Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia made a point of emphasizing during the Bush v. Gore arguments in December 2000 that there is no federal constitutional guarantee of a right to vote for president. Scalia was right. Indeed, as the reform group FairVote reminds us, “Because there is no right to vote in the U.S. Constitution, individual states set their own electoral policies and procedures. This leads to confusing and sometimes contradictory policies regarding 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.” Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison want to do something about that. The two congressmen, both former state legislators with long histories of engagement with voting-rights issues, on Monday unveiled a proposal to explicitly guarantee the right to vote in the Constitution.
“The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected,” explained Pocan, who announced the initiative at the state capitol in Madison, Wisconsin, where the Republican state assembly speaker recently announced plans to enact restrictive “voter ID” legislation before the 2014 election. “At a time when there are far too many efforts to disenfranchise Americans, a voting rights amendment would positively affirm our founding principle that our country is at its strongest when everyone participates. As the world’s leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others—a guaranteed right to vote for all.”
Without that clear guarantee, argues Ellison, politicians continue to propose and enact legislation that impedes voting rights. Noting recent wrangling over voter identification laws, burdensome registration requirements and reduced early voting opportunities in various states, as well as a challenge to the Voting Rights Act that is now under consideration by the US Supreme Court, the Minnesota Democrat, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, says, “Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote.”