Good Idea

03.27.13

A Constitutional Right to Vote?

Yesterday, commenter Ben, our stalwart Ben, whose loyalty to this blog I always appreciate even as he scolds me for this or that, suggested that I bring to this enterprise some of the seriousness of purpose that can be found in the pages of Democracy, the journal I edit.

Well Ben, a blog and a quarterly journal are different media of course, and I do think we talk about pretty serious things over here, but I take your point, so here you are. The current issue includes a symposium on voting rights. Among the questions raised, this one by Mark Schmitt and Jonathan Soros: Should there be a constitutional right to vote?

Here's the case. First of all, did you know that there is no right to vote in the constitution? Lots of people assume it must be in there, but no. But it's not. And that fact means that when states impose restrictions on voting, none of those restrictions have to pass any constitutional muster or standard. The number of cases challenging voting rules, the authors note, has doubled in the last decade, and they write:

...enshrining the right to vote in the Constitution would help resolve most of these cases in favor of voters. It would not make every limitation unconstitutional—it is the essential nature of voting, for instance, that there be a date certain by which votes must be cast in order to be counted—but it would ensure that these limitations are judged under the standard known as “strict scrutiny,” meaning that governments would have to show that the restrictions were carefully designed to address a compelling interest of the state. We would come to find that many familiar aspects of our current voting system would not meet this standard and access to the ballot could be extended to millions who are now actively or effectively disenfranchised.

A Right to Vote amendment would make moves like Ohio's attempt to limit early voting last year nearly impossible. It was also help secure the vote for ex-felons. So that rather than have to fight these things piecemeal, an amendment could do a lot more to advance all these causes in one swoop (albeit a swoop that would take a long time). And it would presumably be popular among both Democrats and independents, and maybe even many Republicans, because as I said most peope woud be surprised to learn that it wasn't there.

So, thoughts?