The For the People Act Is a Shameless Elite Power Grab | Opinion

In an ideal world, our republic would be one in which every citizen educated themselves about the political issues of the day, and in which every citizen voted.

We do not live, however, in the realm of gauzy theory and ideals but in the real world of 21st-century American politics. Many voters lack even the most basic political knowledge. Two years into his VP term, after almost three decades as a U.S. senator, 41 percent of American adults in one Pew survey could not name Joe Biden when asked who the vice president was. According to another recent survey, only a third could even name the three branches of government. Large swathes of the American public, including many voters, are profoundly ignorant of even the basics of American politics.

This is essential to keep in mind as the Democrats push their so-called For the People Act, which attempts to make it possible to vote with little or no effort. But the biggest problem with the act is not that it makes voter fraud much easier to commit and much harder to detect (though these are indeed fatal flaws). Republicans' fraud-based approach to voting rights tacitly accepts the Democrats' fundamentally flawed premises and lets them drive the narrative. One must go deeper and ask cui bono—who benefits from these policies?

The For the People Act is a smorgasbord of bad liberal ideas, most of which Democrats have pushed for decades: making election day a federal holiday, massively expanding vote by mail, making it harder to clean up voter rolls, restoring voting rights for felons, regularizing ballot harvesting, federally funding "campus vote coordinators" and getting 16- and 17-year-olds to pre-register to vote.

It is notable that, rather than have our deliberative democracy decided by informed and independent adults, almost every Democratic initiative in the For the People Act focuses on increasing the electoral power of immature, disengaged and dependent voters, whose decisions will be disproportionately influenced by the massive cultural, educational and media edifice that elite liberals control.

It's no coincidence that Joe Biden dominated the 18-to-24 age group (winning it 65-31) while in an age group just slightly older (25-to-29), Biden's split was essentially the same as it was with middle-aged voters. One difference is that those in their mid-to-late 20s have largely begun to shoulder adult responsibilities, while younger voters, by and large, have not. It is no exaggeration to note that, without the votes of millions of college kids and recent graduates, many of whose parents are paying their bills and largely managing their adult responsibilities, Joe Biden would not be president. And while the 2020 gap was particularly large, going back to the Clinton years the "youth vote" has been consistently more Democratic than the vote of mature adults—often by large margins.

Given this reality, it is no surprise that the majority of House Democrats supported an amendment to the bill to lower the voting age to 16, a move backed by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Of course, if most 18-year-olds are hardly independent adults, virtually all 16-year-olds, no matter how bright, are dependent on adults and unable to exercise adult responsibilities, many of which can only be learned by experience.

It is not a coincidence that we lowered the voting age to 18 from 21 during the Vietnam War. At the time, that was appropriate. We should not be asking people to make the ultimate sacrifice on behalf of our country without allowing them to have a role in selecting our country's leadership. But even aside from the war itself, the position of an American 18-year-old then was vastly different than it is now. In 1972 just one-quarter of 18-year-olds were enrolled in college. The overwhelming majority of the rest were either in the workforce or at war. The median age of marriage was 23 for men and 21 for women. Two-thirds were in the civilian labor force, while another 20 percent were in the armed forces. Even 58 percent of women in this group were in the labor force, while another 33 percent shouldered adult responsibilities as homemakers. By age 24 almost 80 percent of women were married and managing adult responsibilities for their own household.

voting booths
Empty voting booths are seen in Flint, Michigan at the Berston Fieldhouse polling place on November 3, 2020. The US is voting Tuesday in an election amounting to a referendum on Donald Trump's uniquely brash and bruising presidency, which Democratic opponent and frontrunner Joe Biden urged Americans to end to restore "our democracy." Seth Herald/AFP/Getty Images

On average, young people today are not called upon to contribute to society to anywhere near the same degree. The average age of marriage has risen to 30.3 for men and 28.4 for women, and the majority of 18-year-olds—and even huge percentages of 21-year-olds—rely on their parents to pay bills. To put it bluntly, the average 18-year-old in 1970 was an adult with adult responsibilities and an incipient adult awareness of the world around them. The average 18-year-old today is not. Determining our leaders should be the task of independent, responsible adults.

The Democrats' vision of an electorate of dependents flies in the face of democratic history. The ancient Greek ideal of voting in democracy was always based on participation and citizenship. Indeed, in classical Athenian democracy only men who had completed military training were eligible. Those who had unpaid debts to the state or who had otherwise taken advantage of it were ineligible. Extension of the franchise was understood to be part of duties of a citizen. This was also how the Founders viewed voting. While, clearly, our situation is not the same as that of classical Athens, the animating principle remains—the franchise was a privilege for independent citizens, not those who were, in one way or another, wards of another person or debtors to the state.

Unfortunately, Republican opposition to the For the People Act has been almost exclusively short-sighted and tactical rather than long-term and strategic. Stopping voter fraud is important, of course, but to make such empty proceduralism the heart of our case is a loser's argument. Even if the act did not enable fraud, it would still be terrible policy and a dagger aimed at the heart of our democratic system. But in a world in which "I voted" stickers is de rigueur virtue signaling, we lack the intellectual foundations to make this argument.

Democrats seem to prefer an electorate that resembles the humans of Wall-E, indolent and almost lobotomized, glued to their screens, as these people are the easiest for elites to manipulate. Increasing the size of the electorate, without care for how invested or informed it is, empowers elites who are able to control these voters while disempowering average citizens.

Contrary to Democratic and media narratives, higher turnout only strengthens democratic accountability if it is the product of an engaged and informed electorate. Absent that, pushing for higher turnout is merely a mechanism for elite control.

"Not since the Alien and Sedition Acts has one political party in Congress sought to bend the power of the federal government, on partisan lines, toward crushing political opposition to this extent. H.R. 1 is not merely a bad idea; it is a scandal," wrote National Review in a staff editorial.

All true, but it's worse than that. The Republicans must not just defeat the For the People Act, but offer a more meaningful vision of electoral participation—one in which voting is universally available but comes with responsibilities; that rejects the dangerous notion that a higher turnout makes a better electorate and that democracy is somehow strengthened when we browbeat less informed and less invested people into voting. We should expose the Democrats' obsession with voter turnout instead of voter knowledge and engagement as the cynical elite power grab that it is. By demanding at least a minimal investment of time and effort in exercising the franchise, we are strengthening democracy, not weakening it.

The Democrats will be back, because they never quit. To defeat their plans, we must win the argument before we can win the vote. To defeat the For the People Act, we must not just reject it tactically—we must firmly reject the rotten and corrupt intellectual and moral foundations on which it stands.

Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute.

The views expressed in this article are the writer's own.