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Do We Need A Constitutional Right To Vote?

The Constitution prohibits the government from preventing people from voting on the basis of race or gender. Poll taxes that prevent poor people from voting are also unconstitutional. A constitutional amendment has established that the age at which people may vote is 18. However, there is no place in the Constitution that states that “all citizens have the right to vote”.

Of course, the Constitution does issue a blanket ban on discrimination against any group in legal matters, and voting is a legal matter. That would seem to settle the issue.

Nonetheless, yesterday U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison introduced H.J. Res. 44, a proposed amendment to the Constitution of the USA, that would explicitly create a right to vote. Why?

The proposed amendment reads: “SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.”

The second section reveals the real change that would be created by this proposed amendment. It would shift authority for making the rules about how voting takes place from state governments to the federal government. With the passage of this amendment, Congress could pass laws establishing a single, nationwide system to ensure that voting is conducted in the same way everywhere in the United States.

9 comments to Do We Need A Constitutional Right To Vote?

  • Dave

    Never shift authority from a State government to the Federal government. Ever talk for any length of time to a Brit who resides in the U.S.? One complaint you will hear is how there are so many layers of government in the U.S., whereas back home things are simpler. My reply is that, yeah, life is always simple when one has no authority to decide locally how things will take place, and for this reason Brits no longer think or act locally because they are powerless to do so. Blatant localism, J. For most things, it is best.

    I think regarding the proposed legislation, this attempt at centralising authority in voting matters is a set-up for a Federal mandate that all prisoners be allowed to vote. This way one political party in particular will have yet another permanent voting bloc to which they can throw a bone now and then, and incarcerated rapists, child molesters, assorted killers and psychopaths can in turn vote to give them power. Cozy, is it not?

    • Bill

      Puh-leeeze.

      “…incarcerated rapists, child molesters, assorted killers and psychopaths can in turn vote to give them power”

      Dave, I’m guessing you figger that rapists, child molesters, killers and psychopaths would vote Democratic (or “democrat”, as a certain element likes to say)?

      I wasn’t aware that the above elements constitute a scary-big voting block.

      Allowing states to regulate and manage voting has proven to be an unmitigated disaster. Incompetence (Florida, anyone?) and truly sinister voter nullification efforts (too many states to list here) are now pretty much the status quo in a bunch of red states, where desperate Republicans (can I call them “republics”?) appear to think nothing of crushing the fundamental principles of democracy underfoot in order to cling to power a minute longer. It’s not unlike the civil rights situation back in the Kennedy/Johnson era, when the yokel states had to be forcibly brought up short by the Federal government to get them to protect (instead of violate) basic civil rights.

      The Constitution (at least as it is practiced today) sure ain’t perfect, but its enumeration of certain basic rights at least says to all players “hey, this is really fundamental…screw around with this and the people will be all over you like white on rice”. It’s hard to think of anything more fundamental to democracy than the right to vote. People who think the 2nd Amendment is important because armed rebellion is the last protection against tyranny should support an amendment protecting the right to vote…because voting is the first protection against tyrrany. Important to keep our priorities straight here.

      • Dave

        Bill, in light of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 which covers every important voting contingency that I can think of, I am trying to fathom a reason for Res. 44, and am cynical enough about these things to look in some odd places at times for the motives. I am not aware of any movement on the Right (which would include a slim majority of the Republican base) to enfranchise hard-timers for voting purposes. The Representatives named in the post are Democrats and most of what I can find on this seems to originate with those on the left from the ACLU to Democratic affiliated Directors of Elections filing suits to challenge the practice of denying prisoners the right to vote. It is not hard to imagine that if the jails were full of Republicans, then instead, the Republicans would be the more determined to restore to them the right to vote.
        As to the idea of establishing new voting blocs, to me that would only seem irrational to those who don’t know how elections are won. I haven’t looked at prison population stats lately, but it would be a considerable group, larger than Cuban-Americans or Puerto Ricans etc. I rather like our willy nilly, patchwork approach to determining who wins elections, as in the long run I think it is safer for us. Florida aside, it is better to challenge and correct the smaller errors and abuses that are inherent in our system from time to time rather than to risk large errors, unimaginable abuses and precious little opportunity to challenge the outcome if the Federal Government ran the whole show. If it’s just fair voting practices that are the concern of Reps Pocan and Ellison, they appear not to have thought this one through. As I said, I’m just looking for other possible motives.

        • Bill

          …if the jails were full of Republicans….
          It’s interesting that you assume they’re not. If they aren’t, they certainly should be.

  • JeffD

    The Fed has been taking away States rights nibble by nibble. I wonder when the flag will be changed to one big star. It would be more reflective of where we are today.

  • Dave

    Bill, a graph by L. David Roper “State Prisoners and Political Parties” found on Bing, if accurate, might make it a safe assumption who would benefit most from prison votes.

    • Bill

      Dave, it’s always good to actually think about data, rather than just glance at it. The graph you cite analyzes, by state, the state prisoner rate (prisoners per population) as a function of that state’s Republican and Democratic votes in the 1996 election. It has nothing whatsoever to do with the political affiliations of prisoners. Thanks for playing!

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