Long Lines, Tall Tales, and Federalized Elections

President Obama’s State of the Union address contained a justification for more federal control over state elections. In the past, creeping federalization over state elections was properly justified by state racial discrimination, then the sketchier reason of inadequate numbers of welfare recipients registering to vote. This year, long lines at the polls served as the bogeyman for the latest federal intrusion into state elections. President Obama announced a “bipartisan” commission tasked with recommending solutions to the “problem” of long lines at the polls.

This is a solution in search of a problem, because long lines and long waits were the rare exception, and usually occurred in early voting sites, and not on Election Day. Washington, D.C., has no business intruding into state control over elections for a problem that is not widespread.

The president supported his announcement with the story of Desiline Victor. To be sure, the story of this Florida centenarian standing in line for six hours had great emotional appeal. But the president omitted a key fact about Victor’s ordeal: by choice, Victor voted on the first day of a seven-day early voting period.

Had she voted on Election Day, she would have waited only a short time.

Also, early voting is not a right. It is a convenience extended by state legislatures which could be repealed on a dime. Worse, the justification used for the expensive early voting process -- to increase turnout -- has failed to materialize.

As Hans von Spakovsky notes:

Early voting is a convenience, not a right, and a relatively new phenomenon. It is meant for those who for some legitimate reason cannot vote on Election Day. Voters in that position also have the option in every state to vote by absentee ballot, something that does not require waiting in line at all.

Like so many other election-process “reforms,” von Spakovsky says, early voting is a central tool of the organized left that “keeps pushing all voters to vote early, not just those who can’t vote on Election Day.”

If your voters are unmotivated low-information voters, the more time you have to roust them to the polls, the more elections you will win.

These election reformers also use tall tales. Consider Judith Browne-Dianis, co-director of Advancement Project, a group which consistently opposes election integrity measures such as voter ID and cleaning up non-citizens from the voter rolls.

Browne-Dianis told NPR: “For me, who voted in the state of Maryland, I was in line for seven hours.” Like Desiline Victor in Florida, Browne-Dianis decided to vote early instead of on Election Day. That's too bad, because if she had voted at her regular precinct on Election Day -- the Faith United Methodist Church in Accokeek, Maryland -- she would have had hardly any wait.

Judith Browne-Dianis

I spoke with Harold Ruston of the Prince George's County electoral board. He is the official who manages the Election Day precincts. He told me there weren’t lines on Election Day anywhere near seven hours long:

On Election Day, if there was a long line it was an hour wait, not much more.

Not content to take the word of the election bureaucrats in Ms. Browne-Dianis’ county, I spoke to Karen Stern, the secretary at the church where Browne-Dianis' precinct is. She said that there was no wait of any significance to vote at the Faith United Methodist Church all day long.