This column by ACRU Policy Board member J. Christian Adams was published February 13, 2017 by The Hill.
How has the American constitutional system managed to survive 230 years despite the alleged scourge of voter confusion, long lines at polling places, and Russian hacking? Why do we still not have national voting standards? The answer is simple: Alexander Hamilton and James Madison knew what they were doing.
Professor Bradley Blakeman took to the pages of this publication declaring that “it makes sense that there be uniform standards in federal elections that insure all Americans are treated equally and fairly when exercising their most valued right as a citizen.” The last thing we need is Washington, D.C. issuing more standards.
Stepping outside of the academy, it makes no sense for Vermont and Hawaii be held to the same standards of selecting the number and locations of polling places they should provide — let alone how many voting machines each should have therein. It makes even less sense to adopt a uniform voting machine for all Americans, especially after the Dutch demonstrated that using a single system invited the undivided attention of hackers.
The Constitution gives states the power to run their own elections. The vast majority of proposals advanced by Prof. Blakeman are already state law of one form or another with understandable, state-specific variations. The professor’s individual ideas are not the problem, but his belief that Washington, D.C. is the solution is wrong.
Perhaps most alarming is Professor Blakeman’s charge that “it makes no sense that states have the power to make their own rules and requirements with regard to federal elections.” Really? That nonsensical arrangement was the subject of much deliberation by the Founders.
The only reason the federal government was given any power to set the terms for electing federal offices was because of a fear of suffocation, that the states would suffocate the federal government by not holding any elections. (Federalist No. 59). In 2017, suffocation of the federal government by the states is hardly a problem we face.
The opposite is true.
States like Kansas and Georgia recently petitioned the U.S. Election Assistance Commission, an entity charged with producing the federal voter registration form, to include in their state-specific instructions that proofs of citizenship be incorporated into the registration process.
Following recent, reinforcing Supreme Court rulings holding that states are tasked with setting voter qualifications, the EAC adjusted state forms. Shortly thereafter, the Commission was sued by leftist organizations to block the change in instructions.
The Obama Justice Department decided to align itself with the plaintiffs, despite its pre-existing obligation to defend the EAC. Kansas is now more vulnerable to illegal voting because unelected federal attorneys decided to override an exclusively state function.
Today, states are fighting the federal government to execute their Constitutional duty to craft and uphold reasonable voter qualifications especially where keeping noncitizens from casting ballots is involved.
Professor Blakeman’s initial proposals for federal standards may offer something for everyone, but he cannot reasonably trust an increasingly polarized Washington to resist the temptation to shift rules to benefit incumbent powers.
Decentralization over the power of elections helps preserve liberty. Central authority is the problem, not state governments crafting election systems best suited to their local needs.
Decentralization also provides an inherent form of security that transcends technological advancement. During the height of the Russian hacking scare of 2016, election officials knew the doomsday scenarios pitched by Washington were practically impossible. All the decentralized election systems make hacking a fruitless endeavor.
Fifty different databases of voters house registration files, each connected to hundreds of other databases designed to pipe in new voter information. Counties and municipalities engage with different vendors for voting hard- and software.
Officers print ballots and select polling locations to fit local needs and languages. Professor Blakeman’s calls for “uniformity” would reduce the target to just one.
Finally, decentralization naturally serves the most vulnerable of voters. In the vast majority of the thousands of jurisdictions, local election officials have relationships with their constituents.
Transferring that power to Washington, where some distant bureaucrat across the continent must opine about any change drives a wedge between the citizen and the franchise.
Election administration is, at its core, a customer service function best performed locally. The genius of the Constitution was the decentralization of power and decision making. When it comes to something so important as states holding elections, that Constitutional design shouldn’t be scrapped so the federal government dictates more rules to the states.