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 It is a convenience extended by state legislatures which could be repealed on a dime.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.

I contacted other voters in Browne-Dianis’ precinct, and they all told me the same thing -- voting on Election Day was a much quicker affair. For example, voter Lavette Brown told me it took her five to ten minutes to vote on Election Day at Browne-Dianis’ regular election day precinct. Of all the voters I spoke with from Browne-Dianis’ precinct who voted throughout Election Day, the worst wait came from those who got there first in the morning, and they waited only an hour to an hour and a half.

Browne-Dianis’ saga is a batch of moonshine. She could have voted on Election Day at the Faith United Methodist Church and saved herself at least six hours. The “long lines commission” must ask why voters who subjected themselves to seven-hour waits didn’t vote on Election Day, or didn’t vote absentee.

Nor have the advocates of Washington, D.C. meddling in state elections produced a single voter who quit the line and didn’t vote. If they do? Ask the voter why they didn’t vote absentee or on Election Day. We can also ask them what they did after they abandoned the line. We better hear lots of persuasive answers before we let the federal government exercise greater control over state elections, though I suspect many of the answers won’t be so compelling.

The truth is that waiting times were almost universally short on Election Day.  If lines were long for early voting, then those individuals self-selected to participate in early voting, or chose to not cast an absentee ballot. The best strategy to avoid long lines simply seems to be avoiding early voting.

Here’s the other dirty secret: many of the longest lines occurred in Democrat-controlled urban areas.

The fiercest opponents of long waits should direct their fire at local election officials in their own backyard, not at Washington, D.C. The federal government is forever searching for more ways to snatch power from the states; that’s the nature of the beast. 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.

Of course, this explains a great deal about why President Obama and leftist academics are such fans of increasing federal intrusion into elections.

Also read: 

Obama’s SOTU Speech: Government Unbound