In an effort to undo the work being done in numerous states and counties to disenfranchise groups of voters, two progressive House members are aiming to make a promise that is implicit in the Constitution explicit – by calling on Congress to pass a “right to vote” constitutional amendment.
Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) unveiled their amendment at a press conference. “We need to have an affirmative right to vote… a minimum voting standard,” Pocan said, and that’s what this amendment is offering.
“The Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment would amend the Constitution to provide all Americans the affirmative right to vote and empower Congress to protect this right,” according to a statement on Pocan’s website.
The right to vote is not directly enshrined in the Constitution. The 14th and 15th constitutional amendments dictate that voting cannot be denied based on race, the 19th Amendment based on gender, and the 24th Amendment prohibits poll taxes. Each of these amendments has extended the right to vote; however, because the U.S. does not have a national voting process, states and localities currently make their own voting laws.
There are federal statutes that uphold the right to vote, most notably the Voting Rights Act of 1965. However, in June 2013 the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act. This section offered guidelines to states that have a history of undermining people’s right to vote, primarily based on race, and required these states to clear changes in their voting rules with the Justice Department. Since this provision was removed, conservative legislatures have successfully passed a series of voting changes, such as voter-ID laws and limits on absentee and non-Election-Day balloting.
Pocan said the disenfranchisement tactics that have been used in the past few years are “making it harder and harder for people to vote.”
Here is the text of the amendment:
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.
Ellison, in discussing the likelihood that this amendment would pass, pointed to other constitutional amendments that required time and effort of both politicians and activists “Americans just wouldn’t stop pushing for more rights for more people,” he said. “The time is always right to do what is right.”
Civil rights veteran Rev. Jesse Jackson also attended and discussed the work he’s been doing at the city level to garner local government support for the Amendment. Due to his advocacy, local counties are passing Right to Vote resolutions.
Julie Fernandez, Senior Policy Analyst for the Open Society Foundation, discussed the need for laws regarding voter’s rights to have higher standards of scrutiny. If this amendment passes, strict legal scrutiny will be applied to any attempt to disenfranchise voters. “Voting should be the place where we’re all equal,” she said.
Voting should be how any American can be involved and have a say in the laws that govern them. If this Amendment passes, it will give Americans the constitutional right many assume they already have, and will stop the Republican assault on voting rights. If you believe that everyone should have the right to vote, consider researching further and getting involved. Local governments, campuses, and organizations are all signing resolutions and are interested in your participation. FairVote has also initiated a Pledge to Stand With Voters. Click here to learn more and sign.