Right to Vote Amendment Secures Unanimous Backing of DNC Executive Committee

by Rob Richie // Published February 22, 2015

votecartoonMore 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 professor Jamin Raskin 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.

We held a major conference organized around the vision of a constitutional right to vote in November 2003 and many subsequent events over the years, including with this focused case for the amendment earlier this month by our legal analyst Dania Korkor. We advised drafters of the first right to vote amendment language in 2001 as well as the latest version, HJ Resolution 25 sponsored by Wisconsin's Mark Pocan, Minnesota's Keith Ellison and a growing number of other Members. (See our analysis on amendment language.) We've been particularly focused on how the drive for such an amendment can promote immediate local changes to protect, promote and expand suffrage, with our Promote Our Vote campaign resolutions having stirred concrete actions for change in several jurisdictions.

We believe that the nation coming together to establish such an amendment would go a long way to end the "voting wars" that plague us today. When rules are unclear, it is all too easy for those playing the game to try to push the definition of those rules in their favor. By committing to the fundamental nature of the right to vote, our political leaders can instead focus on what they should do in elections: trying to earn votes from eligible voters, rather than trying to game voter eligibility and access.

For this reason, we're thrilled to see rising support for the amendment, whose key backers of the years have grown to include the Advancement Project, Rainbow Push, Color of Change and makers of the movie Electoral Dysfunction (see Mo Rocca cleverly explain the issue). Our general website on the issue, RightToVoteAmendment.com, highlights new voices and energy for the amendment, including a new petition drive backed by Campaign for America's Future, DailyKos, FairVote Action and more.

This weekend, a major new player emerged: the Democratic National Committee. At its winter meeting, the DNC's executive committee unanimously passed a powerfully worded resolution proposed by DNC Vice Chair of Voter Expansion and Protection Donna Brazile that supported the amendment and called for local, state and national action.

This issue should not be one of just the left or just the right. It should not be about whether voting is a responsibility and privilege: of course it is, but above all it is a right. Indeed, the U.S. citizenship test, according to this report (see question #87) often includes this question

Q: What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?
A: The right to vote;

The right to vote is indeed the right that grounds all other rights. Let's treat it with the respect it deserves. Let's come together to put an explicit right to vote in the U.S. Constitution and statutory changes in its spirit like the Voting Rights Amendment Act.

As reported by blogger Brad Friedman, the full resolution as adopted is below:

The following Resolution will be considered by the DNC Executive Committee at its meeting in Washington, DC, on February 20, 2015.

Submitted by: Donna Brazile, DNC Vice Chair/District of Columbia
Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, DNC Chair/Florida
Christine Pelosi, California
Maria Elena Durazo, DNC Vice Chair/California
Anita Bonds, Chair, District of Columbia
Leah Daughtry, At-Large/New York
Bel Leong-Hong, At-Large/Maryland
Minyon Moore, At-Large/District of Columbia
Virgie Rollins, National Federation of Democratic Women/Michigan
Lottie Shackelford, At-Large/Arkansas
James Zogby, At-Large/District of Columbia

Resolution on a Right-to-Vote Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
WHEREAS, in a democracy, the right to vote is a moral imperative, the most fundamental legal right and is protective of all other rights; and
WHEREAS, when President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the 1965 Voting Rights Act he said, "The right to vote is the basic right, without which all others are meaningless"; and
WHEREAS, each state, except for the State of Arizona, has explicitly enshrined the right to vote with at least some level of protection in its state constitution; and
WHEREAS, nowhere in the United States Constitution is there an explicit declaration of the right to vote, which weakens protection in federal courts and undercuts state voting rights protections due to state courts often "lock stepping" rights to the level of support provided federally; and
WHEREAS, the United State Supreme Court has called the right to vote a fundamental right, this fundamental right should be explicitly guaranteed to all Americans in the U.S. Constitution; and
WHEREAS, as President Barack Obama, as a professor of constitutional law at the University of Chicago, began each of his constitutional law classes sharing with his students the surprising fact that an explicit "federal individual right to vote" is not in the U.S. Constitution; and
WHEREAS, the only reference to an individual right to vote in the original U.S. Constitution and Bill of Rights is the requirement that any citizen qualified to vote for a member of a state's most "numerous house of the state legislature" is eligible to vote for Members of the House of Representatives; and
WHEREAS, the Constitution has been amended 17 times since the passage of the Bill of Rights and 7 of those amendments pertain to voting - 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th and 26th - but none of them add the explicit, fundamental, affirmative, individual, citizenship or federal right to vote to the Constitution; and
WHEREAS, three amendments outlaw discrimination in voting, whether on the basis of race (15th) with the 1965 Voting Rights Act serving as the implementing legislation for this amendment 95 years later, sex(19th), or age (26th); and
WHEREAS, a right to vote constitutional amendment would fulfill the promise of the 15th, 19th and 26th Amendments; and
WHEREAS, of the 119 nations that elect their public officials using some form of democratic elections, 108 have the right to vote in their constitution, but the United States is one of the 11 nations - including Australia, the Bahamas, Bangladesh, Barbados, Belize, India, Indonesia, Nauru, Samoa, and the United Kingdom - that does not explicitly contain a citizen's right to vote in its constitution; and
WHEREAS, with the exception of certain federal laws such as the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, the Help America Vote Act of 2002 and the Military and Overseas Voter Empowerment Act of 2009, the U.S. has virtually no national uniform standards for voting systems controlled by the states; and
WHEREAS, since voting is a state right, with virtually no national uniform standards, we have ended up with multiple and varied election systems in the 50 states (plus the District of Columbia), 3,143 counties (or county equivalents), and about 13,000 local voting jurisdictions that administer about 186,000 precincts, all organized and controlled and managed by local election officials with 86% of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act Preclearance objections involving local, not national or state, voting issues; and
WHEREAS, the United States Supreme Court has unfortunately undermined the right to vote in recent years, notably in its 2013 decision of Shelby County v. Holder which made the preclearance requirement ineffective and, as Freedom Rider, Selma marcher and US Congressman John Lewis so aptly stated, "struck a dagger in the heart of the Voting Rights Act"; and
WHEREAS, since 2014 at least 83 restrictive voting rights bills were introduced in 29 states, and the Brennan Center reports that 21 states have enacted restrictive voting laws since 2011, including North Carolina, Ohio, Texas, and Wisconsin, and that in Texas alone this will affect more than 600,000 adult-age citizens who do not have state-issued photo identification; and
WHEREAS, voter turnout in November 2014 represented a smaller percentage of eligible voters than in a congressional election since 1942 , voter turnout in many primary elections in 2014 was at an all-time low in more than half of states holding primaries, and voter turnout in some major cities is now in single digits; and
WHEREAS, a "right to vote" constitutional amendment applies to and should be supported by all Americans because it is (a) nonpartisan - not Democratic, Republican or independent; (b) non-ideological - not liberal or conservative; (c) non-programmatic - it does not require you to support or oppose any particular legislative program(s); and (d) non-special interest - it's application is not limited to minorities, women, labor, business, seniors, lesbians and gays or any other special interest groups;
THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED, that the Democratic National Committee (DNC) supports amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the DNC will encourage state parties to work with state lawmakers and others to access the need to petition for a statewide referendum on the November 2016 general election ballot (and all states where this is possible), advocating to amend the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the DNC specifically supports House and Senate Joint Resolutions which would amend the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote - e.g., such as resolution H.J. Res. 25 introduced into the 114th Congress by Congressman Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Congressman Keith Ellison of Minnesota; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the DNC supports H.R. 885 to amend the Voting Rights Act of 1965 to revise the criteria for determining which States and political subdivisions are subject to section 4 of the Act, as introduced in the 114th Congress by Congressman James F. Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin along with 30 cosponsors, including several members of the Congressional Black Caucus; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the DNC will educate the general public on this issue by drafting and distributing this resolution in support of amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote and sharing the resolution with all appropriate governmental officials; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Democratic National Committee encourages other organizations and individuals - e.g., political organizations and leaders, religious organizations and leaders, civil rights organizations and leaders, other civic organizations and leaders, business organizations and leaders, voting rights organizations and leaders, labor organizations and leaders, women's organizations and leaders, youth organizations and leaders, gay and lesbian organizations and leaders, environmental organizations and leaders - to pass organization resolutions to endorse amending the United States Constitution to explicitly guarantee an individual's right to vote; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Democratic National Committee will establish a Right to Vote Taskforce to make recommendations on changes in laws, regulations, and practices designed to improve voter participation and better uphold voting rights in local, state, and national elections and consider changes to recommend to state and federal constitutions, statutes, and regulations; and
BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that the Democratic National Committee will continue to work with members of Congress and the Obama Administration to repair the Voting Rights Act of 1965; and continue to work with various Secretaries of State and other election administrators to ensure all eligible citizens have access to the ballot box across the country.