Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Demanding an Explicit Right to Vote in the U.S. Constitution

By: Dania Korkor, Legal Analyst, FairVote

Left to right: Representative Mark Pocan, Representative Keith Ellison,
Dania Korkor, Rev. Jesse Jackson, Julie Fernandes.

On January 21, 2015, I spoke among a determined group of U.S. representatives and advocates and announced our support for an explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution during a Press Conference to reintroduce the Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment. U.S. Representatives Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Keith Ellison (D-MN) introduced this bill to the 113th and 114th Congresses with 26 and 21 cosponsors, respectively. Alongside Representatives Pocan and Ellison, speakers included the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr., prominent civil rights activist and Founder and President of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, Representative Steve Cohen (D-TN), and Julie Fernandes, senior policy analyst at the Open Society Policy Center. FairVote is proud to have supported this important goal since the first Right to Vote Amendment was introduced in 2001 and continue to support it today. 

This Right to Vote Amendment aims to amend the U.S. Constitution to provide all Americans an affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect this right. The effects of not having a right to vote in the constitution are overwhelming and expansive. Take, for example, the harmful impact strict voter ID laws have upon voter participation. Eleven percent of Americans do not have government-issued photo ID. Some populations lack these documents at even higher rates. Nationally, 25 percent of African-Americans, 16 percent of Hispanics, and 18 percent of Americans over age 65 do not have such ID. A constitutional right to vote would require that state governments ensure that voter’s access to the polls are protected and that eligible voters are provided necessary IDs before implementing voter ID laws. The amendment would also allow Congress to enact minimum electoral standards and provide our courts with the authority to keep politicians in check if they try to game the vote for partisan reasons.

FairVote currently is leading a project called “Promote Our Vote,” which was born out of an effort to build a grassroots call for an explicit, individual right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. This movement is being advanced through “Right to Vote” resolutions passed by local governments, which call on Congress to enshrine voting as a right and lay the groundwork for the highest degree of legitimacy, inclusivity, and consistency in our democracy. 

Read Dania Korkor's Remarks
Read more recent news on this issue from John Nichols of The Cap Times, Miya Pontes of the Campaign for America’s Future on Truth-out.org, Adalia Woodbury of PoliticusUSA.com, and Katie Mulvaney of PolitiFact.com. Check out photographs from the press conference and the full video.

Visit our websites for more information: www.RightToVoteAmendment.com and www.FairVote.org.


1 comment:

  1. I don't oppose the amendment because it brings the discussion right to the front of the line.

    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.

    On the surface it appears pretty bland. The first thing I notice is the attempt to add Federal jurisdiction to local and state elections. The words "any public election" are the giveaway. The other phrase "in which the citizen resides" is going to be a problem as well, which leads us to the next issue.

    Section 2 is the most dangerous portion of this amendment. Section two opens the door to unlimited Federal tampering with local elections. Rather than limit the fed to the fed this section literally allows the Congress to arbitrarily decide (as extreme examples) that "all city elections are required to have a thirty day early voting period in which no ID in any form or fashion is allowed", or "From now on only first past the post elections are allowed, ANYWHERE".

    Why is that dangerous? After all, such legislation is only being used to guarantee the right conferred in Section 1 isn't it? How about if the Congress decided that the only third parties or independents allowed to run for office were those that garnered a petition equal to at least the number of losing votes for one of the established parties in a prior year election? How could they justify that? They would say that "we are protecting the right to vote by removing non-viable candidates that confuse the issue which might lead to voters staying home and thus be disenfranchised."

    How do we know this usurpation and abuse WILL happen? Look at the number of federal laws and trace them back to which portion of the constitution explicitly authorize them. Then go looking for the shortcut. That shortcut which does an end-around the enumerated powers are the various "Section 2" clauses.

    ► There are currently 27 Amendments
    ► Beginning in 1865 with the 13th Amendment there are 7 amendments with substantially the same wording as Section 2 of the proposed amendment.
    ► Or, put another way, from 1865 to 2014 (149 years) we've amended the Constitution 14 times. Of those 14 we included explicit authorization to create law 50% of the time.
    ► Each instance of the various incarnations of "Section 2" indicates an expansion of the powers of the federal government.

    That bothers me. Our constitution explicitly sets responsibilities for the federal government and anything not enumerated is left to the states. It would not be so bad if lawmakers were reading the document verbatim and applying it literally. But, any rational person knows that isn't the case for any branch of government. IOW, When lawmakers loosely interpret the text of the document to make law your liberty suffers.

    I think that this proposed amendment needs revision. We need to explicitly list exactly what we wish to accomplish and tailor the verbiage to it. I feel that a "Section 2" requirement is pretty minimal and should be seriously discussed with the onus of justification on those who support the notion of adding it.

    We already have amendments for age and gender. We already have the 14th Amendment for other protected classes. So, the big points are already covered. And, how we administer other rights vary from state to state already. Look at the difference in gun laws from one state to another for a ready made example. And, those laws are based on an amendment that specifically says "shall not be infringed" and doesn't include a "section 2". Looking at it that way, you have to ask what makes voting so special?