We need federal control of federal elections

Wednesday March 13, 2013

The March 7 opinion page column by Robert F. Jakubowicz regarding the challenge to portions of the federal Civil Rights Act now pending before the Supreme Court of the United States is most informative and incisively accurate ("No case for election law changes.") It serves also to give rise to consideration of a fundamental shortcoming in the form of our federal government which the Act seeks to address in part.

Why is it that we have left control over the selection of our federal elected officials for the most part to the states and not to the federal government? For the answer we must look to the birth certificate of our country, the Constitution of the United States.

More than two centuries ago, the framers of our Constitution earnestly proclaimed their desire, among other things, "to form a more perfect union." The major, almost insurmountable, obstacle to forming such a union of then independent states was the existence of black slavery in some of those states and bitter opposition to it in others. That deep division between slavery and freedom was temporarily compromised, at least in part, by preserving for the then- minority of states in which slavery was permitted some control over the means of selecting the holders of the offices created by the new Constitution. As a result, for many years a minority of national voters in a minority of the states were able to perpetuate slavery.

For those of us who despise racism and abhor slavery, that compromise was part of a devil's bargain. The fruit it ultimately bore were decades of the degradation of innocent human beings because of their race; four years of a bloody war of rebellion by the slave states; and thereafter decades of discriminatory oppression in those states of the former rebellion. The Voting Rights Act, a portion of which is now challenged in the Supreme Court by one of the counties in a former state of rebellion, has had a noble history as an attempt to remedy part of the bitter fruit of that original devil's bargain. But, whether it survives constitutional review or not, it is not enough.

What then is the necessary total remedy? We, the people, deserve federal control over elections to federal offices. That control ought to include at least the following: Central federal registration of eligible federal voters; the setting of times and places of voting to fill vacancies in federal offices; the creation of federal election courts; the supervising of counting the votes and recording the results of federal elections; the nationalizing of the election of the president and vice president by abolishing the Electoral College and providing for equality of the vote of each voter; the limiting of the number of members of the House of Representatives and the reapportionment of the boundaries of each representative district so that each district has approximately an equal number of votes. The list could go on. A more perfect union will not be preserved by a minority of the voters in a minority of the states.

Do I advocate a whole new revised federal Constitution? In this respect, it's way past time. We must do our utmost to end undemocratic disproportionate representation in our federal government finally and once and for all.


Great Barrington

The writer is a retired associate justice of the Superior Court of Rhode Island.


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