August 13, 2017

Sina-cism: An integrity commission that has none

Print More

Flickr / Gage Skidmore

President Trump

I’m not nearly as much into baseball these days as I was in my youth, but I have to admit I am enjoying watching some hardball this summer — the kind going on between the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity and several states.

Chris Sinacola

Chris Sinacola

The commission was created May 11 by the signature of President Donald Trump, who seems as incredulous about Hillary Clinton’s 2.85-million-vote margin in the popular vote as many Americans are incredulous about his 77-vote victory in the Electoral College.

The commission’s purported mission is to ensure the fairness and integrity of the electoral process by collecting detailed electoral and demographic data.

Now, from a mathematical perspective, it is surely true not every one of the more than 130 million ballots cast last November was legitimate. Americans move a lot. Municipal voting records are not always up to date. Clerical errors are made. Even machines err.

But mathematics also assures us that however many ballots were illegitimate, it wasn’t remotely close to 2.85 million. This Washington Post piece makes the case for why the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity is an absurdity. Democrats did not “steal” the popular vote — a meaningless concept — any more than Republicans stole the Electoral College.

The reason for Clinton’s popular vote margin is demographic. More than half of Americans now live in cities, where a majority of voters lean left and usually vote Democratic. In any close election, places like San Francisco, Chicago and New York will produce outsized Democratic victory margins in normally blue states — 4.2 million votes in Clinton’s favor in California alone in 2016! But close elections will always be decided in a handful of battleground states.

It is obvious — even to the president, I believe — that no electoral integrity commission is necessary. Why, then, has Trump insisted upon one? Why did he tweet on July 1 of the states resisting or refusing the commission’s requests: “What are they trying to hide?”

The reason is not exactly a partisan one, for Trump is no more the Republican he claims to be today than the Democrat he claimed to be years ago. It seems to me a toxic mix of petulance, a taste for divisiveness, and a serious misunderstanding of the responsibilities incumbent upon a president.

It’s not that Trump’s commission lacks the legal authority to ask for records. A federal judge in late July made clear that it has such authority. The point, rather, is that not all that is legally permissible is a good idea. U.S. federalism leaves the election of presidents to the states. It is simply not the business of Washington, D.C., to micromanage the process.

Mariano: The 5 stages of Trump

It is instructive here to recall the reasoning that informed the Supreme Court’s Bush v. Gore ruling, which on Dec. 12, 2000, put an end to 37 days of uncertainty that had followed the 2000 election.

Democrats like to say the court “gave” the election to Bush. That is not correct. What the justices said — by a 7-2 margin — was that Florida’s method of recounting ballots, because it varied county to county, was not consistent with the Constitution’s Equal Protection Clause.

“None are more conscious of the vital limits on judicial authority than are the Members of this Court,” the majority opinion reads. “And none stand more in admiration of the Constitution’s design to leave the selection of the President to the people, through their legislatures, and to the political sphere. When contending parties invoke the process of the courts, however, it becomes our unsought responsibility to resolve the federal and constitutional issues the judicial system has been forced to confront.”

The majority in Bush v. Gore exhibited judicial wisdom and a proper understanding of Constitutional balance. The court remanded the case to Florida “… for further proceedings not inconsistent with this opinion.” It did not explicitly bar recounts.

Of course, Florida by then lacked the time or means to conduct any recount that would have been consistent with the Constitution and in keeping with the requirements of the Electoral College. Notably, even the defeated party to the dispute, Al Gore, had had enough.

The question, nearly 17 years later, is whether we Americans have had enough of the post-election bellyaching of a victorious president.

Several states, including Massachusetts, have cited state laws in refusing the commission’s requests. I hope all 50 find a way to say no. In so doing, they will be reinforcing federalism and protecting electoral integrity more surely than Trump’s commission can ever hope to do.

Chris Sinacola is a Worcester Sun columnist. His observations on politics, current events, history and more appear every Sunday.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *