Tara Ross: Dems' 'ranked-choice' voting bill dangerously undermines states' rights under Constitution

If Rep. Jamie Raskin, D.-Md., and a handful of Democratic congressmen get their way, states will be forced to change the manner in which they elect their congressmen. These Democrats hope to mandate the use of “ranked-choice” voting in congressional elections nationwide.

Today, each state is in charge of itself. The Ranked Choice Voting Act would strip them of their independence.

MAINE SET TO BECOME FIRST STATE TO ALLOW RANKED VOTING IN PRESIDENTIAL ELECTION

Raskin’s proposed legislation is supported by many of the same people who wish to eliminate the electoral college. Both movements are misguided — and for many of the same reasons. Each would undermine the Constitution’s decentralized, state-by-state election processes, replacing them with one-size-fits-all nationalized procedures.

It would be a grave mistake. Decentralization is a critical element of the Constitution’s system of checks and balances.

Under Raskin’s bill, voters would rank congressional candidates in order of choice starting in 2022. If a candidate receives more than half of the first choices, he or she wins. If not, the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated and voters who picked that candidate as No. 1 have their votes counted for their next favored choice, and so on, until a candidate garners a majority of votes.

If centralizing power has become a norm, so has dissension, discord and dissatisfaction. Indeed, the further we stray from the Founders’ design, the angrier we seem to be with each other.

Individual states certainly have the right to experiment with ranked choice voting, if they so choose. However, their sister states don’t have to agree. Other states may instead see downsides: Ranked-choice voting works against coalition building and can encourage the rise of extremist third-party candidates, especially if used on a widespread basis.

Either way, each state gets to make up its own mind. By contrast, Raskin’s proposal undermines state sovereignty and thumbs its nose at the constitutional design.

The delegates to the Constitutional Convention put careful thought into the balance of power in their new government. They knew that checks and balances and separation of powers would protect liberty. Simple democracy, without such safeguards, can too easily degenerate into irrational mob rule.

When it comes to elections, the delicate balance that the Founders created between national and state governments is very much in evidence.

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State legislatures were given primary responsibility for congressional and presidential elections. Article I, Section 4 of the Constitution provides that state legislatures are to prescribe the “Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives.” Congress is given some power to “make or alter such Regulations,” but the power is secondary, as Alexander Hamilton clarified in Federalist 59.

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The states would be in charge most of the time, Hamilton explained. The national government has a “right to interpose, whenever extraordinary circumstances might render that interposition necessary to its safety.” Hamilton feared that the states could otherwise “annihilate” the federal government simply by refusing to hold elections or refusing to send representatives to Congress.

In other words, the federal government was given power to defend its own existence, but it was not intended to be the main arbiter of power in congressional elections.

Despite these concerns about self-preservation, the federal government was given even less power in presidential elections. Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution grants the states broad power to choose electors “in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct.” Meanwhile, Congress has only limited responsibilities: It “may determine the Time of chusing [sic] the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes . . . .” A joint session of Congress is authorized to count electoral votes.

The states used to take their responsibilities in elections — especially presidential elections — quite seriously.

Consider a decision made by Colorado in 1876. However shocking it might sound to modern ears, Colorado decided not to hold a presidential election that year. It was simply too expensive. The state was also facing logistical difficulties because it had just joined the Union, so Colorado’s legislature did the most expedient thing: It selected the state’s electors itself, saving the state budget from an unwanted burden.

Wyoming made its own independent decision in 1892 when it decided to let women vote. It was the first state to take such a step. Wyoming didn’t consult with New York or Pennsylvania before adopting such a measure. It simply did what it thought best.

Other examples of state independence abound.

During the three-way presidential race of 1912, some of Teddy Roosevelt’s electors were reportedly free to vote for William Howard Taft if it would prevent Woodrow Wilson from taking the presidency.

At other times, states’ ballots have featured “fusion” tickets where two or more political parties agreed to support a mixed slate of presidential electors. Vice presidential candidate Richard M. Johnson didn’t appear on Virginia’s ballot in 1836 because he was living with a slave and Virginians disapproved.

These decisions all shared a single feature: States acting in their own interests, reflecting the needs and priorities of their own citizens.

Too often today, this process has been flipped on its head: States tamely submit to centralized forces.

The national political parties, national polling agencies, the mainstream media, or even the federal government set the agenda. Decision-making is centralized more and more, and the careful balances inherent in our Constitution are increasingly ignored.

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If centralizing power has become a norm, so has dissension, discord and dissatisfaction. Indeed, the further we stray from the Founders’ design, the angrier we seem to be with each other.

Perhaps that’s no coincidence. Americans should be returning to their roots, not destroying what is left of them.

Tara Ross is a retired lawyer and author of several books about the electoral college, including “Why We Need the Electoral College” (Regnery Gateway).

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