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.
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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.
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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.
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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.
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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.