Thursday, April 14, 2016

From Vox: Americans don't have a constitutional right to vote — it's time for that to change

This is somewhat surprising. Despite the fact that the phrase "the right to vote" exists several times in the Constitution, the right itself is not clearly spelled out - at least in the direct manner in which the rights of speech and free exercise are. The question whether the right exists within the broader interpretation of constitutional language remains controversial - click here for past posts on the subject. Some argue it exists, I'm on the other side.

So is this author - and he argues that there ought to be language inserted in the constitution recognizing that right.

- Click here for the article.

The United States has had the good fortune in our history to have avoided conquest by foreign powers or military coups, which has left us with a constitutional architecture that substantially predates modern democratic norms.

When the Constitution was enacted, it did not include a right to vote for the simple reason that the Founders didn't think most people should vote. Voting laws, at the time, mostly favored white, male property-holders, and the rules varied sharply from state to state. But in the first half of the nineteenth century, the idea of popular democracy took root across the land. Property qualifications were universally abolished and the franchise became the key marker of white male political equality. Subsequent activists sought to further expand the franchise by barring discrimination on the basis of race (the 15th Amendment) and gender (the 19th Amendment) — establishing the norm that all citizens should have the right to vote.

But this norm is just a norm. There is no actual constitutional provision stating that all citizens have the right to vote, only that voting rights cannot be dispensed on the basis of race or gender discrimination. A law requiring you to cut your hair short before voting, or to dye it blue, or to say "pretty please let me vote," all might pass muster. And so might a voter ID requirement.

The legality of these kinds of laws hinge on whether they violate the Constitution's protections against race and gender discrimination, not on whether they prevent citizens from voting. As Harvard Law professor Lani Guinier has written, this "leaves one of the fundamental elements of democratic citizenship tethered to the whims of local officials."
The solution, both to America's voting access problem and to alleviating public concerns about fraud, is to establish an affirmative right to vote.




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