The one campaign reform all Americans should get behind: Federalize our elections!

It might seem like an obscure demand, but state control over elections cause no end of deeply troubling problems


Bob Cesca
February 23, 2016 5:58PM (UTC)

Since the polls closed in both Nevada and New Hampshire, supporters of Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have taken to Facebook and the blogs to accuse their fellow Democrats of engaging in voter fraud of one variety or another.

To date, none of the anecdotal reports of irregularities, should those precinct results flip, would significantly change the outcome of either state, therefore the politics of such angst seem a bit ill-advised, especially knowing how the Republicans are looking for any and all excuses to enact new voter ID laws, effectively disenfranchising Democrats and reducing turnout -- both of which work in the favor of the GOP.

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Nevertheless, the existence of, among other things, issues like long lines and inadequate access to ballots and voting machines, as well as pathetically short windows of time in which to cast a vote reveal a degree of incompetence at the state and local levels that, frankly, hasn't improved since the nightmarish 2000 election.

It goes without saying that voting is the cornerstone of our form of representative democracy -- duh! So, how pathetic is it that the following cliche actually makes sense: America can put a man on the Moon, but we can't hold an election without prohibitively long lines and politically-motivated plots to disenfranchise legitimate voters? Dennis Miller, when he was reasonable, once said that leaving important things in the hands of the states is insane because the states "can't fucking pave roads." So, why on earth do we still allow state and local governments to run our elections -- our most sacred civic events?

So, yet again, it's time to make a case for federalizing our elections.

State officials have proved in nearly every election why they ought to be stripped of this duty, and to have the entire process run and regulated by a nonpartisan, centralized body to ensure that irresponsible leaders like Florida Governor Rick Scott or Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted can no longer play political grabass with our access to voting.

There's a series of practical changes that can occur, and, best case, ought to enjoy the support of both parties, even thought the Republicans will likely balk.

Most drastically, the federal government should take over the entire process from top to bottom, including the hiring of regional poll workers; the purchasing of equipment; and enforcement of regulations.

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The top-line changes:

1) A constitutional amendment for turning over the election process, top-to-bottom, to a newly formed federal regulatory body, thus beefing up the 15th, 19th, 24th and 26th Amendments.

2) Enact universal voter registration. When citizens turn 18 or attain citizenship status, they should be automatically registered to vote.

3) Ballots and voting machines should be standardized nationwide and only contracted to fully nonpartisan organizations without any political ties, agendas or connections to political parties or candidates. Software should be bullet-proof, open-source and routinely audited, and ballot-counting should be conducted within the bureaucracy and monitored by international observers, rather than partisan operatives using corporate machines.

4) Government preclearance should be expanded and enforced. Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act mandates that states where Jim Crow laws were prevalent are required to receive approval from either the Justice Department or federal judges before enacting new voting laws. Clearly this isn't working. In Florida before the 2012 election, a Republican law that restricted early voting was only reversed in five of 67 counties when it clearly should've been struck down throughout the entire state.

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5) Early voting should be permanently expanded to a full month nationwide, culminating with the traditional first Tuesday of November.

6) And, while we're here, the caucus tradition has worn out its welcome. So, maybe it's time to standardize the means by which primaries are conducted -- leaving behind caucuses as archaic, ineffectual relics of the past.

All told, the federal government ought to be granted the authority to enforce election rules and regualtions, including standardized booths, appropriate availability of booths based on historical turnout and a national standard on early voting and registration. No offense to local election officials, but the fact that our right to vote rests in the hands of state politicians and precinct volunteers is absurd, given the monumental importance of the task.

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You know what? Strike that. State level election officials absolutely should take offense to what I just wrote. And you bet your ass they should be stripped of control over elections. They've fooled around long enough, and voter ID laws only begin to vindicate this analysis. By way of a refresher, a 2012 study of voter fraud found only 31 cases since 2000. That's 31 cases out of more than a billion votes cast. And yet state officials, almost exclusively in red states, are making it more difficult to vote because of a 0.0000031 percent rate of voter fraud. Imagine undergoing massive radiation and chemotherapy in order to thwart a 0.0000031 percent chance of cancer. Even the most paranoid hypochondriac would turn down the treatment.

The notion of voter fraud is precisely what Florida Republican operative Jim Greer called it in 2012: a ploy to elect Republicans. In fact, the real and rampant fraud is being perpetrated by the Republican establishment to the detriment of constitutional rights and the integrity of our electoral process, not to mention a considerable cross-section of Americans who've already endured far too many years of disenfranchisement and suppression. The actual fraud is evidenced in voter ID laws, prohibitively long lines, not enough voting machines, and the rest of it. So enough. If the states can't behave like adults, then the real adults need to step in and take over.

As for Bernie and Hillary activists, not for nothing but they would do well to focus on their respective get-out-the-vote efforts, knowing that turnout is down from eight years ago. (Reminder: crowd sizes, yard signs and online polls aren't effective predictors of election outcomes.) While they're at it, it probably wouldn't hurt to look at down-ballot contests to make sure the Democrats score some crucial victories in congressional races, not to mention state and local elections where changes to the voting process occur under our noses while we're too-easily distracted by the presidential horse race.

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Bob Cesca

Bob Cesca is a regular contributor to Salon. He's also the host of "The Bob Cesca Show" podcast, and a weekly guest on both the "Stephanie Miller Show" and "Tell Me Everything with John Fugelsang." Follow him on Facebook and Twitter. Contribute through LaterPay to support Bob's Salon articles -- all money donated goes directly to the writer.

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