For Hillary Clinton and the Democrats to defeat Donald Trump, they are going need massive voter turnout from women, African Americans, and Latinos. And waiting for Trump to fall apart is not enough: We can see where that strategy has gotten the GOP. So, here’s one surefire way to unite and energize this electorate and destabilize the GOP: Support a constitutional right to vote.
Many conservative leaders have already admitted how voter ID laws and other voting restrictions—which negatively impact African Americans, and other minorities who primarily vote Democratic—benefit conservative candidates. Since 2011, 22 GOP-controlled states have passed new voting restrictions that will be in place for the 2016 races. Ari Berman of The Nation argues that Trump has almost no chance of winning the presidency without the help of voter suppression.
Countless groups have worked to counter these new laws and regulations, but these groups are forced to fight with one arm tied behind their back because the Constitution does not actually give Americans the right to vote.
The Constitution stipulates reasons why a person’s right to vote cannot be removed such as due to race, gender, age or a poll tax, but it does not say that the ability to vote is a constitutional right that should be protected for all Americans. Therefore, if a state legislature concocts a new method for disenfranchising voters that does not violate their state or federal constitution, this method of disenfranchisement stands. The courts can place a greater weight on a state’s claims limiting a citizen’s right to vote because that right has actually not been explicitly given.
As the Republicans have grown bolder in their voter suppression efforts, the Democrats too have become more audacious in their attempts to expand voting rights. Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s recent executive order to restore voting rights to more than 200,000 Virginians who have completed their felony sentences indicates the new lengths the Democrats are willing to take to expand voting rights to all American citizens. And to the surprise of no one, Republican legislators in Virginia are threatening to sue.
McAuliffe’s executive order also shows that similar bold decisions may now become mainstream within the Democratic establishment. His close ties with the Clintons—he was co-chairman of Bill Clinton’s 1996 re-election campaign and was a chairman of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 presidential campaign—indicate that Hillary could be in favor of action to expand and protect the voting rights of Americans.
It’d be nice to have the Clintons on board here. But Hillary Clinton should not be the main advocate of this cause. Bernie Sanders should be.
He is the progressive, revolutionary socialist Democrat who has consistently pulled Clinton to the left. And he has also struggled to find an issue that can engage African-American and minority voters. Additionally, his civil rights era activism would make him a natural candidate to campaign on this issue. Fighting to ensure that Americans have a constitutional right to vote would enliven Sanders’s campaign down the home stretch and could make him more relatable to the voters he has failed to connect with.
But the best reason of all? Sanders is from Vermont. Vermont’s constitution explicitly gives residents the right to vote, and the only act that can strip a resident of this right is voter fraud. Therefore, not only can felons vote in Vermont, but so can the incarcerated. Vermont has no voter ID regulations. Also, last month, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a bill to automatically register to vote any eligible Vermonter who visits a DMV. This new policy is expected to add upwards of 50,000 new voters within four years. And last year Sanders introduced a bill in Congress to make automatic voter registration the law of the land.
Sanders is the only mainstream politician with the infrastructure, political freedom, and record to make this topic into a national issue that could not only impact the presidential race, but also the congressional races. Championing this cause will probably not result in him winning the Democratic nomination, and if he does challenge Clinton on this issue she will most certainly support his position. He would have again pulled her further to the left, while also finding a way to stay relevant by collaborating with the Democratic establishment instead of antagonizing it.
Additionally, if Sanders loses the nomination he could return to the Senate and introduce a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every American’s right to vote. Surely, he’d also get the support of Democratic congress members, especially Reps. Keith Ellison and Mark Pocan, who introduced similar legislation (PDF) in 2013.
How would this obstructionist GOP-led Congress confront this issue? Would they decide to not hold a vote about guaranteeing the right to vote? Doing nothing or voting “no” to the amendment certainly would not benefit Republican congressmen in an election year. Being an elected official who does not approve of the right to vote is indefensible. But of course they will vote “no” or delay a vote indefinitely because that is what this GOP Congress does. They are willing to break Congress to ensure that Americans cannot vote.
The GOP is in free fall. They have a presumptive presidential nominee who is not only enraging and dividing the party establishment and electorate, but is also polling so low that his main path to victory may focus around preventing large swaths of his opposition from voting. Additionally, the GOP controls our unpopular do-nothing Congress that is holding onto power by the skin of their teeth.
This is the time for Sanders, Clinton, and the Democrats to call their bluff, introduce a constitutional amendment guaranteeing Americans the right to vote, and challenge the Republicans on their voter suppression policies. This could be the revolution that Sanders supporters and other Democratic voters have been waiting for.