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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Federalizing the Election Process: Just Say No

On election day there were long lines in some states and many people waited hours to vote.  Even here in Oklahoma, where voting has typically been a fairly quick process, I saw reports of some precincts in the Oklahoma City metro area having more than an hour wait.  I attributed the longer than usual wait to the new voting system selected by the Oklahoma County Election Board which required more time to fill out the ballot than in the past.  Having state questions to vote on just increased the time for voters who weren't prepared in advance since they had to read the questions before making a decision. 

Some of the longest lines in the nation were in Wisconsin, Virginia, Maryland and Florida.  I saw reports of people in Florida still in line to vote after midnight.  People in Lee County waited as long as nine hours to vote.  The number of scanners used in Lee County along with the amendments to vote on have been blamed for the backlog.  But, whatever the reason, it's an issue for the State of Florida to address, not for the federal government.

There have already been calls by some in Congress (all Democrats, so far) to have Congress intervene to "normalize" voting nationwide and avoid the long delays of last Tuesday.  Gerry Connolly, Jim Moran and Elijah Cummings, Democrat Representatives in Congress, have all weighed in on the voting delays.  Moran said it is "incumbent on the Congress" to step in and that delays are "unforgivable in a modern society." Connolly said, "This ought not to be difficult. This is not rocket science.  We've got to figure out how to clean up federal elections."

Even President Obama mentioned the issue in his victory speech.  He said, "I want to thank every American who participated in this election — whether you voted for the very first time or waited in line for a very long time.  By the way, we have to fix that."

Eliminating lines and streamlining the voting process sounds great, but elections are run by the states and the federal government has no authority to step in.  The notion that these are federal elections is a misnomer because all but the president and vice president represent individual states or districts.  Even the vote for president is not really a vote for the candidate, but for the electors from the state who will vote for that candidate at a later date when the Electoral College meets to cast their votes.

According to the Census data, there are currently more than 87,000 local and state governments containing more than 511,000 offices.  The idea that the federal government should be involved in running elections for those offices is asking the federal government to infringe on the sovereignty of 87,000 governments and the authority they have to make decisions about their own election processes.  Should the federal government be involved in your city council election?  Your county sheriff?  Local elections to vote on a sales tax increase?  Historically, when the federal government gets involved in something it becomes a bloated bureaucracy full of wasteful spending, top heavy with overpaid administrators and more problems at the local level than before the feds decided to 'help'.

The United States Constitution gives Congress sole power to decide the date of the presidential election, but that is the limit of their authority over the election.  Article 2 Section 1 Paragraph 4 of the Constitution: "The Congress may determine the Time of choosing the Electors, and the Day on which they give their Votes; which day shall be the same throughout the United States."  Authority over how those those Electors are chosen rests with the States, under the authority of the Tenth Amendment:  "The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people."

The federal system we have in the United States has shifted over time from dual federalism to cooperative federalism, but even under cooperative federalism the states still maintain sovereign rights.  No doubt there would be some liberal states who would welcome the federal government taking over the election process but most would not.  The Founders so distrusted a strong central control that they made it difficult for the federal government to have a major function in the election process.  They knew keeping decisions at the state and local level were the best way to prevent autocratic control of elections.

And although it has not been mentioned by proponents of federalizing the election process, I believe an eventual goal of doing so would be the elimination of the Electoral College.  There are many people who believe we should elect the president on a popular vote.  This also goes against the intentions of the Founders and the federal system they created.  More on that in my post here if you are interested. 

If there are election problems in some states then it is up to those states to solve their own problems.  Citizens of each state should decide for themselves what their election laws and processes should be.  If the State of Florida wants to continue using chisels and rocks to cast votes that's their decision.  The federal government has no right to interfere.

2 comments:

  1. You have boiled it down to the crux of the argument against federalization of our elections. Doing so would put us one step closer to an all-powerful federal government. That's not what our country was founded on, neither did our founders want America to become such a nation. We would do well to heed their advice, otherwise we will soon no longer recognize our country for what it used to be.

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    1. Larry you know just as well as I do that there are millions of people in this country who would just love for the federal government to take over the whole process. I already don't recognize the country for what it used to be. When I was younger a socialist with a mysterious past like Barack Obama would never have even been elected as a Senator, certainly not President.

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