What would my new Voting Rights Amendment* mean for the nation? Automatic registration, state-issued IDs, felon voting, consolidated elections, a national voting holiday (and state versions), and higher turnout. Those are all positive outcomes.
As a reminder, my basic premise is this: All citizens should get to choose their government, not the other way around. Or, in the language of the Declaration of Independence, “Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” If you believe the opposite – that the state should get to choose which of its citizens qualify in some other way to vote – then none of this will likely be convincing.
- Registration has been repeatedly used as a tool for limiting voting by U.S. citizens. Want fewer young people voting? Eliminate same-day registration. Want fewer poor or minority citizens to vote? Make it more difficult for their advocates to handle their registration paperwork. The most efficient ways to ensure that registration isn’t a hurdle will be to create automatic registration (upon moving in or turning 18) or simply eliminating it altogether.
- The problem with voter ID laws is not that they keep non-citizens from voting, it’s that they keep so many otherwise qualified voters from the polls. To mitigate that – while keeping in place protections against fraud, which would not be eliminated by the amendment – states should actively ensure that their residents have official state-issued IDs, rather than requiring individuals to spend time and money obtaining them.
- Frankly, our criminal justice system stands as an indictment of our moral sense as a nation. Automatically stripping felons of their right to vote – permanently – only compounds that disgrace. My amendment leaves no provision for abridging the voting rights based on felony status.
- If state and local governments are responsible for ensuring access to the polls, I expect more consolidation of the elections. Piggy-backing on state elections will be the easiest way to fulfill the legal responsibilities this amendment places on local governments.
- If we want people to vote, we should ensure that they have time to vote, best accomplished by official federal and state holidays. Governments could use laws similar to those protecting the jobs of those called for jury duty to mandate that everyone has the opportunity to vote, even if they don’t have the full day off.
Each of these will bring us closer to the democratic ideal of all citizens participating in shaping their government. My ultimate goal would not be a nation with mandatory voting. Instead, I’d like to see us become a nation in which the only people not voting would be those making a conscious decision to protest. How much better would that be than our current state, in which many simply find themselves barred by misguided attempts to protect our democracy?
*Section 1. The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State.
Section 2. It is the duty of the United States, of the several states, and of local governments to ensure that all eligible citizens have an equal opportunity to vote for officers in their respective jurisdictions.
Section 3. To the extent that governments place regulations upon voting, it shall be the duty of those governments to ensure that all otherwise eligible voters are able to meet such regulations and have their ballot counted without cost to the voter. This includes but is not limited to regulations regarding time and place of elections; requirements for registration and identification; and proof of residency, age, and citizenship.
Section 4. The Congress shall have power to enforce this article by appropriate legislation.