What Does it Mean to Have Federalized Elections?
Over the past several months, Democrats in Congress, as well as President Biden, have been advocating for legislation that would greatly increase federal involvement in elections. The legislation is five-hundred and ninety-four pages in length and can be found here. Republicans have been fighting the bill quite ferociously, as they fear it will lead us closer to a federalized voting system. So what is so bad about federalized elections? Why do Republicans want to preserve the state voting systems, which seemingly arbitrarily vary by state and adhere to very minimal regulation by the national government? First, we must understand how elections work.
The year is 2024, and John Smith wants to vote for president. He understands that due to his specific state's regulations on voting, he can only get a mail-in ballot if he has a reasonable excuse to request one. Being an able-bodied thirty-four-year-old man with no disabilities, he lacks a good excuse, so he decides to vote in person within the two-week time frame that his state allows. He goes to his state-designated polling place on election day, presents his driver's license, and casts his ballot. John's work is done. After a thirty-minute wait in line and a swift check of a box, John voted for president. The county employed polling-place workers then count their votes and send them to the state. The state then takes all of the county-wide results and grants the electoral college electors of the winning party the ability to vote for president on the federal level.
Notice, there are multiple checks and balances here. It is difficult for widespread fraud to happen on the national level. This is because counting actually occurs on the county level, with the states then tallying the votes from every county. Here's an example:
Let's say that Illinois was a corrupt state (hard to imagine, I know) and the higher-ups decided to disregard the county results, blatantly disenfranchising voters and granting the electoral vote to the losing party. This is unconstitutional, and the voters of Illinois will have lost their voice, but the other forty-nine states will retain their ability to have free and fair elections. The corruption of Illinois has not restricted the rights of those in Indiana.
But now let's suppose that elections are federalized. The federal government is in charge of passing out ballots, counting votes, and adhering to the election results. The President finds him/herself with a supermajority in Congress, and they rather like the way things are going. What if the President and Congress were to "misplace" a few votes next election cycle in order to stay in power? Nothing could stop them. No one would know. After all, the federal government is the one doing the counting.
An example of an entirely federalized voting system is in the Russian Federation. While their constitution dictates that elections to the Duma (similar to Congress) and for the president are to be free, fair, and universal, practice is far less idealistic. Russia does not have states, merely "federal districts" and Vladimir Putin has used this fact to his advantage. Once in power, Putin pushed through constitutional amendment after constitutional amendment, legalizing his endless run of terms in office. Incredibly, almost suspiciously, Putin remains an incredibly popular figure, winning the 2018 presidential election with an incredible 77% of the vote...
To keep voting decentralized adds a layer of security to our elections. It allows us to feel as though our vote does indeed matter, and it keeps the ideals of democracy alive. With the federalization of elections, we lose a valuable tool for keeping the federal government in check and could potentially lose the value of our elections entirely. The Freedom to Vote act does not federalize elections. However, it is a major step in that direction, and Congress is playing with fire by considering its passing into law. With great power comes great responsibility. The founding fathers gave the people the power of elections. We are now responsible for keeping it.
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Freedom to Vote Act Text: https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2747/text
References to voting in the constitution: https://www.votefortheconstitution.com/voting---what-does-the-constitution-say.html
Putin 2018 election results: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2018/mar/19/vladimir-putin-secures-record-win-in-russian-presidential-election
Russian voting and government: http://duma.gov.ru/en/news/28612/