Attorney General Loretta Lynch and top Justice Department political appointees are warning that the upcoming federal election will not have enough federal oversight of state election officials. In recent remarks to the League of United Latin American Citizens, Lynch derided the threat to voting rights because the federal government no longer has the power to send hundreds of federal election observers into state polling sites to monitor state and local officials.
In 2013, the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder struck down the 1965 coverage formula that put sixteen states under federal oversight. These oversight powers included the federal power to send swarms of federal observers into state polling locations to monitor state elections. Alaska, New York, and South Dakota were among the states with counties covered by the law.
The Supreme Court ruled in Shelby that the conditions in 1965 were no longer relevant to the extraordinary exercise of federal power over state elections in 2013.
But that hasn’t stopped Attorney General Loretta Lynch and other advocates from stoking paranoia by claiming the right to vote is endangered in the upcoming election without those observers. Reuters even adopted the sky-is-falling approach, presenting three-year-old news as news under the headline U.S. Curtails Federal Election Observers [!!].
Wade Henderson, president and CEO of the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights — a reliable source for chicken-little quotes about voting — says the federal observers “play a critical role in protecting voting rights, especially for voters of color and others who have historically been vulnerable to rampant voting discrimination.” Because of the Supreme Court’s decision in Shelby in 2013, he says, the right to vote is at risk in November without federal observers.
Lynch said the Supreme Court “limited the number of observers we can send into the field to watch the election process, to collect evidence, to deter wrongdoing, to defuse tension and to promote compliance.”
There’s only one problem with the fear-mongering — the 2014 federal election went off without a hitch.
For example, Mr. Henderson’s chicken-little press office doesn’t mention a single instance of purported election day discrimination or intimidation after the 2014 federal election — when there were no federal observers in the field.
If anything, the 2014 election demonstrated the federal election monitoring program had become a colossal waste of money by the time the Supreme Court decided Shelby.
The federal observer program worked like this: each federal election, and often in primaries throughout the year, hundreds and hundreds of federal employees would fly from their homes around the country and converge in one of the covered counties. This would cost the taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars upon tens of thousands of dollars. The federal employees would stay for multiple days in the target location at nearby hotels, racking up items on their expense reports, and renting cars and hotel conference rooms for training.
On election day, they would stand in the polls from dawn to dusk taking notes and filling out paperwork that ran dozens of pages. The notes would include how many people vote with assistance, what forms were posted on the walls, a drawing of the polling place, and places for a wide range of other information.
Federal employees enjoyed serving as election observers because it earned them some money and got them out of the office to see the country.
Civil rights groups like Henderson’s treat the hundreds of federal observers as their own private muscle. Complaints by groups like the ACLU, the NAACP, and Lawyers Committee to the DOJ were an essential element to any DOJ decision to deploy observers to a particular location. Private civil rights groups can therefore enjoy bigger clout on a local level because they wield the threat of making a phone call and having taxpayer-funded federal observers appear. It’s classic rent-seeking brought to electoral politics.
What we know now is that the 2014 federal election was completed without federal observers, and without a hitch. It’s hard to see why 2016 will be any different.
Contrary to Mr. Henderson’s sky-is-falling rhetoric, the absence of federal observers in 2014 didn’t make a bit of difference. Places that did have 2014 election day problems were not places usually covered by the federal observer program, and thus the wisdom of the Shelby decision is magnified.
Some election officials have since received calls from DOJ asking if their observers could be let in anyhow. Call it voluntary submission to the feds. Officials have told DOJ no way. That’s smart, because Justice would only be there to collect evidence to sue them.
States that choose to do so should implement their own state-run observer programs to fill any gap and ensure the integrity of the presidential election.
The Supreme Court recognized that the problems afflicting America in 1965 are now the stuff of museums. Sending swarms of federal officials into polling places in the Deep South is as absurd as writing this article on a Hermes 3000 typewriter.
But groups complaining about the lack of federal observers are doing so because they want Hillary Clinton to win the White House. They can pretend it’s something else. But they know deep down that scaring minority voters into thinking it is still 1965 will help elect Hillary. Fear will drive them to the polls.
We’ve come to expect the most unseemly sort of racial politics from certain corners. That the Obama Justice Department would join in, after seven years of watching this gang, comes as absolutely no surprise.