Time to End Early Voting and the Lame Duck Congress

Two problematic practices that skew or ignore the results.

“Vote: The instrument and symbol of a free man’s power to make a fool of himself and a wreck of his country.” —American author Ambrose Bierce

There are two dynamics in the modern American political landscape that have combined to act as a steady eroding current on the foundational rock of Liberty. One is the lame duck session of Congress that occurs every two years, and the other is the relatively new push for early voting. One skews the results, and one ignores the results.

With the lame duck session, politicians who are retiring or have been voted out of office have one last chance to stick it to the voters, knowing they won’t face another election where they will have to answer to their constituents. Really, really bad legislation has a habit of getting passed during the lame duck session.

In the lame duck of 2010, following the political earthquake that was the Tea Party revolution, which saw Democrats demolished at the polls in a historic fashion after passing the so-called “stimulus” bill, ObamaCare, and other items on the leftist wish list, outgoing Democrats (with the aid of a few dependably undependable Republicans) took one final shot at their countrymen. Democrats extended unemployment benefits up to nearly two years, repealed “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” (the prohibition against open homosexuals in the military established under Bill Clinton, the repeal of which changed the focus of our military from being the world’s finest fighting force to a social experiment in the normalization of sexual deviancy and mental illness), and passed the New START treaty, which in practice forced the U.S. to reduce the size of our nuclear arsenal while allowing Russia to keep, and even expand, its own.

In 2012, with Republicans demoralized after the defeat of Mitt Romney in the presidential election, the lame duck session yielded “the largest tax increase in history,” a $620 billion hike passed by the Democrat-controlled Senate at 2:00 a.m. on New Year’s Day, and signed by Obama while he was vacationing (yet again) in Hawaii.

The lame duck session of Congress was a rare occurrence until 2000, with only 13 such sessions between 1940 and 2000, nearly always for the purpose of addressing emergencies. Since 2000, there has been a lame duck session in every Congress, but rather than dealing with emergencies, they have been used to push through agenda items that were not dealt with during the regular session. While hundreds of millions of Americans are trying to enjoy the holidays, Congress has taken advantage of their distraction to pass amnesty measures for illegals, new regulations, and confirm controversial judges to the bench with lifetime appointments. This year, conservatives fear it may get even worse, even with Republicans at the helm.

In short, politicians have used the lame duck session to pass legislation that is unpopular with the American people. It may be time to end the lame duck session altogether, as it was once significantly limited by the passage of the 20th Amendment.

The other troubling election issue is early voting. In recent years, more and more states have passed or expanded early voting laws. North Carolinians can start casting votes this Friday, nearly two months before Election Day. Alabamians get to start voting next week, and voters in Minnesota and South Dakota can cast ballots a week and a half later. All told, voters in two-thirds of the states can cast ballots before Election Day.

In order to maintain our constitutional republic we must have a citizenry that is informed and engaged, one which takes seriously its obligation to be thoroughly versed in the philosophy and form of our government, and its mechanisms.

Instead, we have a nation where depressingly high numbers of citizens are simply ignorant about America’s history and political system; where barely a third (36%) can name all three branches of government, and roughly a quarter (27%) know that it takes a two-thirds vote of Congress to override a veto.

And yet politicians work tirelessly to register as many people to vote as possible, and get them to lock in their votes as early as possible. Nearly a third of votes cast in 2012 came before Election Day, which prompts some questions: With so many voters voting so early, what if something happens to make them change their mind? And how early can early voting get before it becomes ludicrous?

As National Review’s Jim Geraghty sarcastically observes, early voters are stuck if, “in the final debate, Hillary Clinton has a sudden mental breakdown and begins barking like a dog. (Again.) Or imagine that Donald Trump declares that he loves reading Hitler’s speeches, or some other statement completely beyond the pale. Some voters would suddenly realize they had already cast a ballot for a candidate they cannot abide, and there is no way to un-do their decision.”

True, the same can often be said for officials after they’re elected, but elections are our primary chance to weigh all the available facts and make an informed decision.

In our republic, voting is a sacred privilege, and one in which all Americans should be encouraged to participate. But more importantly, we must demand that voters have a minimum level of civic knowledge in order to participate. Early voting and lame duck sessions of Congress have caused much damage to our national well-being, and if voters are informed, they may just decide to end both.

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