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.