The time has come for a national conversation about guaranteeing the right to vote—based on one’s legal eligibility, and not the form of ID in their wallet. On March 14, Pennsylvania became the eighth state to toughen voter ID requirements in the past year, following Alabama, Kansas, Rhode Island, South Carolina, Tennessee, Texas and Wisconsin. While these voter ID laws take many forms, the most restrictive require voters to obtain a government-issued photo ID to get a ballot on Election Day, which voting rights advocates say could deter several million people who lack birth certificates and other documentation from obtaining the ID and voting. To date, the conversation on voter ID has followed well-worn contours. Legislative advocates for these laws, almost all Republicans, claim that they uphold election “integrity” by curbing voter impersonation fraud. Opponents say the laws are policing a problem that barely exists and that current law enforcement aptly addresses. In addition, the laws intentionally place unfair requirements on specific demographic sectors that lean Democratic, which can ultimately lead to disenfranchisement.
We need to get off this treadmill and shift this political conversation to a new level by passing laws or changing state constitutions to guarantee the right to vote. Fortunately, there have been a series of recent developments—decisions by state judges tossing out voter ID laws as unconstitutional and the U.S. Justice Department suspending laws from taking effect in some states covered by the Voting Right Act—that, if upheld through Election Day, will protect voters.
These stances point to what should be a national conversation about the U.S. Constitution and its failure to guarantee an affirmative right to vote. Though many people assume that voting is a fundamental right established in the Constitution, in fact there is no such provision. As a result, partisans in states have created laws that broadly restrict voters’ ability to cast their ballots, as seen vividly in this presidential election cycle.