Who gets to decide how elections are run?

Over and over, we hear Republicans claiming that the two voting rights bills (that got squashed in the Senate) are ‘federal overreach’. According to Tate Reeves, governor of Mississippi: Yesterday, Biden proposed an unconstitutional federal takeover of our elections by eliminating your voice in the Senate. Their mission is clear: change election rules to make it easier to cheat.

Fortunately, Jamelle Bouie, Opinion Columnist for the New York Times, wrote the piece, “Republicans Think There Is a ‘Takeover’ Happening. They Have Some Reading to Do.“, in which he explains exactly what’s going on here. In particular, he makes the point that one cannot carefully pick out pieces of the Constitution and expect to get the entire meaning.

With regard to voting rights, there are a couple of pieces of the Constitution that come into play (as Jamelle Bouie so elegantly explains). There is:

Article 1, Section 4 states that “the Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of choosing Senators.” (I believe that second clause is often left out of this quote.)

The 15th Amendment to the Constitution, ratified in 1870, expanded and reaffirmed the power of Congress to regulate federal elections, stating, “The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude” and “The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.

Indeed, Alexander Hamilton makes it very clear, in “The Federalist Papers : No. 59“, why the United States Congress (i.e. the Federal Government) must have control over federal elections. Bouie picks out two points here: 1) “Nothing can be more evident, than that an exclusive power of regulating elections for the national government, in the hands of the State legislatures, would leave the existence of the Union entirely at their mercy. They could at any moment annihilate it, by neglecting to provide for the choice of persons to administer its affairs.” And 2) “EVERY GOVERNMENT OUGHT TO CONTAIN IN ITSELF THE MEANS OF ITS OWN PRESERVATION.”

Now, Republicans can cite the 10th Amendment (which gives states all powers not explicitly given to the Federal Government in the Constitution) until they are blue (red?) in the face. The fact is, the manner in which elections for federal offices are held (including for Senators and House Representatives) is explicitly given to the Federal Government in the Constitution. This is one place where there is absolutely no chance of federal overreach.

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