When oversight becomes overreach
The federal fraud commission inadvertently undermines the Electoral College
Donald Trump was elected with an electoral vote victory, despite a popular vote defeat. How ironic, then, that he would institute a federal fraud commission that is helping to undermine the principles upon which the Electoral College was founded.
The Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is already proving that the federal government should never be given too much authority over presidential elections. Early Thursday morning, one member of the commission filed a lawsuit, claiming that he was being excluded from the commission’s workings.
“[T]he Commission’s superficial bipartisanship has been a facade,” Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap claims in his lawsuit.
Trump supporters will denounce Mr. Dunlap as a partisan who is just trying to stir up trouble, of course. Meanwhile, Democrats will berate the fraud commission for its vague agenda. If everything is above board, why not be more transparent?
In many ways, it doesn’t matter who is right. Both sides are wrong in another, far more important area: It was a mistake to involve the federal government in presidential elections in the first place. The possibility of abuse is real, whether it occurs in this administration or a future one. And that’s precisely why the Constitution gives the federal government only a limited role in presidential elections. Moreover, to the degree that national forces are given power, this power is given to Congress, not to the president himself.
In America, the states bear primary responsibility for presidential elections. The Constitution does not provide for federal involvement in this process outside of the counting of electoral votes and the congressional duty to “determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes.”
In short, while everyone wants to stop fraud, that doesn’t give the federal government constitutional authority to act in lieu of the states.
The Constitution’s decentralized presidential election process has many benefits: Importantly, it protects presidential elections from being politicized and controlled by an incumbent class of federal officials. Consider that today’s innocently created federal fraud commission could become tomorrow’s newly created bureaucracy — perhaps the Department of Elections? The head of that department would be a presidential appointee. Would this new secretary of elections be a fair and neutral arbiter? Or would he tip the scales in favor of his boss, the incumbent?
America’s decentralized election process has other benefits, too: It allows states to express themselves and to make sure that their voices are not lost in the shuffle.
Perhaps a state disagrees with something that is happening at the national level and wants to do something differently. In 1892, the state of Wyoming did exactly that: It became the first state to let women vote. It didn’t ask other states for permission. It simply did what it thought best — as did a handful of other states during the same election: They refused to list Grover Cleveland on their ballots because of a disagreement over monetary policy.
States can also protect their own internal interests. In 1876, the state of Colorado didn’t hold a presidential election. Its state legislature appointed electors instead. Why? Because it was cheaper and easier. Colorado had just joined the union, and it was already holding one set of elections for congressmen. A second election so soon after the first was simply too hard and expensive.
Regardless of what the Founders intended, modern Americans have increasingly acted as if national entities should have the final say. The Republican National Committee, the Democratic National Committee, the Commission on Presidential Debates, and even the mainstream media have each become more and more powerful. Consider that, while the Trump administration established a fraud commission, it wasn’t the first to make such a mistake. Early in 2017, the Obama administration designated American election systems as “critical infrastructure” that would need more “assistance” from the federal government.
The Founders would surely be surprised if they could see how easily modern Americans defer to national forces. They felt far more loyalty to their states.
If centralizing power has become a norm, so has dissension, discord and dissatisfaction. Perhaps that’s no coincidence.
The Constitution’s decentralized presidential election process has many benefits: Importantly, it protects presidential elections from being politicized and controlled by an incumbent class of federal officials.