Op-Ed by Larry Schweikart
Thomas Jefferson was a very smart guy. Maybe James Madison, when it came to politics, or Ben Franklin was his better in areas of science but overall, Jefferson was one of the most intelligent of our Founders. His concern over the dominance of elites is today well-confirmed.
But in other ways, Jefferson had some blind spots. For example, his deal with James Madison to relocate the nation’s capital to a federal district in Virginia—so that Virginia would have disproportionate control of government—has now completely backfired. As of today, the state of Virginia went for Joe Biden over Donald Trump by about the same margin it had in 2016, or about 400,000 votes. These are overwhelmingly and disproportionately voters from Northern Virginia, which contains numerous suburban communities of government employees. It was NOVA that overcame a large Trump lead in 2016 to hand Hillary Clinton a late-hour victory.
Both Jefferson and Madison believed that power was best focused at the local and state level. Hence Madison fought hard in the drafting of the Constitution for a federal system that incorporated important protections for state authority. At state levels, the legislatures were invested with power, usually at the expense of the governors. It was always assumed the state legislatures were the ultimate source of authority as an extension of the people.
How did that work out?
By the late 20th century, state legislatures were often too busy or too partisan to even handle their own redistricting as required by the Constitution. Today, some 21 states have redistricting commissions. In large part, this was so that the party in power didn’t look “mean” for seizing the very power given it by the electorate to advance its political views. And then, there’s the work aspect: redrawing the lines for the U.S. House districts is flat-out hard work. There are lots of compromises to be made, political capital to be expended that might be better used elsewhere. Why not just let a commission do it?
So the very voters who, say, elected Republicans in Arizona to protect their (Republican) majority wake up when the map is redrawn to find their elected representatives had foisted the job off on another body—which may have anything but the well-being of the majority voters of the state in mind.
Redistricting is the least of the legislatures’ failures. It’s one thing to look at California, whose legislators are fully in lock-step with the insane Gavin Newsome, but it’s quite another to witness the impotence of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and Wisconsin lawmakers in stopping or even slowing down their governors’ outrageous lock-downs and China Virus responses. Did a single lock down legislature impeach its governor? Did a single lock-down legislature get rid of mask mandates? You see the problem. The legislatures simply did not stand up for ordinary citizens and freedoms.
In the sphere of voting, however, the legislatures have failed miserably. Not only have most failed to require solid identification and tracking procedures, but California’s legislature has all but invited the population of Mexico to hop on over the wall and vote in America’s elections. Kentucky is an exception: The Bluegrass State has implemented a system of ensuring that dead people get removed from voter rolls upon their final ride to the netherworld. Other states have boxes that can be checked on voter registration forms that allow you to volunteer to have your name removed from the voter roll upon your death. (I’m not sure how the state knows you’re dead: Gary Busey, for example, might be removed by mistake in these states).
Where the state legislatures have failed miserably—and where federalism has failed in giving them this authority—is in managing their elections. You cannot blame George Soros or CNN or the Democrat Party for the problems with early voting, whereby we now have a literal “voting season” that is longer than some states’ deer hunting season. Voters today have weeks in some states to vote. There is absentee voting, vote-by-mail, walk-in early voting, and election day voting, all thanks to the desire on the part of legislators to appear to be “inclusive.” The result is election month. And the secondary result is more time for vote fraud. In the 2020 election, turning what had in the past been a largely ineffective exercise into an all-out Steal-the-Vote campaign. As of this writing, it remains to be seen if the Democrats get away with it. If they do, however, they were merely inept burglars walking into an unguarded house with diamonds and cash sitting on the table behind an open door with a sign saying, “Take me.”
State malfeasance involving the expansion of election day to the equivalent of a pregnancy will likely never be fixed by states themselves. Now, about the only way to rescue the actual election day is through a Constitutional Amendment prohibiting voting (other than under strict, specified guidelines for absentees) on any day but election day in federal elections. And getting that will be akin to Elon Musk putting a Tesla on Mars.
When it comes to policing actual election fraud, the states again are the culprits, not the crime fighters. One look at Pennsylvania and its mimeograph-vote-printing machinery and you understand that in this sense as well, federalism has failed.
Or we could look at the riots. President Trump, easily the most “federalist” president ever, yielded control of the cities to the governors and mayors. Ted Wheeler and Lori Lightfoot (“Beetlejuice!”) have shown the wisdom of that. If and when he wins a second term, President Trump will have to make a tough decision on whether to violate the posse comitatus act in order to protect innocent civilians in places such as Portland, Chicago, Seattle, and Minneapolis—because their local governments clearly can’t or won’t do it. Redeemer Reconstruction governments had nothing on our major urban areas for handing over helpless citizens to feral gangs. Meanwhile, the mayors and governors have closed churches, businesses, bars, restaurants, and health clubs (while leaving pot dispensaries and mosques open) in deference to the China Virus, once again demonstrating their utter contempt for the Bill of Rights.
So, the next time someone wants to sing Jefferson’s praises, or wax romantically about “local power,” remember 2020. Actually, how could you forget?
Larry Schweikart is the co-author of the New York Times #1 bestseller, A Patriot’s History of the United States, author of Reagan: the American President, and founder of the Wild World of History, a history curriculum website with full courses in US and World history including teacher’s guide, student workbooks, maps/graphs/charts, tests and answer keys, and video lessons accompanying every unit (www.wildworldofhistory.com).