“It is only when the other party is concerned or feels threatened,” the hard-left activist and political theorist Saul Alinsky wrote, “that he will listen—in the arena of action a threat or a crisis becomes almost a precondition to communication.”
COVID-19 and the economic ramifications of the subsequent lockdowns are nothing if not a serious crisis. Now some are hoping to achieve previously unattainable voting changes, such as universal mail-in balloting.
Another interesting trend has emerged as well: Calls to end the Electoral College are often paired with calls to enact mail-in voting. Are the two moves seen as serving the same end? Or are they merely two goals that would seem unachievable, but for the crisis thrust upon us?
“Abolish the electoral college,” Rep. Joe Kennedy III tweeted on April 29. “End the filibuster. Enact vote by mail.”
Other commentators remind voters they don’t have a right to vote in the presidential election on Election Day. The Constitution gives state legislatures wide discretion, and legislators could simply appoint electors directly if the pandemic is still ongoing. Legislative selection of electors hasn’t been used in decades, but now the power is spoken of again as if it could happen in 2020.
Other commentators worry that disputed election outcomes might prompt state legislatures to directly appoint electors. Meanwhile, the Supreme Court is slated to hear a case about faithless electors that Electoral College opponents hope to use to their advantage.
Is all this grumbling intended to lay the groundwork for abolishing the Electoral College? Or will a governor use his or her emergency powers to end the regular popular election, looking to the legislature to directly appoint electors? Or perhaps the people proposing such actions are simply casting a wide net and seeing what they can catch?
The governor of at least one swing state has already shown her capability for muscling past the state legislature and implementing her desired policy. Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer refused to accept a legislative decision not to extend her emergency powers on April 30. Instead, she simply declared another emergency, claiming she could extend her own powers for 28 more days.
Perhaps you won’t be surprised to hear one power that Whitmer seized as she declares emergencies. She’s expanded absentee voting for local elections in her state and has made moves towards universal mail-in voting. Although the presidential election is months away, the move is already being called a “blueprint for the presidential battleground state in November.”
Legislative debate surely would have resulted in a different answer. Some legislators doubtless agree with the governor, but others likely would have objected based on concerns over voter fraud. Or perhaps they would want to spend more time investigating best practices for mail-in voting. Others would have looked to the example set in other nations, such as South Korea, which have already successfully held in-person elections, despite the pandemic.
There is plenty of time to convene legislatures between now and November—in special sessions, if needed. State legislatures, not governors, should be making decisions about what to do and about what accommodations should or should not be made on Election Day, assuming any special accommodation is even needed.
Importantly, voters should be holding their legislators accountable to make thoughtful, rational decisions, not panic-driven or political ones. Radical changes should not be made to our election system in the heat of the moment.
America’s unique system of checks and balances protects everyone, ensuring that every voice is heard. Rule by executive fiat flies in the face of constitutional principles that have served us for centuries. Sometimes the best answer is simply to persevere through bad times—and, yes, let that serious crisis go to waste.