The system's not broken

Posted: Nov 18, 2000 12:00 AM
I think we better take a deep breath before trying to fashion legislative panaceas for perceived problems with our electoral system. The uncertainty in the Florida election result is not due to a flawed system, but fallen humanity. As soon as the nation's preliminary presidential election returns suggested that the popular vote winner might lose the Electoral College vote (and thus the presidency), people, such as Hillary Clinton, began clamoring for the abolition of the Electoral College. And, after a week of witnessing the horrifyingly subjective behavior of certain "objective" county election officers (along with other vote tabulation anomalies), two presumably well-meaning congressmen have offered a magical solution. Republican Congressman Jim Leach and Democratic Congressman Peter DeFazio just introduced legislation to form a bipartisan 12-member commission to recommend how best to ensure the integrity of future federal elections. Among the issues the panel would be assigned to study would be voter registration, mail-in balloting, voting technology, ballot design, weekend voting, campaign finance reform and the rationale for the Electoral College. Leach, it should be noted, also proposed legislation earlier in the week to abolish the Electoral College. In their zeal to resolve every conceivable problem through creating more laws, Washington politicians sometimes ignore the consequences of their proposals. In their rush to fix imperfections in the election system they disregard larger principles that may be at stake. In short, they are trampling on the very heart of our constitutional framework. The United States Constitution established a system of federalism, whereby governmental power is shared between the federal and state governments. While our Constitution makes the federal government supreme over the states, it also ensures the integrity and legitimacy of the states by granting them specific rights and reserving others. The Electoral College itself is a constitutionally created institution flowing from the framers' intention to preserve states' rights. In their wisdom they conferred upon the several states the critically important power to elect the president. Both proposals before Congress -- to abolish the Electoral College and to establish an election reform commission -- would erode the power of the states. It is one thing to propose a diminution of states' rights through a constitutional amendment, such as with the Electoral College proposal. It is another thing for the federal government, through legislation, to usurp the prerogative of the states in establishing their own voting procedures. In the interest of safeguarding our federalist system, Congress must not force its will on the states in election matters, even respecting elections for federal officers, i.e., president and vice president. The problem in Florida is not with the system. It's with certain people who are engaged in a systematic effort to hijack the presidential election. The problem is not with the laws, but the people. It is time that we quit passing new laws and started obeying the laws already on the books. We are never going to achieve utopia, but we'd come a lot closer to it if we would concentrate on improving our behavior rather than our laws. This knee-jerk response of proposing new laws for every imaginable difficulty is occurring with increasing frequency in our society. We are discouraged from focusing on violations of the campaign finance laws and gun control laws currently in force in favor of passing yet more laws in those areas. Usually, advocates of new laws are trying to create a diversion from violations of existing laws. The exponential proliferation of laws and regulations has the effect of cheapening the law itself and devaluing our system. It is born from the same mindset that sanctions judicial activism -- the abhorrent practice of judges making (instead of interpreting) laws. We would all benefit immeasurably if Florida judges and election officials would interpret and follow the law wearing their judicial rather than their partisan hats. (Democrat Curt Kiser, a former Florida state senator who helped write the Florida recount law, said lawmakers only meant to allow manual recounts when vote-recounting machines failed.) The past week's regrettable events in Florida underscore the indispensability of the rule of law to our system. I daresay that this principle is even more transcendently important than the monumental decision of who becomes the next president of the United States. I wish that politicians at all levels would consider the system-damaging consequences of their sometimes well-meaning proposals. I pray that the Gore forces and their disciples will think long and hard before they continue to undermine our constitutional, legal and electoral systems.