Via commentor Martin, Hunter Walker at TalkingPointsMemo reports:
A pair of Democratic congressmen is pushing an amendment that would place an affirmative right to vote in the U.S. Constitution. According to Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI), who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN), the amendment would protect voters from what he described as a “systematic” push to “restrict voting access” through voter ID laws, shorter early voting deadlines, and other measures that are being proposed in many states.
“Most people believe that there already is something in the Constitution that gives people the right to vote, but unfortunately … there is no affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. We have a number of amendments that protect against discrimination in voting, but we don’t have an affirmative right,” Pocan told TPM last week. “Especially in an era … you know, in the last decade especially we’ve just seen a number of these measures to restrict access to voting rights in so many states. … There’s just so many of these that are out there, that it shows the real need that we have.”
The brief amendment would stipulate that “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.” It would also give Congress “the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.” …
Yeah, it’s easy to be cycnical: The amendment would go nowhere, it only takes 13 states where the revanchist holdouts keep the amendment from ever being brought up, it’ll spark a backlash among the bigots, also the ever-popular purist we-have-more-pressing-immediate-needs-which-require-all-our-attention.
But still, this is important. Working to get the Equal Rights Amendment codified, and watching it fail in the end, broke my heart when I was young and stubborn. Thirty years after its failure, however, I can see how just having that public debate changed the political climate. When the ERA was first proposed, in 1923, “letting” women vote was a suspect novelty. When it was finally passed through Congress, in 1972, “letting” women do “men’s work” — anything outside the narrowest range of underpaid service jobs — or “letting” women participate in the full range of public life (getting an advanced degree, serving in the military, running for office, participating in college sports, even getting a credit card) was still a parade of endlessly debatable issues. Every solon and pundit’s response to the amendment was, “Of course I think smart women should be able to go to college, but…” or “Of course women should be paid the same as men if they’re doing the same jobs, but… ” or “Of couse women shouldn’t be targeted for rape if they do anything more adventurous than walling themselves up in a nunnery, but… ” That was actually a retreat from the hardcore patriarchial positions concurrently being argued by every bigot from Phyllis Schafly to Archie Bunker — the “of course” arguments gradually leached from mere points of arguments among the high-minded elite to general acceptance among us hoi polloi.
Voting, unfortunately, is still treated as a privilege and not a right by a lot of Americans. It’s taken us more than two hundred years to acceed, grudgingly, that even non-property-holding citizens who aren’t white or male or over 21 should — if they hold their mouths right, and choose their precincts — be permitted to vote. The prejudice against voting as a general right is engrained in our social fabric, just as the prejudice against women’s equality was. But it’s actually not easy for most people to stand up and defend their petty prejudices, however ‘traditional’. I want there to be a thousand thousand conversations, from Congress to the NYT and the WSJ to the local school board and the backyard barbeque, where people find themselves saying “Of course I believe every American citizen over the age of 18 should be able to vote without jumping through hoops or waiting in line for six hours, but…”
That’ll be a new thing. Even if the VRA ends up not being codified in the Constitution, it’ll be a good thing.