A Federal Takeover of Elections?

Why critics say a new executive power-grab is in the offing.

voteOn March 28, President Obama issued Executive Order 13639, establishing a Presidential Commission on Election Administration "in order to promote the efficient administration of Federal elections and to improve the experience of all voters." The ostensible premise behind this effort is the idea that some voters were forced to wait too long in line to cast their ballots. Yet a growing number of critics see something entirely different: they see this as an attempt to initiate a federal takeover of elections.

Former Justice Department official J. Christian Adams characterizes the president's effort as a "federal solution in search of a problem," which as foreshadowed in Obama's State of the Union address. He spoke of a woman named Desiline Victor, a 102-year-old Florida resident forced to show up twice on October 28, the first day of early voting, due to the long lines she encountered. “When she arrived at her polling place, she was told the wait to vote might be six hours,” Obama said, “And as time ticked by, her concern was not with her tired body or aching feet, but whether folks like her would get to have their say.”

Like many of Obama's efforts to tug at the emotional heartstrings of Americans, the devil is in the details. In general, the lines on the first day of early voting are usually much longer than those encountered on Election Day. This was confirmed by an MIT study that revealed the average wait for voting on Election Day was seven minutes shorter than the wait on other days. Moreover, Florida is somewhat notorious for loading up ballots with lengthy referendums that voters ought to review before they show up to the polls, but don't in many cases. Adams also points out that lengthy waits to vote "occur frequently in large cities where elections are administered by Democrats."

On his website, he gets to the crux of the issue. "The federal government is forever searching for more ways to snatch power from the states; that’s the nature of the beast," he explains. "No Republicans should acquiesce to another federal power grab over state elections-- dispersing power over elections means that no one entity, or person, can easily manipulate the process. The Founders knew that decentralized control over the process helps preserve individual liberty."

Whether manipulating the process is part of the agenda remains to be seen. The Board's two chairmen, election lawyers Robert Bauer and Ben Ginsberg, represented Barack Obama and Mitt Romney, respectively, during the 2012 election. Obama contends that Ginsberg, a Republican, would give the Board credibility and ensure its bipartisan nature. The president will also name the seven other members of the Board. According to the order, they will be people with "knowledge about or experience in the administration of State or local elections, as well as representatives of successful customer service-oriented businesses, and any other individuals with knowledge or experience."

Beginning with its first meeting, the Board will have six months to submit recommendations to the president. One month after that report is submitted, the Board will disband.

Adams remains wary, noting that the Justice Department's "controversy-plagued Civil Rights Division" has provided "government-funded cover" to leftist activists who have called for expansive federal mandates to "fix a problem that is not widespread." “If the Democrats name wild-eyed activists to the commission, we’ll know what the commission is really all about," warns Adams.

It may not take that long. Democrats have introduced several bills in Congress that would effectively usurp state election law. Provisions include requiring states to set up a 15-day early voting period, the imposition of a one-hour limit on the time voters must wait to cast their ballot, a requirement allowing online registration, and one permitting convicted criminals to vote after they have completed their sentences.

The glaring omission? Requiring or allowing states to require photo ID for voting.

Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX) addressed that ideologically inspired discrepancy. "[Obama's] Justice Department tragically has been the most partisan Justice Department this country has seen. They have repeatedly fought common sense voter integrity policies like voter ID that serve, as the U.S. Supreme Court has said, to protect and ensure the integrity of our democratic system," he told CNS News.

There is little question that Cruz is correct. Prior to the 2012 election, the DOJ sued Pennsylvania, Texas and South Carolina to prevent them from imposing photo ID requirements for voting. The latter two states were sued under Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act, that requires states with a history of racial discrimination to "pre-clear" any changes to their procedures with the DOJ. A suit filed by Shelby County, Alabama, challenging the validity of Section  is currently before U.S. Supreme Court. A ruling is expected in late June.

Moreover, while both Obama and Holder remain focused on minority "disenfranchisement," they have blithely ignored the 2009 Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act that required voter service facilities to be set up on military bases to provide troops with access to voter registration and absentee ballot forms. According to a Defense Department report released two months before the 2012 election, only 114 of the 229 installation voting assistance offices (IVAOs) were operational.

That Obama and the DOJ are more concerned with possible voter disenfranchisement than actual disenfranchisement speaks volumes.

Thus, it is no surprise that the DOJ announced it would monitor South Carolina's special election that took place yesterday. It was initiated to fill the spot left by former Rep. Tim Scott, who was appointed by Governor Nikki Haley to replace Senator Jim DeMint, who resigned to head the Heritage Foundation. The race pitted scandal-scarred former Republican Governor Mark Sanford against Democratic newcomer Elizabeth Colbert Busch. The DOJ gave no reason for the monitoring, but the vote will take place under South Carolina's new law requiring photo ID to vote. The disenfranchisement theme was highlighted in a campaign ad released by Busch. “Somebody doesn’t want African Americans to vote, and it doesn’t take Shaft to figure out who,” says a narrator while Isaac Hayes’ soundtrack from Shaft plays in the background. “Tuesday, May 7th, is your chance to show them they can’t get away with it.”

Moreover, given Holder's speech before Al Sharpton's National Action Network in April, it is likely that voter disenfranchisement remains his primary concern. He vowed to aggressively enforce federal voting rights laws--no matter how Supreme Court rules on Section 5. “As we await the court's decision, I want to assure you that no matter the outcome, the Department of Justice will remain committed to the aggressive and appropriate enforcement of all voting and civil rights protections, including every part of the Voting Rights Act," he promised.

Thus, no matter what the administration claims about bipartisanship, it is impossible to ignore the context within which this Commission has been created. Adams reminds Americans that since the Motor Voter law passed in 1993, the scope of where people can now register to vote has expanded to "food stamp offices, welfare offices and even heroin addiction treatment facilities" even as the part of the same law requiring voter rolls to be purged of ineligible voters "has gathered dust over the last two decades."

The ideological divide is clear. For Democrats, voter turnout, irrespective of procedural integrity, is their first priority. For Republicans, the integrity of the process itself, which they consider best protected by photo ID, is paramount. Given the ideological bent of the current administration, there is little question that any attempt to federalize the election process would prioritize voter turnout, even as the effort to investigate and prosecute voter fraud would likely be marginalized.

Despite this reality, the left should be equally wary of allowing the federal government to control elections. No political party retains control of Washington, D.C. in perpetuity, and to use a familiar adage, "what goes around comes around." Furthermore, Americans are far better served by 50 separate entities, aka the states, vying to improve voting procedures on their own. Individual states are far more familiar with the details and issues related to voting than any one-size-fits-all bureaucracy in Washington, D.C. could ever be.

Using the phony crisis of long lines as the impetus to create a Presidential Commission on Election Administration smacks of this administration's "never let a crisis go to waste" mentality, even as the genuine crisis of disenfranchising those who put their lives on the line for the nation is calculatingly ignored. In short, tyranny requires centralized control. Freedom does not.

Seventy-four percent of Americans support photo ID as a prerequisite to voting. Under the "Mission" section of this executive order, there are 11 items the president considers vital to improving the election process. Photo ID isn't one of them.

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