DNC Endorses Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing The Right To Vote

A constitutional right to vote

On the weekend, the DNC  gave its unanimous endorsement to a constitutional amendment that explicitly states voting is an individual right.

Donna Brazile, the DNC’s Vice Chair of Voter Expansion and Protection released a statement announcing the endorsement.

Last year at the DNC Winter Meeting, we announced the Voter Expansion program to ensure that every eligible voter is registered, every registered voter is able to vote, and that every vote is counted. Today we built on this critical mission by unanimously passing a resolution to amend the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee Americans’ right to vote.  The Democratic Party stands for inclusion, and we know that we are all better when everyone has a voice in the democratic process. The right to vote is a moral imperative, and I am proud to support this resolution.

This is a welcomed development to FairVote, an organization dedicated to making the vote a constitutional right. As noted by the organization’s Executive Director, Rob Richie,

More than a decade ago, FairVote became the leading institutional voice calling for establishing an explicit individual right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, joining academic stars like law professors Jamin Raskin and Lani Guinier and historian Alex Keyssar, journalists like John Nichols and Katrina vanden Heuvel, and elected officials like Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr and his tireless aide Frank Watkins.

The DNC’s support recognizes that when left in the hands of state legislatures, the vote is treated like a privilege to be bestowed on select individuals based on the legislature’s partisan interests.  The DNC’s endorsement of the vote as a right recognizes it as a fundamental necessity to the preservation of other individual rights and freedoms.  Eligibility to participate in the political process has long been subject to the partisan interests of lawmakers.  With that, we have seen an erosion of political participation and increasing skepticism in the value of voting.  With fewer people voting, political accountability has lost all meaning.

Aside from rectifying problems, a constitutional recognition of voting as a right means benefits to individual voters, but it also means an improved political system and with it better policy.

In a 2014 article, Law Professor Lani Guinier explained in legal terms the benefits that come with recognizing the vote as a constitutional right and the standard that states would have to meet in order to justify restrictions on the vote.

By amending the Constitution to enshrine an explicit right to vote, states would be required to prove that all difficulties, restrictions and burdens to voting served a “compelling” interest. Such an amendment would ensure uniform standards and prohibit laws that make it harder to vote.

In other words, a constitutional amendment should shift the burden from individuals proving to the state that they are eligible to vote, to the state having to show a compelling interest in suppressing the vote.

Jamin Raskin, another law professor, wrote a paper in 2003 in which he identified two categories of people who are permanently disenfranchised under the law solely because of where they live. Taxpaying citizens residing in DC can vote in Presidential elections but are limited to electing a non-voting delegate in the House of Representatives and do not have representation in the Senate.  Over 4 million Americans “residing in federal Territories of Puerto Rico, Guam, American Samoa and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have no right to vote for president and no voting representation in the Congress.”

Raskin identifies a third category of people who are disenfranchised and in some states for life, namely people who convicted of felonies. He also points to the fact that in Bush v. Gore, the Supreme Court ruled that the people’s right to vote for president is at the will of the states.

The Court held that, since the “individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States,” whenever such a right is granted by state legislators, they can always revoke it and simply “take back the power to appoint electors.

In short, the will of “the people” exists only when it suits the partisan interests of politicians be they in state legislatures or in Congress.  With that comes changes in the lawmakers’ priorities.  Rather than earning votes with good policies, lawmakers focus on ways to manipulate voter eligibility and access to the polls.  Combining vote suppression with gerrymandering resulted in an increased numbers of districts in which Republicans are “safe” from the accountability that comes with free and fair elections.

The vote is not only a mechanism to voice our views on which policies we like. It is also protects other rights and freedoms.  As Republican districts got “safer” from accountability, we saw an erosion of other rights. Collective bargaining, reproductive rights, fair housing, access to education and opportunity are shadows of their former selves because of policies supported by Republicans in “safe” districts.

Judges appointed and confirmed by Republicans increasingly restricted the meanings of free speech, expression and religion.  We have also seen narrower interpretations of the right to counsel, the right to remain silent and protections against cruel and unusual punishment. We witnessed the erosion and disappearance of laws to protect minorities from discrimination in the work place, in access to education and at the polls.  Black men are shot like dogs by the police, who enjoy increasing impunity. Certain protestors are arrested for standing still, not walking fast enough and walking outside “the free speech zone” while others “protest” by threatening the lives of politicians they disagree with and with semi-automatics strapped to their backs.  These are only a few examples.

Increasingly politicians disregard the will of the people and in some instances show increasing contempt for the people they are supposed to represent. Despite the overwhelming popular support for sensible laws to keep guns out of the hands of people with proven violent histories, legislatures pander to lobbyists for gun manufacturers. Despite popular support for affordable and accessible healthcare, lawmakers dedicate their efforts to take healthcare away from millions of people.  They do this knowing that their big donors will continue support their campaigns and knowing that they are “safe” from accountability by the electorate.

We need a constitutional amendment that recognizes voting as the individual right of all American citizens of voting age to stop partisan based manipulation of the vote and with it manipulation of elections. We also need it to re-establish political accountability and to preserve other rights guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States.

By endorsing a constitutional amendment to recognizing voting rights, the DNC supported the return of power to where it rightfully belongs: voting age citizens of the United States.  This is an important difference between Democrats who trust the power of the people and Republicans who hold contempt for it.

15 Replies to “DNC Endorses Constitutional Amendment Guaranteeing The Right To Vote”

  1. Love Love this idea to protect everyones right to vote Forever! Now thats a dream come true. A wonderful addition to Obama’s legacy.

  2. Great thing to do. However, I ask myself why is it that we have to fight again for something that we fought and won decades ago? Rhetorical question of course, but nonetheless we have to keep backtracking instead of moving ahead.

  3. Yeah, and good luck trying to get this legislation past the children on the right side of the aisle.

  4. I see an additional danger in this. A Constitutional amendment is very difficult to pass, and if such an amendment is floated and fails– or even if it has not yet completed the ratification process- a corrupt Supreme Court is quite likely to use its existence as “proof” that voting was never a right in the first place.

  5. I’m amazed at this whole conflict; here in Australia, all citizens are legally obliged to vote and we are fined if we fail to vote. I doubt such legislation would fly in the U.S. though…

  6. You are correct, simply because it is a right to vote not an obligation. Just cause you have the right to do something does not mean you have to. Just like the right to bear arms, I own guns but many people I know choose not to.

  7. I think it would be a good idea, too, to make voting mandatory..but then again, there is a “faction” in the US that doesn’t like rules or laws..so that wouldn’t get very far.

  8. Passage would be an explicit affirmation of what should already be covered by 14th Amendment. The SCOTUS, if it were ruling correctly in a voters’ rights case, would rule broadly that such a right exists, and that whatever state or local law which would in any way hamper, hinder or delay such a right is a violation of the civil rights of a voter affected thereby.

  9. I believe that we should add “the elimination of the electoral college” to this amendment as well. If we are protecting the rights of all people why not level the playing field between urban and rural areas by switching to a popular vote to elect the leader of our executive branch! This might also encourage more people to participate in the process.

  10. I’ve long thought this was a constitutional flaw, but also understand why they left it to the states in 1787. I was hoping to see specific language for a proposed amendment.

  11. I agree, reynardine. I think it’s better to elect Democratic presidents and Senators until Scalia and Kennedy either keel-over in their seats or retire, and replace them with justices like Breyer and Bader-Ginsberg. Then restore Section 4 of the VRA so we can stop the Jim Crow shenanigans that Republican State legislatures have been condemning this country to.

    We must also face the fact that Republicans are no longer Republicans. They’ve been infiltrated and taken over by Neo-Confederates (being loyal to the Confederate flag should’ve tipped us off), and these Neo-confederates are the cancer within American democracy and our American values, as envisioned by our – LIBERAL – Founding Fathers. They must be eradicated and tryng to pass a Constitutional amendment isn’t going to do it since it needs 2/3rds of States to ratify it, and too many States are already under Neo-Confederate control so that ain’t gonna happen.

  12. Why did the Democrats in Congress let the voting rights bill get this far, it was unconstitutional when David Bossie of Citizens United Initiated it and still is. Our troops died for our vote, and are dying again for voter rights on foreign lands, while Republicans in the USA are taking away our/their voting rights, so they can “win” we seen this many times when we were children the hateful mean kids had to cheat to win at all games played, WELL this isn’t a game anymore its peoples lives, and the SCOTUS is responsible as well as Citizens United for All of these “evil doers.”

  13. Any constitutional amendment that addresses voting rights also ought to have a provision that the Census Bureau is to draw district lines using their Census Blocks and Tracts and based on population alone. Neither political affiliation or race should be considered.

    Then our representatives ostensibly would represent the people and diminish the influence of lobbyists.

  14. Using the Census Bureau and its population divisions, to determine Voting Districts, is a good idea.

    Or We might consider just using county lines as the parameters for Citizen Voter Participation in Governance.

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