A Constitutional Right to Vote
The right to vote should be the foundation of any democracy. Yet, most Americans do not realize that we have no constitutional right to vote. While there are amendments to the U.S. Constitution that prohibit discrimination based on race (15th), sex (19th) and age (26th), no affirmative right to vote exists. The 2000 Presidential Election was the first time many Americans realized the necessity of a constitutional right to vote. The majority of the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore (2000) wrote, "The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." The U.S. is one of only 11 other democracies in the world with no affirmative right to vote enshrined in its constitution.
Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures in areas such as ballot design, polling hours, voting equipment, voter registration requirements and ex-felon voting rights. As a result, our electoral system is divided into 50 states, more than 3,000 counties and approximately 13,000 voting districts, all separate and unequal.
In November 2004:
- At least 1.2 million Americans voted incorrectly because of poor ballot design.
- Due to inconsistent and unequal provisional ballot counting policies, 500,000 votes or 30% of all provisional ballots cast were never counted. In Delaware only 6% were counted while 97% of those cast in Alaska were counted.
- Americans did not receive absentee ballots in time to return them on Election Day. In Broward County, Florida 58,000 absentee ballots were not delivered on time.
- Hundreds of thousands had difficulties registering to vote. Partisan voter registration organizations "lost" voter registration forms, leaving an untold number of eligible voters unregistered.
- Minorities and students experienced higher levels of voter intimidation and harassment than other groups.
- Over 1,100 voting machines malfunctioned. In North Carolina a voting machine lost 4500 votes, which should have required a revote in one state election; however, partisan politics prevented citizens from having an opportunity to make their voices heard.
- In Washington, the governor's race required three recounts and was decided by less than 200 votes. Questions remain regarding votes that were lost and then discovered. Provisional ballots may have been counted as normal ballots and potentially ineligible voters cast ballots.
- More than nine million American citizens are denied the same right to vote that they would enjoy if living in another part of the country. Several states deny voting rights for life to anyone once convicted of a felony. Children of American families living abroad often cannot vote when they reach voting age. American citizens living in Puerto Rico, Guam and the Virgin Islands can be drafted into the military but are unable to vote for their Commander in Chief. Congress governs the District of Columbia more directly than any other state, yet the more than a half million citizens living in the District have no voting representation in Congress.
The addition of a Right to Vote Amendment to the U.S Constitution would:
- Guarantee the right of every citizen 18 and over to vote
- Empower Congress to set national minimum electoral standards for all states to follow
- Provide protection against attempts to disenfranchise individual voters
- Ensure that every vote cast is counted correctly
Many reforms are needed to solve the electoral problems we continue to experience every election cycle. The first is providing a solid foundation upon which these reforms can be made. This solid foundation is an amendment that clearly protects an affirmative right to vote for every U.S. citizen.
Support H.J. Res. 28, the proposed amendment to add a right to vote.