Voting Rights - by David Pratt
What is happening to Democracy, when our elected representatives get to choose who votes for them?
Fortunately, the old ally of the entrenched official, gerrymandering, is increasingly under assault. In North Carolina, in Pennsylvania, in Maryland, and (thanks in part to Arnold Schwarzenegger’s Terminate Gerrymandering program) an increasing number of states, challenges are being made to the century-old system of marginalizing voters by packing districts with people more likely to support the party in power. It is a positive change that will help ensure more accurate representation for districts across the nation. Facing the revolt against gerrymandering, state legislatures are implementing their next most favored tactic. If they cannot weaken a vote, they choose to take it away altogether.
We have seen it in the massive disenfranchisement of Native American voters in North Dakota. Until recently, we have seen it in the refusal to restore voting rights to felons who have paid their debt to society in Florida. We have seen it in the “use it or lose it” laws in Ohio and “exact match” laws in Georgia, resulting in thousands being stricken from voting roles, and attempts to shut down polls across minority districts. We have been singing this refrain since the 1950s, and it keeps echoing in 2018. We can count on this continuing into 2020, which will be one of the most crucial elections in United States history. Under the current administration, and with the Voting Rights Act effectively neutered by the Supreme Court decision in Shelby County v. Holder removing key protections for vulnerable voting populations, we can only expect the loss of voting rights to worsen. Unless, that is, we do something to change it. Something to guarantee one vote for every citizen. Something big and just about irrevocable.
It is time to amend the Constitution. It is a big, intimidating task, but one that can and has been done. The good news is that it does not need to be altered in any drastic way – we don’t even need to really add anything, just remove a portion. Not even a large portion, just four words, and not even long words. Five syllables altogether. Five syllables from the Twenty-Sixth Amendment, which reads “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.”
All this theoretical Twenty-Eighth Amendment need say is “The words ‘on account of age’ are hereby stricken from the Twenty-Sixth Amendment.”
As it is written now, the Twenty-Sixth Amendment’s language has the effect of guaranteeing that every citizen of the United States will be given the right to vote upon reaching the age of majority, and further that neither the federal nor any state government will enact laws restricting such. When you remove the words “on account of age,” however, what happens is that the Amendment transforms into a guarantee that no citizen, for any reason, will have their right to vote impeded by any act of legislation. All it takes is convincing two-thirds of Congress that they either support our universal right to vote, or the next vote we cast will not be for them.
Make no mistake, it is a monumental undertaking, but with a monumental reward. The people should always choose their representatives, representatives should never be able to choose their people. For the sake of the nation, we can get this done and make sure that no American citizen can ever have their voice taken away.