Commentary: States should run elections; bad laws can be taken to court

Many years ago, it was common thinking that voting was a privilege. If a bit of effort was required to exercise that privilege, that was actually a good thing.

I remember writing a column back in the 70s or 80s stating that I preferred people to vote who thought voting was important enough to jump through a few hoops to register and vote. I remember writing that requiring expenditure of a little effort meant people who voted would be more likely to have studied the candidates and issues and would make thoughtful and informed choices. That would result in better people being elected and better governance. 

If I wrote such things today, or expressed them in polite company, I would be accused of being a racist, a bigot and a troglodyte.

But back then, most people felt that if you took the privilege to vote seriously, you would be willing register in person at a registration location. You would be willing to show up at a polling place within certain hours to vote on election day. You could vote absentee, but you had to have a good reason to be absent and you had to request a ballot in advance. I can’t remember for sure, but I believe you had to show government-issued ID, or your voter identification card.

In those days, election security didn’t seem to be a big issue. No one worried about dead people voting, ballot harvesting, or phony ballots being mailed in.

We’ve come a long way, baby.

I actually like Utah’s current voting procedures, so I guess I have repented of my previous intolerant thinking. Today it is very easy to register and vote. I recently moved from Salt Lake County to Box Elder County and it was simple to register in my new location. I like getting the mail-in ballot in advance of elections and having plenty of time to study and candidates and issues on the ballot.

All of this is very relevant, of course, because passionate election procedure controversies are boiling at both state and federal levels. A lot of Democrats and progressives, including Pres. Biden, Major League Baseball and other big corporations, are vastly overreacting to Georgia’s sensible, mainstream voting procedures law.

In one of the most overblown statements of his presidency, Biden said the Georgia law was “Jim Crow on steroids.” Even the Washington Post gave Biden “four Pinocchios” for saying the law restricts voting hours. It does nothing of the sort. Its provisions are common in many states. In fact, Delaware, Biden’s home state, has more restrictive voting requirements than the Georgia law. 

The law has been criticized as racist by progressives because some sort of official ID is required to vote. Many other states have similar requirements. A number of black conservatives, including Sen. Tim Scott, say that white and black liberals are guilty of “soft bigotry of low expectations” by assuming that black people are incapable of showing ID to vote. ID, of course, is required for many purposes, including getting on an airplane and visiting the Capitol or the White House.

Scott said critics of Georgia’s law are weaponizing race and devaluing real civil rights problems. Blacks are certainly able to handle the low bar for voting that exist in most states, he said. Liberals today are making everything about race.

Meanwhile, at the federal level, Democrats may pass a voting rights law that completely federalizes election procedures. It would be one of the largest usurpations of state responsibilities in history. Progressives are poised to run roughshod over state laws, creating unnecessary division and anger.

States are fully capable of running elections. Yes, there were challenges in 2020 trying to quickly make big changes to allow maximum participation in the midst of a pandemic. But all states learned a lot and many of the laws now being proposed are designed to facilitate more remote voting while still maintaining voting integrity.

I agreed with Democrats who criticized former Pres. Trump for attempting to override state election certifications. State election results ought to be honored. But now Pres. Biden and congressional Democrats are planning to do even worse, completely taking over state election procedures.

Certainly, if the federal government believes a state’s voting laws violate constitutional civil rights, then it should challenge that law in court. But the way to do it is through the judicial system, not by passing a sweeping law that overturns voting and redistricting processes across the country.