By Brendan Fischer on May 14, 2013

Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison"The right of voting for representatives is the primary right by which other rights are protected," wrote Thomas Paine in 1795.

Yet contrary to popular belief, there is no affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. This gap in our founding document has provided an opening for the wave of voter suppression measures that swept the country in recent years, and before that, the poll taxes and Jim Crow restrictions that disenfranchised millions. This week, two Congressmen -- both from states at the epicenter of today's voting rights struggles -- are seeking to fix that.

"The right to vote is too important to be left unprotected," said Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin, who is co-sponsoring an amendment to the U.S. Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote.

"Even though the right to vote is the most-mentioned right in the Constitution," added Minnesota Rep. Keith Ellison, the bill's other sponsor, "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."

U.S. Constitution Does Not Protect Voting Rights

Under the U.S. Constitution, the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments ensure the vote cannot be denied on the basis of race, the Nineteenth prohibits discrimination based on gender, the Twenty-fourth outlaws the poll tax, and the Twenty-sixth Amendment extends voting to age 18. When the U.S. Constitution was ratified, the franchise was limited to white, property-owning men, and these amendments have edged the document closer to its democratic aspirations.

But beyond those amendments -- and a few federal statutes, like the Voting Rights Act of 1965, which might be neutered by the Supreme Court this term -- the right to vote is mostly a matter of state law. And states in recent years have hardly been careful about protecting access to the ballot box.

After Republicans gained new statehouse majorities in the 2010 elections, a majority of states introduced proposals to enact restrictions on the right to vote. According to the Brennan Center for Justice, 25 laws and 2 executive actions passed in 19 states between 2011 and 2012 to impose strict ID restrictions, or shorten early voting, or limit registration drives, among other measures. More restrictive bills have been proposed in 2013.

Wisconsin's Constitution Includes Express Voting Protections

Pocan's state, Wisconsin, passed one of the strictest voter ID laws in the country in 2011 after Governor Scott Walker and a GOP-dominated legislature took power. The law threatened to disenfranchise more than 300,000 voters who did not have the required forms of ID, primarily people of color, students, and the elderly. (Like many of the restrictive voter ID laws proposed since 2011, the bill tracked a "model" Voter ID Act from the American Legislative Exchange Council). But just months after Wisconsin's law was enacted, a state court struck down the law based on the Wisconsin Constitution's protections for voting rights.

"Every United States citizen age 18 or older who is a resident of an election district in this state is a qualified elector of that district," the Wisconsin Constitution reads.

Four years earlier, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court found that Indiana's relatively similar voter ID law did not violate the U.S. Constitution -- which unlike the Wisconsin Constitution, does not expressly safeguard the right to vote.

Pocan and Ellison are seeking to ensure that citizens across the country can share the voting rights protections that have (so far) been enjoyed by Wisconsin residents.

Pocan: "Our country is at its strongest when everyone participates"

The Pocan/Ellison proposal, if approved by Congress and ratified by two-thirds of state legislatures, would affirmatively guarantee the right to vote, prohibiting not only restrictive ID measures, but also new limits on early voting, and measures to crack down on registration drives or same day registration, and other voter suppression efforts.

The proposed amendment language is simple, yet broad:

SECTION 1: Every citizen of the United States, who is of legal voting age, shall have the fundamental right to vote in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

"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," Pocan said Monday at a press conference in the Wisconsin Capital.

"As the world's leading democracy, we must demand of ourselves what we demand of others -- a guaranteed right to vote for all."


The Center for Media and Democracy, publishers of PRwatch.org, has endorsed this proposed amendment.

Brendan Fischer

Brendan Fischer is CMD's General Counsel. He graduated with honors from the University of Wisconsin Law School.

Comments

Please make sure that Our National Constitution includes A GURANTEEDED RIGHT TO VOTE FOR EVERY USA CITIZENS. Anything less is uncivilized and inhumane.
Thank you so much for attempting to resolve this current grave national issue!!!
No elected officials should ever treat any of its USA Citizens as if they are less than human or as if they are not citizens of USA that have fought and died for the very purpose of having the right to vote. A guaranteed right to vote for every USA Citizens under the USA Constitution should resolve our national disgraceful acts by our national Elected Congressman and State Legislatures.

I agree that every CITIZEN should be encouraged to vote. What I will NOT tolerate is dead people voting, people voting multiple times , convictedf felons voting OR NON CITIZENS given the privileges of citizenship by giving them the right to vote. If this amendment is ever written it must include provisions on how we identify who is and who is NOT a citizen ans staes must be allowed to clean out their voting roles and remove the dead voters. Let's improve the system so that people cannot vote twice or more. Your arguement of "college stipudents"--they can vote absentee at their home address, rather than voting twice once at their college polling place and again as an absentee. Seniors can easily get an ID. All of the seniors that the Dems carried to the polls-- how about carrying them to get an ID or help them vote absentee. There are very few voters who cannot find a way to vote,but mynfearnis those who vote multiple times.

Why don't you give some examples of people voting multiple times, dead people voting, felons voting or non-citizens voting? You can't, because examples are so rare as to be virtually non-existent. The very few documented cases of people trying to vote a second time during the 2012 elections turned out to be Republicans who were trying to create the situations you've erroneously described as a way to justify voter suppression tactics. Your party can't win on it's record of enriching the 1% while being anti-women, anti-gay, anti-minorities, anti-labor and anti-middle class, it can only win by denying thousands of Americans their right to vote. Check out the reality-based world some day . . . . it will save you a lot of needless fear and anxiety about voter fraud.

Your reality check bounced.Democrats arrested 4 plead guilty to actual voter fraud in New York via absentee ballots! There were 52 cases confirmed and jailed in the 2012 election all were Democrats and one was an exe. with the NAACP. I woke up to this reality and wished I had hit the snooze button. So the next time you call for a reality check please make sure you can cover it ;) Have a nice day

And, how do those "confirmed cases" stack up against would-be voters blocked from voting at the polls because of roadblocks obtaining IDs? Insignificant by comparison, I'll bet.

And that's the whole point of voter ID laws -- you don't have to get a whole bunch of people to commit fraud, just find a way to block a whole bunch of legitimate voters legally.

Your reply was perfect!

Seeing the "stop-specific-voters" attempts on the part of Republican majority states during the past election and still now trying to sneak the legislation into being - I am convinced that the current 1% and their cronies in power are determined to restore the country back to pre-1920-thereabouts voting and make sure that those they consider 'ignorant' (some of them are!) do not have any right to vote for anyone that is not in support of their agenda. We all know what happens when any group are the 'chosen ones' - they automatically begin to think of themselves as special, with God-given rights to the level they are at, and look down on anyone not in their group as not-deserving of the same consideration.
We probably would all be doing exactly the same thing ourselves, BUT that does not make it ok ! We need to make sure those who are foolish enough to think they are part of the chosen ones also (because they vote for them?) get an education asap in what the chosen ones are REALLY up to - you low-level Repubs will suddenly find yourselves with no rights
and it will all be entirely YOUR fault !!!!
I guess that is when the country types get their guns out and start fighting, and they will need to fight their own party, not the Dems !!
They are so dumb, they don't even realise who their enemies really are !!

First of all, let's give credit to former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. (D-IL) for attempting a similar amendment before he had to step down.
Next, in many legal cases, attorneys have argued that the right to vote is inherent, if not in actual words, in the Constitution.
Third, the right to vote, such as it is, is the subject of more amendments than any other. That's saying something.
Fourth, the absence of this explicit right in the Constitution was invoked more than once by the conservatives in Bush v Gore. What a disgrace!
Fifth, these wise congressmen have my full support in their efforts to amend the Constitution.

As bad as bush grew our monsterous government can you have imagined how terrible gore would have been. I still feel we may not survive Obama. America. It was fun while it lasted. A nation wide Detroit.

Here is a plan, the conservative alliance wants to roll back to a time prior to the 14th amendment then ok we do that by corrective those defective amendments.

* All Rights of natural people, born or naturalized as citizens shall not be infringed.
* No State may pass any law which changes nor adapts the definition of natural born nor deny rights of natural born people to naturalized citizens.
* Every natural born person or naturalized citizen has the right to vote in a matter that does not imped nor restrict their daily life, these are to be counted as one person one vote.
* All legal entities or legal fictions, existing not by natural birth but by operations of state statutes as the creations of the law, are always subservient to that law.

By tying these to "rights" then those can defined and expanded beyond what we now call "rights" since there may come a time when we as human beings have to define as a right the very air we breath or the water we drink.

We also define naturalized citizens as such because again there may become a time in the future where some entities such as artificially intelligent entities need to be defined with rights as citizens, yet at the same time contain the voting right to one person one vote vs multiple copies of an entity which operates cooperatively to place multiple votes.

The statement of impeding daily life addresses the 8hrs of waiting in line just to fill out a ballot when and speed up the adoption of electronic voting.

The defining of natural born and denying rights of natural born to citizens addresses the current immigration issues and the fetus / abortion issues.

The legal entities statement once again places the yoke of law over corporations.