Voting should be a fundamental right, not a privilege

Posted  by AzBlueMeanie:

Several bills have been introduced in Congress to amend the Constitution to overturn Citizens United v. FEC, and to give Congress the express authority to regulate campaign financing in elections.

If we are going to amend the Constitution regarding elections, then we should amend the Constitution to grant a fundamental right to vote. Unlike citizens in every other advanced democracy, Americans do not have a "right" to vote, it is a privilege. Popular perception
notwithstanding, the Constitution provides no explicit guarantee of
voting rights. Jamelle Boiue explains in Making Voting Constitutional:

[The Constitution] outlines a few broad parameters. Article 1, Section 2,
stipulates that the House of Representatives “shall be composed of
Members chosen every second Year by the People of the several States,”
while Article 1, Section 4, reserves the conduct of elections to the
states. The Constitution does, however, detail the ways in which groups
of people cannot be denied the vote. The 15th Amendment says you can’t
prevent African American men from voting. The 19th Amendment says you
can’t keep women from voting. Nor can you keep citizens of Washington,
D.C., (23rd Amendment) or 18-year-olds (26th Amendment) from exercising
the franchise. If you can vote for the most “numerous” branch of your
state legislature, then you can also vote for U.S. Senate (17th
Amendment).

These amendments were passed in different circumstances,
but they share one quality—they’re statements of negative liberty,
establishing whom the government can’t restrict when it comes to voting.
Beyond these guidelines, states have wide leeway in how they construct
voting systems.

* * *

It wasn’t until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 that the federal
government made a proactive move to secure the voting rights of all
citizens, and of African Americans in particular. But that didn’t put an
end to the states’ suppressive shenanigans.

* * *

In our large, polarized democracy, voting has been an
issue fraught with partisanship and ideology. But the ability of states
to restrict participation stems from the peculiar fact that Americans
don’t enjoy the right to vote. We came close once. Following the end of
the Civil War, an early draft of the 15th Amendment featured a blanket
right to vote (excluding women); this was rejected in favor of limited
suffrage for freedmen. The reason? Southern Republicans didn’t want to
enfranchise former Confederates, Western politicians feared that Chinese
would participate, and Northern states worried that they would have to
abandon their own restrictions on voting.

There have been periodic attempts to revive the
right-to-vote idea. In 2005, for example, Representative Jesse Jackson
Jr. introduced a right-to-vote amendment that won meager support from
other House members. But the recent attempts to block voters and make
voting cumbersome—dramatized by the long lines of the 2012 presidential
election—could act as a catalyst for a new movement to codify, in the
Constitution, a right to vote.

Proponents say that an affirmative constitutional right
would, at the very least, force state lawmakers and election
administrators to think twice about measures and election procedures
that harm voters. “A constitutional amendment for the right to vote is
needed to make it explicit,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of
the Advancement Project, a civil-rights organization. “Making it
explicit will send a signal to state legislatures and courts that any
barriers to our democracy must be carefully devised so that they don’t
disenfranchise people.” The Supreme Court, she notes, has been happy to
defer to states’ laws on voting, even if the result is to keep some
people from exercising the franchise. In 2008, the Court upheld
Indiana’s voter-identification law, declaring that it wasn’t
unconstitutional to require photo identification at the polls because
the state had a “valid interest” in deterring fraud. That ruling was
made despite Indiana’s inability to produce a single example of
in-person voter fraud.

A right-to-vote amendment would raise the standard of
constitutional review for voter-identification laws and other measures
that deplete the pool of voters. Currently states have to show only a
“compelling interest” for their laws to pass muster. An affirmative
right to vote would compel courts to apply “strict scrutiny,” the
standard used to review laws that operate on the basis of race and other
characteristics. The burden would then be on a state like Indiana to
prove voter fraud and to show that IDs or other requirements are needed
to prevent further problems.

* * *

An affirmative right to vote would create a more
democratic society. It would also help shift power back to everyday
citizens. A country in which more people vote is one where wealth and
corporate influence are a little less powerful. Almost every progressive
change of the past century, from the original Progressive Era to the
Great Society, was pushed along by efforts to expand the electorate and
bring more people into the process. The 17th Amendment, by allowing for
direct election of senators, took power away from the corporations who
influenced state legislatures and gave it to ordinary people. Women,
empowered by the 19th Amendment, helped elect Franklin Roosevelt, Harry
Truman, and other liberal politicians. A right-to-vote amendment would
further that legacy.

The odds of passing an amendment—any amendment—are long.
Only 27 have made the cut, and the most important ones came during
times of great national turmoil.

* * *

Given overwhelming GOP support for voter identification and other
exclusionary measures, it’s hard to imagine a sufficient number of
Republican lawmakers voting to affirm the right to vote. The chances in
states are perhaps even slimmer than in Congress: If you divide the
country into states with voter-identification laws and those without,
and assume the voter-ID states would oppose the amendment, you would be
17 states short of the necessary number even if all the non-ID states
ratified it. Then again, as Raskin notes, “every constitutional
amendment seems impossible up to the point it becomes inevitable.”

Even if a serious push for a right-to-vote amendment ultimately falls
short, the effort would benefit the progressive movement by putting it
back on the offensive. “Progressives fought constitutionally for a long
time,” says Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota, who has been a
co-sponsor on the right-to-vote amendment [previously] introduced in the House. “But
now it’s the people who restrict and deny rights who want to rewrite the
Constitution.”

* * *

“When we think about Election Day, it’s the great
equalizer in this country,” says Judith Browne Dianis, co-director of the Advancement Project. “It doesn’t matter if you’re
rich or poor, black or white or Latino: Everyone has the same rights
when they go into the voting booth. The amendment is about establishing
and enshrining how important this is to us as a country.”

Most Americans already believe that the vote is sacrosanct. The least
we can do is enshrine it in our laws. By making the right to vote a
rallying point, progressives would show their commitment to expanding
democracy. “We’ve taken a defensive posture,” Ellison says, “and it’s a
bad way to organize. It’s also not a way to inspire people. If you want
to inspire people, you have to lift sights, and I think a constitutional
amendment is the way to do that.”

A voting rights amendment is not currently introduced in the 113th Congress.

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