Live-blogging Congressional power to ensure fair federal elections: January 28, 1869

Live-blogging Congressional power to ensure fair federal elections: January 28, 1869

As I described in my earlier post today, the power of Congress to determine the manner in which Congressional elections are to be conducted, including power over the districting process, came up in a speech by Rep. Stewart on January 28, 1869. Since this is of critical importance as to Congress’s ability to prohibit gerrymandering of at least Federal elections, below are selections from another important speech.

James B. Beck, Democrat from Kentucky, discussing the proposed Civil Rights Act, addressed the issue of Congress having the power to set the “time, place, and manner” of voting for Representatives. After declaiming at length about the States having the right to determine who formed their electorate, and to determine the times, places, and manner for elections to the State legislatures, he turned to the issue of elections for the US Congress:

If the State legislatures refuse to fix a time for holding such elections [for US Congress], or fix an improper time; if they fail to designate places or to authorize them to be designated, or if they are unsuitable or inadequate, or if they fail to appoint or cause to be appointed suitable persons to conduct and determine the result of such election, or in any regard fail to conduct them in a proper manner, I take it to be not only the right but the duty of Congress by proper laws to provide the proper times, places, and manner of conducting such elections, which, when complied with by the electors in the States, will entitle the Representatives chosen by them in conformity thereto to take their seats in Congress …. That seems to me to be the whole scope, intent, and meaning of the constitutional provision [i.e., Article I, Section 4].

This is a much more cramped reading than that given by Congressman Stewart earlier that same day. To the point, it is unclear to say the least whether the reforms of 1842 which outlawed Statewide general ticket elections for Congress and replaced them with individual districts, would fit within the confines of Beck’s reasoning.

But even Beck agreed that if the states “fail to designate places … or if they are unsuitable or inadequate” for Congressional elections, Congress could and indeed ought to intervene.
Since one form of modern voter suppression is to provide inadequate numbers of polling places, or put them in places difficult to reach, or to provide inadequate equipment at those places where “undesired” voters will cast votes, Congressional action to remove these impediments under Congress’s Article I, Section 4 power is squarely within even Beck’s interpretation.
Source: Congressional Globe, 4oth Congress, 3rd Session, p. 689.