New Commitment to Our Most Basic Right

by Mollie Hailey // Published December 13, 2012


In a speech at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library on December 11, Attorney General Eric Holder told listeners, “no force in our history has been more powerful than the continued expansion of what’s been called the lifeblood of our representative democracy, the cornerstone of our system of government, and the “most basic” right of American citizenship: the right to vote.”  

He’s absolutely right in underscoring the centrality of the right to vote in a representative democracy. One of our clearest challenges, though, is a lack of an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. Grounded in our belief that everyone should have the right to vote in free and fair elections regardless of who they are or where they live, FairVote has launched Promote Our Vote. Promote Our Vote seeks 100% voter participation through a combination of a national call for enshrining an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution and state and local commitments to protecting and promoting participation  -- see our model resolution that we propose cities adopt.

Amending the Constitution to include an affirmative right to vote is important because it makes fixing our electoral system easier. The long lines and incorrectly administered provisional ballots of the November 6 election are examples of problems that could be more easily remedied if the fundamental right to vote was protected affirmatively in the Constitution. FairVote is currently working on a Right to Vote Amendment that  would give Congress the authority to protect the individual right to vote and oversee voting policies and procedures to ensure that elections are fair, accurate and efficient.

FairVote was pleased to see one specific call to action in Attorney General Holder’s speech: the modernization of voter registration so that eligible voters are automatically added to the voter rolls. This is a vision that FairVote led the democracy community in touting a decade ago in the wake of the troubled 2000 election. Attorney General Holder called for creation of “a system of automatic, portable registration … in which government officials use existing databases, with appropriate privacy protections, to automatically register every eligible voter in America and enable their registration to move when they do.” Complete and accurate voter rolls are essential to the integrity of the electoral process and the legitimacy of results, and automatic, portable voter registration would ensure that eligible voters have access to the polls.

One disappointment in Holder’s speech is his suggestion that “fair redistricting” can promote “fair and effective representation for all” while not being “abused to protect incumbents and undercut electoral competition.” Independent redistricting commissions can only achieve these objectives if accompanied by multi-seat district systems with fair voting forms of proportional representation, as detailed in FairVote’s reports linked from our interactive map at FairVoting.US.

Attorney General Holder has observed that, “too many citizens have reason to fear that their right to vote, their access to the ballot – and their ability to have their votes counted – is under threat.” We can combat this threat, though, through reform of the systemic problems that plague our electoral process. Ultimately, we need to think and act nationally; but now is the time for all of us to get involved in that effort in our cities and states.