The term “Elections Clause” refers to Art. 1, § 4, cl. 1, of the United States Constitution that reads as follows: “The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but Congress may at any time make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Place of chusing Senators.”

Reference Desk

Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67, 69 (1997):

The Elections Clause of the Constitution, Art. I, § 4, cl. 1, provides that “[t]he Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations.” The Clause is a default provision; it invests the States with responsibility for the mechanics of congressional elections, see Storer v. Brown, 415 U. S. 724, 730 (1974), but only so far as Congress declines to pre-empt state legislative choices, see Roudebush v. Hartke, 405 U. S. 15, 24 (1972) (“Unless Congress acts, Art. I, § 4, empowers the States to regulate”). Thus it is well settled that the Elections Clause grants Congress “the power to override state regulations” by establishing uniform rules for federal elections, binding on the States. U. S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U. S. 779, 832-833 (1995). “[T]he regulations made by Congress are paramount to those made by the State legislature; and if they conflict therewith, the latter, so far as the conflict extends, ceases to be operative.” Ex parte Siebold, 100 U. S. 371, 384 (1880).

Millsaps v. Thompson, 259 F.3d 535, 538-40 (6th Cir. 2001):

III. The Elections Clause of the United States Constitution

The Elections Clause of the United States Constitution states:

“The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing Senators.”
U.S. Const. art. I, § 4, cl. 1. Likewise the counterpart to the Elections Clause for the Executive Branch provides: “The Congress may determine the Time of chusing the Electors, and the Day on which they shall give their Votes; which Day shall be the same throughout the United States.” Id. art. II, § 1, cl. 3.

On numerous occasions the Supreme Court has expounded the meaning of these clauses. Under the Elections Clause, “the states are given[] and in fact exercise wide discretion in the formulation of a system for the choice by the people of representatives in Congress.” United States v. Classic, 313 U.S. 299, 311, 61 S.Ct. 1031, 85 L.Ed. 1368 (1941). The power of the States to prescribe the 539*539 “times, places and manner” for electing federal representatives encompasses nearly every procedural facet of a federal election.

“It cannot be doubted that these comprehensive words embrace authority to provide a complete code for congressional elections, not only as to times and places, but in relation to notices, registration, supervision of voting, protection of voters, prevention of fraud and corrupt practices, counting of votes, duties of inspectors and canvassers, and making and publication of election returns; in short, to enact the numerous requirements as to procedure and safeguards which experience shows are necessary in order to enforce the fundamental right involved…. All this is comprised in the subject of ‘times, places and manner of holding elections[.]'”

Smiley v. Holm, 285 U.S. 355, 366, 52 S.Ct. 397, 76 L.Ed. 795 (1932). Of course, Congress can override state election regulations pursuant to its power to “make or alter such regulations.” Cook v. Gralike, 531 U.S. 510, 121 S.Ct. 1029, 1038, 149 L.Ed.2d 44 (2001). This “make or alter” power sweeps broadly. Ex Parte Siebold, 100 U.S. 371, 387, 25 L.Ed. 717 (1879) (“Congress, by its power to make or alter the regulations, has a general supervisory power over the whole subject[.]”). “The phrase `such regulations’ plainly refers to regulations of the same general character that the legislature of the State is authorized to prescribe with respect to congressional elections. In exercising this power, the Congress may supplement these state regulations or may substitute its own.” Smiley, 285 U.S. at 366-67, 52 S.Ct. 397. In short, the Elections Clause of the Constitution “is a default provision; it invests the States with responsibility for the mechanics of congressional elections, but only so far as Congress declines to preempt state legislative choices.” Foster v. Love, 522 U.S. 67, 69, 118 S.Ct. 464, 139 L.Ed.2d 369 (1997) (citations omitted).

By creating a congressional check on the power of the States to regulate federal elections, the Framers sought to curb the potential for abuses by the States and to give the nascent national government the power to preserve itself. U.S. Term Limits, Inc. v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 808-09, 115 S.Ct. 1842, 131 L.Ed.2d 881 (1995) (collecting quotes from James Madison, Gouverneur Morris, and Alexander Hamilton expressing concern that by regulating federal elections the States could manipulate their outcome or cripple the functioning of the national government). See also id. at 863, 894, 115 S.Ct. 1842 (Thomas, J., dissenting) (providing additional evidence from other contemporaneous writings that the “make or alter” power afforded Congress the means to support the national government and prevent dissolution of the Union). Without a congressional override the Framers feared that the existence of the federal government would depend upon the willingness of the States to hold federal elections. Id.See also The Federalist No. 59 (Alexander Hamilton). Additionally, for the Framers federal uniformity assured that States did not conspire to time elections so as to deprive Congress of a quorum. 9 Documentary History of the Ratification of the Constitution 920 (J. Kaminski & G. Saladino eds., 1990) (arguing that if the States chose the times for holding congressional elections “there might have been as many times of choosing as there are States,” and “such intervals might elapse between the first and last election, as to prevent there being a sufficient number to form a House”) (remarks of George Nicholas at the Virginia ratifying convention). Accordingly, the Elections Clause gives Congress “the capacity to prescribe both the date and the mechanics of congressional 540*540 elections.” Thornton, 514 U.S. at 894, 115 S.Ct. 1842 (Thomas, J., dissenting). Other Framers justified the Clause on the ground that federal elections should be “held on the same day throughout the United States, to prevent corruption or undue influence.” 2 Elliot’s Debates 535 (J. Elliot ed., 1937) (remarks of Thomas McKean at the Pennsylvania ratifying convention).[1]

Judge v. Quinn, 612 F.3d 537, 552-53 (7th Cir. 2010):

The Proviso and the Elections Clause. The notion that state legislatures play an essential role in promulgating the law that governs congressional elections also has deep roots. There is now a body of federal law that concerns congressional elections, e.g., 2 U.S.C. §§ 1-9, but the states continue to control many aspects of federal elections. This is consistent with the proviso in the Seventeenth Amendment. The phrase “as the legislature may 553*553 direct” affirms that the amendment was not intended to change the Elections Clause of the original Constitution, U.S. CONST. art. I, § 4, cl. 1; after all, the Seventeenth Amendment, as a later enactment, might have modified it. Under the Elections Clause, the states have “`broad power’ to prescribe the procedural mechanisms for holding congressional elections,” Cook v. Gralike, 531 U.S. 510, 523, 121 S.Ct. 1029, 149 L.Ed.2d 44 (2001) (quoting Tashjian v. Republican Party of Connecticut, 479 U.S. 208, 217, 107 S.Ct. 544, 93 L.Ed.2d 514 (1986)), limited only by Congress’s power to “make or alter such Regulations,” U.S. CONST. art. I, § 4, cl. 1; Buckley v. Valeo, 424 U.S. 1, 131-32 & n. 174, 96 S.Ct. 612, 46 L.Ed.2d 659 (1976). But the Elections Clause does not just empower; it “expressly requires action by the States” when it comes to regulations for congressional elections. U.S. Term Limits v. Thornton, 514 U.S. 779, 804-05, 115 S.Ct. 1842, 131 L.Ed.2d 881 (1995); accord id. at 862-63, 115 S.Ct. 1842 (Thomas, J., dissenting).

The balance between the states’ power and that of Congress to regulate congressional elections was a substantial issue when the Constitution was being drafted, see 5 ELLIOT’S DEBATES 401-02; THE FEDERALIST No. 59 (Hamilton), and it remained a contentious topic more than a century later as the Seventeenth Amendment worked its way through Congress. In fact, with the exception of the principal question whether the people should directly elect senators, no issue was more hotly debated than whether the states should control senatorial elections exclusively or Congress should retain a role.[3] In all of the legislative history related to the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment, however, no member of Congress ever expressed doubt that state legislatures were the central actors when it came to passing laws that governed the election of senators.

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