Pelosi and the Democrats Again Try to Federalize Elections
Here we go again.
This week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic colleagues dropped the $3 trillion “HEROES Act.” Like the last COVID-19 bill she pushed, the legislation is long — 1,815 pages — and has liberal hobby horses aplenty.
The Postal Service, for example, would be given $25 billion. Why? Simply because. Never mind that Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) found that the Post Office has suffered only modest revenue losses from coronavirus. There is $5.5 billion for expanding broadband access, and $50 million for “environmental justice grants.” (Because, you know, COVID-19.)
Oh, and there also is an effort to federalize elections. The legislator or citizen weary of flipping pages will find the offending text starting on page 1,452 and running through page 1,526. (Really.)
The American Coronavirus/COVID–19 Election Safety and Security Act begins by demanding that states produce “federal election contingency plans” that explain how states will meet safety requirements and recruit poll workers. Because, you know, this is exactly what swamped and stressed-out elections administrators really should be doing — drawing up paperwork for federal officials.
The legislation goes on to set early voting periods, require public polling places to be located near public transportation, and dictate various elections practices. The U.S. attorney general is empowered to drop the hammer for noncompliance, and individuals could file suit if they feel they suffered an injustice.
Lengthy, one-size-fits-all federal mandates: These are not what states want or need.
GOP governors like Pete Ricketts of Nebraska and Mike DeWine of Ohio have been taking steps to adjust their elections systems in accordance with local needs. That’s federalism — states have governments, and they are responsible for administering their elections.
But states do need help. Their budgets are suffering from a massive drop in revenues due to the COVID-19 lockdowns, and their coffers are being drained by rising public relief costs. The scale of fiscal pain is staggering. For example, five states out west have pegged their collective COVID-19 cost at $5 trillion.
Elections are not cheap to run — especially when done right. The costs rise higher each election cycle, not least due to the need to defend against more and more cyberattacks. And there is pretty good evidence that running an election while COVID-19 is around is going to cost a whole lot more.
As much as it pains this old fiscal hawk to say it, Washington should help states by supplying one-time, emergency elections funding to ensure they have accessible and secure elections.
The help states need, however, is not a top-down imposition with a mountain of red tape. Congress should write a one-page bill that offers states federal funding to spend on ensuring broad access to the ballot box for registered voters (e.g., vote by mail and establishing safe polling places) and on securing elections systems against cyber threats. Then require states to post online an audit a couple months after the election that shows how they spent the money to meet the objectives of the legislation. Boom — states that waste the money or run lousy elections will get called out and have to answer to voters.
Pelosi’s last attempt to federalize elections got stopped cold by the Senate. The same will happen to the American Coronavirus/COVID–19 Election Safety and Security Act. Congress then should do what needs to be done: deliver much-needed dollars but not 75 pages of prescriptive mandates.