07 February 2014

Your "right to vote" is not a simple matter

The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote.
We're between elections now, so voting rights is on the back burner for news stories, but the ongoing efforts to require voter IDs and otherwise make voting requirements more rigorous will resurface in the near future.

With that in mind, I'm offering here some excerpts from a most interesting article in the October 2012 issue of Harper's Magazine:
From Electoral Dysfunction, released in September by the New Press, in conjunction with a PBS documentary of the same name.

In the twelve years since the 2000 presidential election, billions of dollars have been thrown at the mechanics of voting—the machines we use, the way we register—and there have been legislative initiatives in almost every state targeting voter-identification requirements as well as early- and absentee-voting rules. But one thing has not changed ... the Constitution still does not guarantee the right to vote. The word “vote” appears in the Constitution as originally drafted only in relation to how representatives, senators, and presidential electors perform their duties. Representatives vote. But the people’s vote is not mentioned...

Even in the Bill of Rights, which made a slew of individual rights explicit, the Constitution did not mention a right to vote. The right to assemble and to petition government was established. The right to trial by jury (in civil disputes where the value exceeds $20), to due process of law, to confront witnesses in criminal cases, to keep and bear arms? Yes. Voting rights? No...

After all, almost all elections were local. Only one of the newly created federal offices was originally subject to direct popular vote. Neither senators nor the president were elected by the general population. Only members of the House of Representatives stood before the people for election. Each state was required to have a republican form of government, but no more than that. The Constitution in effect integrated into the new federal system whatever the states said about the right to vote...

... on a national level, that right might best be understood in the negative. The Fourteenth, Fifteenth, Nineteenth, Twenty-fourth, and Twenty-sixth Amendments to the Constitution provide a measure of protection. The vote cannot be denied to a citizen on the basis of race, gender, age (once the voter is over eighteen), or the ability to pay a poll tax. Beyond that, whether and how one has a right to vote is largely a matter of state law.

If there was any doubt of that, the U.S. Supreme Court made it clear in December 2000, in relation to presidential elections in Bush v. Gore:
The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.
For those interested in such matters, there's lots more at the Harper's article (behind a paywall for some) re the implications.  Or read the book (or borrow it from your library - it's in ours).

No comments:

Post a Comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...