A Voting Rights Amendment Would Be A Start

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.

73 replies
  1. 1
    Baud says:

    I agree. I like going on the offensive.

  2. 2
    El Caganer says:

    No reason not to push for it in state constitutions as well.

  3. 3
    mclaren says:

    Oh, for crap’s sake. This is already covered by the fourteenth amendment.

    What we really need is a constitutional amendment banning courts from ruling that corporations are immortal persons.

    If you want to push for a constitutional amendment, folks, that’s the one to push for.

  4. 4
    Keith says:

    No shame in pushing an amendment like this, even if it’s hopeless. How many years did the GOP use a flag-burning amendment as a wedge issue? At a *minimum*, that’s what this can be, and the upside is much, much more.

  5. 5
    Violet says:

    @Baud: Agreed. Go on the offensive and make the other side play defense. Make them defend why people shouldn’t have the right to vote. Go on, wingnuts. Tell us how Latinos or non-property-owners or people who ever smoked weed should lose the right to vote. Winning message.

  6. 6
    TaMara (BHF) says:

    I agree. Pushing for it, at the very least, will help people understand there is both a gap in their rights and that their right to vote is often in jeopardy.

  7. 7
    debbie says:

    It may have already been mentioned, but after an exhaustive investigation, Ohio’s Secretary of State, John Husted, found that there was voter fraud in .001% of the electorate. That alone should shame the voter suppression advocates.

    (Not sure if I have the right number of zeros. It’s one one-thousandth of a percent.)

  8. 8
    Roger Moore says:

    I think it would be better to have more protections written into the amendment than I see in this version. I have to admit that I’m suspicious of Congress’s willingness to enact and enforce by appropriate legislation; plenty of people in our current Congress would see that as an excuse to write a national “Papers Please!” law.

  9. 9
    Davis X. Machina says:

    I’d love to see what ‘appropriate legislation’ this Congress would pass to enforce and implement this.

    National voter-ID laws more stringent than any presently on any one state’s books, would be my first guess. And federal pre-emption for any state with the temerity to have, say, same-day registration in defiance of its peers.

  10. 10
    Amir Khalid says:

    You are correct. The 1 in 0.001% is indeed three decimal places to the right of that in 1%.

  11. 11
    Roger Moore says:


    That alone should shame the voter suppression advocates.

    Requires that they have the capacity for shame, for which there is absolutely no evidence. More likely, they’ll point to the existence of a single incident of voter fraud as proof of the need for a draconian voter ID law, even if the case they’re pointing at wouldn’t have been prevented by requiring ID. These people simply aren’t going to let facts get in their way.

  12. 12
    PeakVT says:

    I have a draft of that amendment which the Representatives are free to use.

    ETA: It’s the first of the five. You may need to log into Google Docs to see the pdf.

  13. 13
    debbie says:

    @Amir Khalid:

    Thanks. Math always makes me nuts.

  14. 14
    Citizen_X says:

    @El Caganer: Amen to that, too.

  15. 15
    WereBear says:

    I totally agree with Kay; let’s put this out there and let the bigots whine. I think the national conversation has been informed by hearing what they really think.

  16. 16
    Irish Steel says:

    Hey, they check your credit before they give you a Visa card, right?. And voting is even more important than having a credit card. So… – Every Republican I Know

  17. 17
    Irish Steel says:

    @WereBear: This seems like a Kay post, doesn’t it?

  18. 18
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Davis X. Machina: Sometimes we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the better.

    To extend my analogy, Anita Hill’s testimony didn’t keep Clarence Thomas off the Supreme Court. But her testimony, and the discussion it sparked among many many households, did change the way people thought, and acted, about sexual harrasment in the workplace. Do you remember how many men discovered, for the first time, that their own personal mothers/wifes/sisters/daughters had been abused by bosses & coworkers because “that’s just the way things are”? It turned out there was a vast difference between joking about the secretary as a sex-toy and finding out that one’s mom had spent years putting up with getting fondled, or worse, because her salary kept food on the table. I want the conversation about voting to change from snark about non-English-speaking welfare queens being bussed from one precinct to another, to your elderly neighbor or college kid being denied their right because some jackhole petty bureaucrat likes the feeling of power.

  19. 19
    Anne Laurie says:

    @Irish Steel: Thank you, I take that as a genuine compliment!

  20. 20
    superfly says:


    IIRC, the numbers were 135 cases referred to various District Attorneys (referred, not convictions), out of approximately 5.6 million votes total, for a percentage of .00002411, or 1 potential fraudulent vote for every 41,481.5 votes cast.

    I think any amendment should also include language stating that money is not speech, and that corporations are not people.

  21. 21
    Irish Steel says:

    @Anne Laurie: Totes. I know this is the beginning of your shift but I still checked twice to make sure it was you.

  22. 22
    Davis X. Machina says:

    One big difference: Voter ID is popular.

  23. 23
    JWL says:

    When a Constitutional Convention is assembled, any and all resolutions submitted therein must be voted up or down. Any amendment so proposed must, in turn, be submitted to the various State Governments for another vote. That amendment[s] must need result in 2/3’s approval by the collective State Assembly’s to be incorporated into the U.S. Constitution.

    So, while a convention might be assembled for the ostensible purpose of insuring the right to vote, it might conceivably result in another proposal altogether being adopted (say, a balanced budget amendment), which would necessarily be placed before State Governments for their consideration. And which, of course, might prevail.

    Is that a correct understanding?

    If so, I have very serious qualms about any call for a Constitutional Convention.

    I simply don’t trust the shot callers of our two party system– and I mean, either party.

  24. 24
    debbie says:


    You’re right. I should have Googled before posting,


    Note this from the article:

    Per Husted’s January directive, county elections boards compiled 625 complaints of possible voting irregularities and determined that 115 of them were worth forwarding to local prosecutors for review. Most of those cases involved people attempting to vote more than once in Ohio. Husted said in a majority of the cases, only one of the votes was ultimately counted.

    I’d love to know how much this investigation is costing taxpayers.

  25. 25
    Roger Moore says:

    @Anne Laurie:

    Sometimes we shouldn’t let the perfect be the enemy of the better.

    The amendment is still in the very earliest stages and can still be changed to fix any problems people find with it. It’s the exact right time to look at it for flaws that can be fixed while it’s still fixable. Arguments about not letting perfection be the enemy of advancement are best reserved for later in the process when change is nearly impossible and we really are stuck with Hobson’s choice.

  26. 26
    Roger Moore says:


    I’d love to know how much this investigation is costing taxpayers.

    I don’t think it’s really relevant. Money spent researching the facts is usually well spent, given the cost of hasty decision making. If it proves that stronger voter ID law are unnecessary, it will probably save a lot of money.

  27. 27

    @Davis X. Machina: Yay! A bigoted law that keeps poor people, old people and minorities from voting is popular!!

  28. 28
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    Mark Pocan is my Congresscritter. Good for him.

  29. 29
    superfly says:


    Clearly, I should have Googled too, it was 115, not 135, point being, regardless of our lack of Google-Fu, the numbers of potential fraudulent votes are statistically insignificant, as we all already knew, nice that a Republican, who was crying wolf for so long, provides the numbers, just as the Kansas AG (don’t remember his name, if only there were something on the internet where I could look these things up) did before him, which he thought proved his point, when they did exactly the opposite.

  30. 30
    Rick Massimo says:

    A thousand times yes. As mentioned above, the GOP knew that their flag-burning amendments were never going to get anywhere.

    Let them explain to the country they claim to love that there should never, ever be any restrictions on owning a gun whatsoever, but voting – whoa, let’s slow down a minute.

    It depresses the hell out of me that this will never come to a vote, and that it will probably be Harry Reid who is instrumental in killing it.

  31. 31
  32. 32
    Cassidy says:

    @mclaren: Your concern is noted.

  33. 33
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @Riccardo Cabeza: And we have a chance, via amending the Constitution, to let Congress’s worst-common-denominator version take effect in every state.

    Oh boy.

  34. 34
  35. 35
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    Oh, for crap’s sake. This is already covered by the fourteenth amendment.

    Please point out the affirmative right to vote guarantee in the 14th Amendment. Text at link.

  36. 36
    Yatsuno says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: I take it you’re bored again?

  37. 37
    raven says:

    Is there a point when we forget about fighting voter ID and mobilize to get them for people? Just asking.

  38. 38
    Davis X. Machina says:

    @efgoldman: The legislature killed Voter ID it here, in Maine, not the people — and even then, they had to use the independent-commission dodge. It remains popular.

    On the other hand, same-day registration was restored to the books here last year by a negative referendum/citizens’ veto.

    Some voter suppression is seen as such, and is unpopular. Some is not recognized as such, and has broad-based support.

  39. 39
    raven says:

    @Yatsuno: The new troll filter is cool, if people quote dickheads like mclaren that doesn’t show up either. So “Hey Dickhead, you can see me but I can’t see you”!

  40. 40
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @Yatsuno: Actually, I am going to read a book for a while. I’ll check in later to see if mclaren was able to find something that is not there.

  41. 41
    Villago Delenda Est says:

    @Roger Moore:

    These people simply aren’t going to let facts get in their way.

    This, this, this.

  42. 42
    MikeJ says:

    @raven: Where’s that filter available?

  43. 43
    raven says:

    @MikeJ: I have to say I don’t know how it works. When I put my cursor under a name I get a blue “block” that pops up. I have the updated cleek filter so maybe that’s it??

  44. 44
    Baud says:


    Definitely get the id’s for folks, but if you stop fighting the laws, the GOP will move on to more draconian restrictions.

  45. 45
    NotMax says:

    The proposed amendment accomplishes nothing other than shift or expand pushes towards restrictions to requirements for establishing residency.

    Also too, words matter. Creating a Constitutional distinction between rights and ‘fundamental rights’ is a dangerous and precarious precedent.

  46. 46
    JPL says:

    How much money would be spent on ads stating that the illegals are canceling your vote. Unfortunately it would not pass.

  47. 47
    Maude says:

    I agree.
    I don’t like Congress Critters doing this type of thing.

  48. 48
    Citizen_X says:


    I don’t like Congress Critters doing this type of thing.

    There’s another option?

  49. 49
    Heliopause says:

    There already is an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution, in Article One, Section Two and the 17th Amendment. Granted, there’s enough ambiguity in the language that additional amendments have seemed to be necessary to clear things up, but I just wanted to point out that the affirmative right is in fact there.

  50. 50
    JWL says:


    Understood. But my qualm has nothing to do with fighting a good fight. That’s always worthwhile.

    Rather, it has everything to do with not fighting a good fight.

    I invoked the specter of a balanced budget amendment stampede. How many times has Barack Obama stupidly equated the budget of the United States with a work-a-day family budget?

    Like I said, my trust in the two party system is null (and damn near void).

  51. 51
    Citizen_X says:


    money would be spent on ads stating that the illegals Republicans are canceling your vote.

    There’s my response. A more effective message, because it’s A) blindingly obvious, and B) already infuriating the people affected.

  52. 52
    Maude says:

    It is nonsense. They’ve done this before on other issues.

  53. 53
    Mike D. says:

    Pocan was my state rep.

  54. 54
    JPL says:

    @Citizen_X: Great ad and MSMedia would be covering your or my ad 24/7…

  55. 55
    rikyrah says:

    have no problem with this.

    at all

  56. 56
    JWL says:

    @rikyrah: What if a Constitutional Convention did propose a balance budget amendment? Would you have a problem with that?

  57. 57
    PeakVT says:

    @JWL: Who’s calling for a constitutional convention?

  58. 58
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @JWL: A Constitutional Convention is not required to amend the Constitution. It is one method. Congress can also approve an amendment which then must be approved by the states.

  59. 59
    JWL says:

    @PeakVT: The subject in question does concern amending the U.S. Constitution, does it not?

  60. 60
    Mnemosyne says:

    I’m a little torn about this idea. On the one hand, it would be nice to have an actual voting right specifically spelled out in the Constitution so all of the “plain language” conservatives will STFU about how the Founding Fathers only wanted property owners to be allowed to vote. (This is the same reason the 19th Amendment had to be passed, BTW — courts would not accept that women counted as “citizens” under the Constitution, so a specific right for them to vote had to be spelled out.)

    On the other hand, I completely understand why people are concerned that conservatives would use the opportunity to restrict voting even more under the guise of “protecting” the vote.

  61. 61
    Omnes Omnibus says:


    Article. V. The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate.


  62. 62
    JWL says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Thanks.

    But surely it can be explained in plain English, that accounts for an ignorance of the first and fourth clauses.

    And what does said point have to do with a (hypothetical) balanced budget amendment?

  63. 63
    PeakVT says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Thank you.

  64. 64
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @JWL: The Constitution can be amended by a process other than a Constitutional Convention as I stated above. As a result, a move by Congress toward a Voting Rights Amendment would not make a Balanced Budget Amendment any more likely than it is right now.

    Shorter me: No Constitutional Convention is being proposed nor is one necessary.

  65. 65
    PeakVT says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Nor has a C.C. ever been called since the current constitution went into effect.

  66. 66
    Omnes Omnibus says:

    @PeakVT: For the exact reason that JWL has been expressing. Why open Pandora’s box when another method of amending exists?

  67. 67
    Matt McIrvin says:

    This amendment will go nowhere specifically because it makes no allowance for taking the vote away from convicted felons.

    Personally, I believe that convicted felons should be able to vote. I also believe that any politician saying this in most of the United States will be labeled the Votes For Pedophile Rapists Candidate and will never be elected to any office again.

  68. 68
    JWL says:

    @Omnes Omnibus: Thanks, again.

    Barring a Constitutional Convention, would not the the viability of said legislation ultimately reside with the U.S. judiciary?

  69. 69
    PeakVT says:

    @JWL: No.

    which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof,

  70. 70
    Mnemosyne says:


    Barring a Constitutional Convention, would not the the viability of said legislation ultimately reside with the U.S. judiciary?

    I’m starting to suspect you’re not an American, because this is stuff I learned in 7th grade social studies class.

    Here’s an explanation aimed at children. Note that the process you’re insisting must be used has never actually been used for any of the 27 amendments that have been made to the US Constitution.

  71. 71
    JWL says:

    I think I understand now (“uh, duhh”). No convention necessary, referendum from the bottom up.

    Then I’m in.

  72. 72
    The Other Chuck says:

    We got awful close to it with the 17th amendment — enough states had passed their own direct election laws that they threatened to call a convention to force the issue nationwide, but the senate was petrified that a convention could rewrite the entire constitution if it wanted, so they rolled over and passed the 17th on for ratification. Not without precedent: the original Constitution came out of a convention that was just intended to make minor tweaks to the Articles of Confederation.

    As I’ve read, constitutional conventions have been called for by numerous states legislatures over the years, and that in fact the total number of them would actually be enough to trigger a convention, but for that they’ve been spread out to where it obviously wasn’t a singular agreement. I imagine any genuine call for a CC would have to involve the states all signing the same document.

  73. 73
    The Fool says:

    I’m so old I remember the stolen election of 2000.

    At that time it was considered the height of sophistication among wingnuts to argue that there is no right to vote for President. If the Florida state legislature wanted to they could ignore the election returns and have the Republican controlled legislature decide who gets FL’s votes.

    This very nearly happened. And it is a sad commentary on American democracy that a couple of Members of Congress are only now getting around to proposing doing something about it.

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