The Creeping Federal Takeover of Local Elections
This column by ACRU Policy Board Member J. Christian Adams was published on March 4, 2013 on The Washington Times website.
President Obama’s State of the Union address last month provided the latest national crisis to be solved by Washington, D.C.: waiting in line to vote. The president shared the emotional saga of Desiline Victor, a Florida centenarian who waited six hours to vote. He announced a presidential commission to address the matter.
Unfortunately, the president didn’t tell the whole story about long lines and why he has suddenly become concerned.
Simply, this is a federal solution in search of a problem. Long lines to vote were very rare last November. They were certainly not sufficiently widespread to merit intervention in the nation’s capital.
What the president didn’t tell you is that Ms. Victor chose to vote early on the opening day of early voting–a notoriously unpleasant experience. Had Ms. Victor voted at her precinct on Election Day, she would not have waited six hours.
The president never mentioned that the average wait to vote on Election Day last November was 13 minutes, according to a Massachusetts Institute of Technology study. Those who chose to vote early waited an average of 20 minutes. Waits in Florida were further exacerbated by long referendum questions on the ballot.
The State of the Union address also omitted a dirty little secret: Lengthy waits occur frequently in large cities where elections are administered by Democrats. Consider the long lines and chaos in Atlanta last November. The Fulton County election board is controlled by Democrats. Mary Cooney, the chairman of the board (who also serves as secretary of the local League of Women Voters), is appointed by the county commissioners where Democrats hold a 5-2 advantage.
Atlanta was not alone. Long lines and glitches also plagued other Democrat-controlled strongholds in Maryland and Broward County, Fla.
There are local solutions to these rare problems. No utopian federal proposal can fix a problem with local election administration. Election officials and their constituents are best suited to fix any problems.
This didn’t stop the coordinated campaign by leftist groups calling for expansive federal mandates to fix a problem that is not widespread. Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Justice Department has joined the coordinated effort. Mr. Holder’s controversy-plagued Civil Rights Division has been tasked with providing government-funded cover to the effort by the activist groups.
Whether or not Mr. Obama’s proposed federal long-lines commission becomes part of the coordinated campaign remains to be seen. If the Democrats name wild-eyed activists to the commission, we’ll know what the commission is really all about. The commission should instead be filled with nonpartisan election administrators, not ideological activists seeking to expand federal power over state elections.
Sadly, I am not optimistic. Democrats always view election administration and process issues as a way to extract partisan advantage. They don’t undertake election reforms for the good of the republic.
Doubt it? Then ponder the Motor Voter law passed in 1993. Most Americans recognize the law as the reason they are asked if they want to change their voting address when they move and obtain a new driver’s license.
Yet the law did much more. It mandated voter registration pushes in food stamp offices, welfare offices and even heroin addiction treatment facilities. While Motor Voter also required voter rolls to be purged of ineligible voters, that portion of the law has gathered dust over the last two decades. Mr. Holder’s Justice Department refuses to enforce it for ideological reasons. At the same time, the department has sent agents wearing clandestine electronic equipment into welfare offices around the country to see if state employees are pushing voter registration at the counter. In league with the National Association for the Advancement of Colored Persons (NAACP), Mr. Holder has sued Rhode Island and Louisiana using these tactics.
Federal laws pertaining to election administration are seen by Democrats as ways to extract every last drop of available political power. The GOP often doesn’t even realize it is happening because the mandates are marketed as good government or civil rights legislation.
Pay attention to the federal mandates that the presidential commission might consider. No doubt they will be intrusions into state legislative choices, such as guaranteed vote by mail, or federal mandates for early voting.
If the long-lines commission is really looking for widespread disenfranchisement, it should focus attention on the sorry state of military voting.
The Obama Department of Defense has failed to follow federal law mandating that military recruitment centers also serve as voter registration offices–just like a welfare office. Might it be because registering those dependent on food stamps helps Democrats win elections?
The Defense Department has also violated federal law by not establishing voter-assistance offices on military installations. The department’s inspector general found that less than 50 percent of installations are compliant with this law, even though the Pentagon was given $75 million to fix the failures. As a result, election participation rates by military voters and their families are a shockingly small fraction of the turnout rates in the general public.
Long lines were rare on Election Day, and states are best suited to fix any problems. The federal government should address federal failures to protect military voters before the president’s commission starts prescribing solutions to state election officials about long lines.