In case you didn’t know, elections are complicated things for government administrators to pull off. The margin for error, after all, is pretty slim. Screw it up and you could be messing with the will of the people. And you might even make national news.
Getting ready for this fall’s first-ever simultaneous city and school board elections has Jenny Hillary, Dubuque County deputy commissioner of elections, poring over intricate plans, making sure every ballot is in its place.
Having both entities share an election day will likely save money in the long term and could promote increased turnout. But it also creates added complications for Dubuque County officials.
Some precincts will have a large increase in the number of types of ballots, each containing a different combination of municipal and school district races or measures. Precinct 42, for example, at Sts. Peter and Paul School in Sherrill will have eight different types of ballots. Although Sherrill boasts a population of just 179 people, residents of Balltown, Durango, Rickardsville and Sageville all vote at the school. And while half the precinct falls into the Dubuque Community School District, half falls into the Western Dubuque Community School District.
In Dubuque, it’s further complicated because primary elections will be held in two races for ward council seats, so those ballots won’t be set until that vote on Oct. 8 — a day before early voting is set to begin.
Still, county officials have a game plan well in hand. They already know they will need more volunteers to make sure everyone gets the right ballot. They are handling it.
Contrast that scenario with an election on the federal level — like, for instance, the one about to take place in 14 months. At that level, there’s all kinds of new complications like enforcing and advising on campaign finance laws. It will require the skill of a maestro to orchestrate all the moving parts of a national election and guard against impropriety. And who does the United States have leading the charge on that front? Well, no one, at the moment.
On the national front, an independent agency, the Federal Election Commission, is tasked with enforcing campaign laws and ensuring the integrity of elections and campaigns. As of last week, that group no longer has a vice chairman. And, more importantly, with the resignation of Matthew Petersen, the commission no longer has a quorum.
The seven-member FEC was limping along with three vacancies before the latest resignation. Additionally, the three remaining members are all working beyond their terms. Without a quorum, the FEC can no longer hold meetings, issue fines, conduct audits or make rules. Effectively, the Federal Election Commission is de facto defunct.
You might also recall, this would seem to be a pretty important time for a bipartisan commission such as this one to be keeping an eye on our elections. We have heard from multiple federal law enforcement officials that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election and are most assuredly doing so again.
Yet, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has not approved a new member for the FEC since he took up his post in 2015. President Donald Trump has sent on only one nomination — two years ago, and the Senate has not acted on that nomination.
Now, local election officials will still be the ones getting ballots in front of voters in the 2020 election, and we’re glad to know they are used to complicated elections. But the federal government really needs to get its house in order and staff the FEC so that our nation’s campaign finance laws are upheld and other elections protocols are followed. The ebbing transparency in the federal elections process is disheartening.