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Books Because Murder Is Wrong Shirt, hoodie, tank top
The father of the Constitution wasn’t having it.
On August 7, 1787, toward the end of what would become known as the Constitutional Convention, the delegates debated what powers state legislatures and the Congress would have when it came to federal election administration. Some delegates in Philadelphia wanted state legislatures to have complete control over the time, places, and manner of federal elections. They worried about centralized power, an overzealous and suffocating federal government.
But James Madison disagreed. He worried about state and local machinations. The diminutive Virginia slave master worried aloud that it was “impossible to foresee all the abuses that might be made of the discretionary power” to control election rules. He worried about corruption. “Whenever the State Legislatures had a favorite measure to carry,” he said, “they would take care so to mould their regulations as to favor the candidates they wished to succeed.”
Madison eventually would win the argument, and Congress would get its veto power. Under the Constitution’s Elections Clause, state legislatures would be responsible for running federal elections, but “the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.”
Madison has proven prescient. Throughout American history, state legislatures have wielded their powers to determine which Americans were deemed worthy enough to cast a ballot and give their consent to be governed. Nowhere was this clearer than in the Jim Crow South, where legislatures, with malice and artifice, took away the voting rights that millions of black men gained after the Civil War.
But this history has not ended. In the aftermath of a divisive election marked by allegations of widespread voter fraud, which led to the storming of the Capitol to overturn a free and fair election, Republican state legislators across the country continue to prove Madison’s distrust correct.