By the end of Nov. 6, the midterm elections seemed like neither a blue wave nor a red tide. Instead, observers waded into a murky pool of doubt as vote totals slowly came in.
While the results have largely been confirmed now, election night’s real lessons emphasized how the current localized system of election administration must change.
Voting presents an ideal version of society where the people can decide who governs them. When the people vote, the representatives can govern with the assurance that they’re carrying out the people’s mandate.
Given the importance of elections to governmental legitimacy, the federal government should standardize election rules and procedures across the country.
Each election day, thousands of local precincts organize their own elections, the rules for which are largely set by local election officials who run for their own elections. While these different sets of rules theoretically mean that local officials can tailor the rules for the region, it also means the volume of voters’ voices can depend on where they live.
In New York, for example, voters must register to vote almost a full month before Election Day and then show up at their polling place on a regular work day to have their voices heard. At the same time, some states allow voters to simply vote by mail, to register on Election Day or to vote in the weeks leading up to Election Day.
These differences manifest when different states report their voter turnout totals, according to The Washington Post. States that make voting easier like Minnesota or Colorado boast consistently high voter turnout totals; in states where voters have to work hard to be heard like Tennessee or West Virginia, voter turnout often doesn’t even break 50 percent.
Beyond basic voting procedures, different states have different procedures on who can actually register to vote. In Kentucky and Iowa, residents who are convicted of a felony are forbidden from voting, but in Maine and Vermont, felons never lose their voting rights, according to Business Insider.
If someone can lose their voting rights by moving from one state to another, the system is not working properly to represent people’s voices equally.
The different policies between states stem from the way those states create them. Each state has its own Secretary of State who is elected by the people to administer the elections. Since these officials often feel obligated to appeal to a base of voters, they may face the same pitfalls as other politicians—it’s easier to win elections through politicking than through proper voting protections.
In Georgia, the Republican candidate for governor, Brian Kemp, also happened to be the Secretary of State in charge of running the election for governor. In his time in this position, he instituted rules that made it harder for black Georgians—who he believed would vote for his opponent—to vote, according to The Guardian.
Whether or not Kemp’s actions were intentionally racist, he used his office to suppress voters’ voices to increase his own chances of winning.
Kansas also had its own Secretary of State, Kris Kobach, who tried to use voter suppression tactics in his run for governor. Kobach was so devoted to his mission of voter suppression that a federal judge ruled that some of his actions as Kansas Secretary of State broke state and federal law, according to The New York Times.
He behaved so poorly during the proceedings that the judge also found Kobach in contempt of court, ordering that he pay a portion of the plaintiffs’ legal fees, The Kansas City Star reported. Either way, Kobach’s character and court case did not prevent him from trying to pave the way for his own gubernatorial victory.
In fact, flagrant self-interest has not seemed to stop any state’s Secretary of State. If officials cannot avoid the temptations of corruption, election administration should be taken out of their hands.
To prevent individual states and self-interested administrators from violating voter’s voices, Congress should create a non-partisan commission or a cabinet-level position that devotes itself to maintaining fair, free and secure elections in every state.
The person or people in charge should be appointed in the way the Director of the FBI or chairperson of the Federal Reserve is—someone who can come from experience in the subject and rises above partisan squabbles.
The first step to addressing problems across the political divide should be ensuring that all citizens can have their voices heard. The current system, which creates disparities between states and allows officials to run roughshod over their constituents voting rights, must change.