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The politically charged events of the past several months do not denigrate important matters related to election integrity that arose from irregular actions that state officials took before, during, and after the 2020 election.
The U.S. Supreme Court has indicated that it will consider several high-profile election lawsuits at its February conference. With a new president inaugurated and an impeachment trial of the former president concluded, it is now an appropriate time for the court to examine and rule on which government entity holds the constitutional authority to enact and make changes to election law. Doing so will help restore confidence in the manner in which we exercise our most basic right as citizens, while also helping to unite a divided country.
The U.S. Constitution is explicit; state legislatures have exclusive authority to determine election laws. Article I, Section 4, clause one very clearly states, “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections … shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof.” Article II, Section 1, clause two provides that “each State shall appoint, in such Manner as the Legislature thereof may direct,” electors for president and vice president.
The Supreme Court has upheld such authority as recently as 2000, when Justices William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia, and Clarence Thomas explained in their concurring opinion of Bush v. Gore that the Constitution “conveys the broadest power of determination” and “leaves it to the legislature exclusively to define the method” of conducting presidential elections. Later, they indicated that “in a Presidential election, the clearly expressed intent of the legislature must prevail” and that “a significant departure from the legislative scheme for appointing Presidential electors presents a federal constitutional question.”
Several of the cases under consideration from the Supreme Court involve Pennsylvania, where it is evident the executive and judicial branches of the state government usurped the legislature’s exclusive constitutional authority to change election law. These changes included accepting ballots past 8 p.m. on Election Day, inconsistent application of verified signature requirements for in-person ballots versus mail-in ballots, and authorizing the curing of mail-in ballots in certain counties.
State election officials have contended that unique challenges posed by the pandemic necessitated these actions, but the fact remains that no matter the magnitude of the crisis, the law must be followed. In this instance, it was not. The people deserve a definitive answer as to whether extenuating circumstances, such as a pandemic, provide legitimate cause for authorities to supersede the will of state legislatures. Judicial precedent suggests that the authority of state legislatures in determining election law is absolute, but given the chaotic environment surrounding the 2020 election, an updated ruling from the court on the matter is necessary.
Some have mischaracterized efforts to seek judicial clarity on this issue as an attempt to overturn the results of the 2020 election or promote conspiracy theories as to why a certain outcome transpired. This could not be further from the truth. The election is over, President Biden has taken office, and a ruling from the court would serve to acknowledge that the concerns of millions have been addressed. The implications of such a decision are also significant for candidates of any political affiliation moving forward. We cannot allow partisan government officials, whether Republican or Democrat, to disregard long-standing precedent and change election laws.
Elections are not immune from unexpected disruptions, but laws must stand firm no matter who is in charge, who is on the ballot, or what contingencies might arise. Come what may, it is squarely the responsibility of state legislatures to direct the process for the state’s election. It is now imperative the U.S. Supreme Court affirm this role and for legislators to assume it by working to review election procedures and safeguarding the integrity of future elections in the process.
Dan Meuser serves as U.S. Representative for Pennsylvania’s 9th Congressional District.
This column originally appeared in Washington Examiner.