CONSTITUTIONAL "RIGHT TO VOTE" AMENDMENTIn America, no right is considered more fundamental than our right to vote. It is the right that ensures that the people can hold their leaders accountable. It is the right that most of us think of first when we hear the word "democracy". And it is the right that we display to less democratic nations as an example of how we feel their nations should be run.
But there is one major problem that is easy to overlook. There is no Constitutionally protected right to vote in America. You heard me right. America is one of only 11 out of 119 democratic nations that has no Constitutionally protected right to vote. Don't believe me? Perhaps you'll believe the United States Supreme Court. In Bush v. Gore, the case in which the court decided to end all recounts in Florida during the aftermath of the 2000 presidential election, effectively declaring George W. Bush president, the court said:
"...the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104)The actual situation is that each state is allowed to determine its own methods of running elections. The only limitations on the states are that they cannot discriminate in administering elections on the basis of race (15th amendment), sex (19th amendment) or age (26th amendment). In fact, the word "vote" is only mentioned in the Constitution in relation to these non-discrimination amendments. Nowhere does the Constitution explicitly give every citizen the affirmative right to vote.
While this may seem to be a reasonable way to oversee a large undertaking such as a national election, in effect it leads to major problems. By delegating the task of overseeing elections to the states - making voting a "state right" - we make it possible for fiascoes like Florida's 2000 election debacle to take place. With a national set of standards demanding that no citizen's right to vote be abridged, and enforcing the rule equally throughout the country, we would avoid such situations in the future.
Delegating oversight of elections to states also allows us to rationalize being the only democratic country in the world that denies voting rights to citizens of its capital city. That's right, citizens in the District of Columbia cannot vote for a true representative in Congress - they still have taxation without representation, as boldly declared on many of those citizens' license plates (see picture)! A Constitutional right to vote that applies to every U.S. citizen would end this hypocrisy, allowing D.C. residents the same rights as those in any state.
Without such an amendment, not only will these and other problems continue, but the U.S. Congress remains powerless to solve the problem. Since they have no power to enforce strong national election standards, they cannot prevent future election debacles. Any lawsuits brought into courts will find themselves impotent as they run up against this void in our Constitution - just as occurred in Bush v. Gore.
While Americans seem almost resigned to the fact that elections cannot be run smoothly, accepting poor quality as inevitable, some South American countries manage to run their elections just fine. This is because they have a strong national standard that ensures a basic level of quality in the administration of elections throughout their nation. Can we not do just as well in American elections as the South Americans can do? If we can't, do we truly deserve to call ourselves the example of democracy for the world?
This is a problem that can be solved. We can pass an amendment to the U.S. Constitution ensuring every American citizen the affirmative right to vote. In fact, Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr. already introduced such legislation into Congress on March 4, 2003 as House Joint Resolution 28 (hear mp3 of a Jackson, Jr. speech from the Claim Democracy Conference in favor of the measure). However, the resolution has not yet been met with broad support. What does it say about our leaders that so many of them cannot firmly commit to explicitly assuring every American the federally protected right to vote?
It is a sad statement about America's priorities that nearly everyone is aware of the attempt to amend the Constitution to ban gay marriage, but hardly any Americans even realize that they have no Constitutional right to vote? Isn't it sadder yet that so many Americans, many of whom would be up in arms if their right to own a gun were even questioned, are not up in arms demanding a Constitutional right to vote?
The next time you see a major election fiasco in America, turn to our Constitution and its lack of an explicit right to vote and you may have found the real culprit. If you'd like to fix this problem, here is what you can do:
- Write your Representative or call him or her at 202.225.3121 (or call their local office) and urge them to become a co-sponsor of House Joint Resolution 28.
- Urge your Senators to introduce parallel legislation in the Senate.
- Raise the issue in presidential, senatorial and representative forums when the candidates come to your town or school.
Other Resources About Constitutional Right to Vote
- FairVote's Right to Vote Amendment Page
- Our Voting System Needs A New Constitutional Foundation - Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.'s Floor Statement during the January 6, 2005 Democratic Challenge to Ohio's Presidential Electoral Results.