and manner of holding elections for senators and representatives, shall be prescribed in each state by the legislature thereof.”

H.R. 1 would violate this critical right of the states to govern their own elections.

There are other troubling elements in H.R. 1 that are familiar to Nevadans. Ballots would be mailed to all voters even if they did not request one, and complete strangers would be legally empowered to take a ballot from anyone — commonly known as ballot harvesting.

Nevada’s elected officials tried this experiment last year in response to the pandemic. We were assured repeatedly that these measures would be necessary only during an emergency, and I am sure that this was a relief for many voters because of the confusion and mistrust that these measures caused during the election as well as the division and anger that has permeated in the months since.

Unfortunately, Democrats in Carson City are going back on their word. Now they insist that these changes must become permanent.

Why? Can any proponents of this massive overhaul point to anything wrong with Nevada’s pre-pandemic election system that was the product of laws passed with strong support of both Democrats and Republicans over the years?

Some will claim these reforms are driven by a desire to increase voter participation. But we’ve already seen that mailing ballots to voters who never requested one and legalizing ballot harvesting won’t do that. In 2016, when our election was run as it had been traditionally for years, 76.7 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in Nevada. In 2020, when we mailed a ballot to every registered voter and legalized ballot harvesting, 77.3 percent of eligible voters cast a ballot in Nevada.

Sens. Catherine Cortez Masto and Jacky Rosen should do the right thing and reject the unconstitutional H.R. 1 and this partisan power grab and stand up for Nevadans and their right to govern their own elections. And Nevada officials in Carson City should do the right thing and work to restore the faith far too many have lost in the process since November.

These officials often promise to work to bring Nevadans together. By passing bipartisan reforms — not ramming through bills that will divide us further — they can do just that.

Mark Hutchison, a Republican, served as Nevada lieutentant governor from 2015-2019.

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