Do you have a Constitutional right to vote?

Stock Photo of the Consitution of the United States and Feather QuillDoes the US Constitution say that you have a right to vote?

The answer may suprise you.

While several constitutional amendments prohibit discrimination based on race, sex and age, the language aways cuts carefully around just coming out and saying that you have the right to vote.  

The 15th amendment to the constitution says the "right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any state on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."  We usually sum that up by saying that the 15th amendment gave the right to vote to African Americans, but that's not exactly the same thing. 

And we often describe the 26th amendment as granting the right to vote to 18-20 year-olds, but what is actually says is "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 on account of age."

To put it another way, there is no explicit affirmative right to vote in the US Constitution.

It's implied and even heavily implied and there's case law that expands on that, but the constitution never comes out and says that you have the right to vote.

When we talk about restoration of voting rights for former felons or long voting lines, mandatory photo ID laws for voting and other impediments to our Democracy a lot of people tell us that they just can't believe these measures are legal. And indeed they're arguably not legal but there's not a lot of support in the Constitution for that argument and civil rights lawyers have had a harer time that we might hope winning these cases.

The right, indeed the duty to vote is such a key piece of our Democracy that it's hard to imagine that it's not spelled out in our Constitution.

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-WI) and Rep. Keith Ellison (D-MN) recently proposed a Constitutional Amendment addressing this - adding an explicit and affirmative right to vote to the supreme law of the land. 

It's an intriguing idea.

KFTC has no stance on this legislation at this time, but it's interesting to think about.

 

More information:

- National Review

- Politifact

- Talking Ponts Memo

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Comments

Alright, I'm going to take a stab at this; feel free to chime in. Article IV of the Constitution addresses states. Section 4 starts by saying, "The United States shall guarantee to every state in this union a republican form of government...," which in 1789 was understood to be what we call a representative democracy now. This means that in order for states to have legitimate governments, they need to be elected by the people of those states. Now, Art. I, Sec. 2, Clause i says, "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature," meaning if you can vote for your state reps, you can vote for the U.S. House. Amendment XVII extended this privilege to the election of the U.S. Senate.The selection procedures of Presidential Electors is still technically determined by the state legislatures, but all today hold that if you can vote for the other offices, you can vote for your electors too.Now, the real crux of this concerning recent measures taken to "ensure fair elections" that often times tend to disenfranchise people I would counter with Amd. XIV.; Sec. 1 says, "No state shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States..." As I laid out above, suffrage is one of those privileges. Should states make laws that prevent or hinder people's abilities to vote, they are in violation of the U.S. Constitution.I hope that wasn't too long or complicated. I welcome insight and your views.

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