Federalizing Elections Doesn’t Make Much Sense and Won’t Save Democracy
Arctic Village, Alaska, is about as remote a spot as you’ll find in the United States. Tucked into a sweeping bend in the east fork of the Chandalar River, Arctic Village and its roughly 150 full-time residents live more than 100 miles from the nearest “metropolis”—that would be Fort Yukon, Alaska. Population: 582.
And yet, under the terms of a sweeping federal elections bill that hit a wall in the Senate on Tuesday evening, Arctic Village would have been required to keep its polling place open for 10 hours every day for at least 15 days prior to every future federal election.
“The whole town could practically vote in an hour,” Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R–Alaska), pointed out Tuesday during a speech on the Senate floor that deconstructed some of the practical issues with the sprawling For The People Act. “When you nationalize something—when you have federal overall oversight—it ends up being a one-size-fits-all mandate coming out of Washington, D.C., that in many cases doesn’t work in a place like Alaska.”
Federalizing control over elections is a major goal of the bill, which would give federal officials a much-expanded role in regulating things that states have always been left to decide, like when polling places are open and how much early voting occurs. But in a country as diverse as America, one set of rules doesn’t make sense everywhere. A possible solution to long lines at polling places in Atlanta creates a ridiculous and expensive mandate in places like Arctic Village.
“The bill that we have in front of us is not so much about voting rights as it is a federal takeover of the election system, and a partisan federal takeover of the election system,” Murkowski said Tuesday. A few hours later, she joined the 49 other Republican members of the Senate in voting against a procedural maneuver that would have allowed the bill to come to the floor for debate—a vote that effectively kills the For The People Act’s chance of passing into law anytime soon. (It cleared the House in March.)
The bill is a response to what Democrats see—with good reason, in some cases—as Republican-led attempts to undermine voting rights in some states. Efforts to disenfranchise voters should be steadfastly opposed at the state level, but senators like Murkowski are rightly hesitant to use the hammer of federal law to accomplish that goal.
That’s not only because of the silly mandates it would impose on places like Arctic
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