There will not be a national election this fall – not really. Instead, we will have 50 state elections where officials in more than 3,000 counties administer a patchwork of different rules and ballots.
And if applying those rules keeps citizens from casting their votes, they will have very little recourse with the federal government. That’s because there is no constitutional right to vote.
That comes as a surprise to most Americans, but a careful look at the Constitution reveals that it is the states that are charged with selecting electors for the Electoral College, and there is no direction on how those selections are made. It’s a matter of states’ rights, not citizens’ rights and states for the most part get to decide what’s fair. Amendments prohibit people being denied the ability to vote based on their race (the 15th), sex (20th) and age (28th) but there is no established right to vote for all citizens that can be protected by federal oversight.
It’s time to pass a constitutional amendment that would establish such a right, to protect individuals and ensure the integrity of our elections.
A bill to start the process is now before Congress. House Joint Resolution 25, sponsored by Reps. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Mark Pocan, D-Wis., would do two things: Establish a fundamental right for every citizen who is of age to participate in every election in the jurisdiction that they live, and give Congress the authority to pass legislation that would enforce that right.
Local control is good for some things, but not for elections. Every year we hear about some jurisdiction where voters wait in outrageous lines, find their names purged from lists or are otherwise prevented from casting a ballot.
There are discrepancies among the states. Some states require voters to have a photo ID before they can vote. Some states require registration months in advance. Some states allow early voting with mail-in ballots.
Felons can be banned from voting for life in 10 states; while on probation or parole in 24 states; and while incarcerated in 14 others. In Maine and Vermont there are no restrictions at all and felons can vote even while they are still in prison. Civil rights activist Jesse Jackson called it “a separate but unequal system” in a July 28 letter to the editor published in The New York Times.
In the landmark case Bush v. Gore, which decided the 2000 presidential election, the majority found that “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.”
It’s time that individual citizen acquired that right.
We urge Maine’s congressional delegation to move this amendment forward and send it back to the states for ratification.