Think you have the right to vote? Think again

Pat Hatfield // Published March 3, 2008 in The DeLand Deltona Beacon

Do you think the U.S. Constitution gives you the right to vote?

You're wrong if you do, Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho told a group of elections activists attending the third annual Florida Election Reform Conference in DeLand.

Sancho quoted from the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Bush v. Gore of 2000: "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."

The lawsuit stopped Florida's recount of the 2000 election, and effectively awarded the presidency to George W. Bush.

Sancho has been an outspoken critic of the use of touch-screen machines, and resisted state mandates to use them in 2004. In 2005, he invited computer experts to Leon County to demonstrate security problems that allowed hackers to get in undetected and change vote tallies on optical-scanning equipment.

Now he's looking at another problem, one he said contributes to the lax standards applied to voting equipment and election integrity nationwide.

"The individual citizen has no individual constitutional right to vote for the president of the U.S.," Sancho said. "With no federal right to vote, that right is protected only by the individual states, who are not well equipped to deal with federal constitutional rights."

The Constitution protects voters against discrimination, he said, but there are no protections for the electorate as a whole.

"The federal government has no mandate to count your vote," Sancho said. "That's the state of the American election system today."

Sancho said as he was reading the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Bush v. Gore, he realized no one has a constitutional right to vote in a presidential election.

Sancho was overseeing Leon County's recount when the court's decision came down Dec. 12, 2000.

"It was the first time ever the Supreme Court prevented a state from counting ballots," Sancho said. "You have no federal right to have your ballot counted."

The hallmark of our democracy is an independent judiciary, Sancho said, and the Supreme Court was designed to provide a balance between the powers of the president and Congress.

Sancho claimed Americans are losing the protection afforded by that balance.

"In the 1960s, an effort to capture the Supreme Court was begun, to make it a servant to the dominant political party," he said. "Justice is no longer blind. There's no clearer instance of that than Bush v. Gore in 2000."

Sancho quoted Benjamin Franklin, who was asked what form of government the Constitutional Convention in 1787 had created. "A republic, if you can keep it," Franklin said.

All previous attempts at sustaining democracies had failed and, in Franklin's time, many doubted the United States could create a lasting one, Sancho said.

He said citizens are once again being called upon to fight for their democracy. He issued a call for a constitutional amendment protecting the right to vote, and to have that voted counted in a presidential election.

"We have undone what the Founders wrought," Sancho said.

He warned there won't be a penalty for disenfranchising voters until the right to vote is a federal law.

"It's an oversight in the Constitution," he said.

The U.S., he addd, is the only Western country whose Constitution doesn't grant the right to vote. "Countries that don't have a federal right to vote are countries like Iraq and Indonesia."

Sancho pointed out that even the rights of soldiers serving overseas to vote are not protected. He more than 3 million absentee ballots were tossed out in the last election, something that wouldn't have happened if the Constitution guaranteed those voters the franchise.

Sancho said he plans to contact all the presidential candidates and ask their support for a constitutional amendment to give individuals the right to vote.

"The only thing that can trump in the Supreme Court is the Constitution," he said.

The Election Reform Conference was sponsored by the Florida Fair Elections Coalition and Center, which is based in DeLand. Sancho spoke during a dinner meeting at the Grant Bly House.