Thursday, January 03, 2008

Questioning the Right to Vote

A.C. Kleinheider links to a series of comments debating whether Americans are guaranteed the right to vote by the U.S Constitution. He also links to R. Neal, who ridicules the possibility of debate on the issue. Of course, many people presume that the Constitution protects whatever it happens to be that they believe should be protected, but it would seem reasonable that such disagreements be resolved by looking at the language of the Constitution itself.

As it happens, the question of whether one has a right to vote is tied to who is being elected and is largely left to the states, with amendments to the Constitution protecting certain groups against discrimination. Thus:

In elections of U.S. Representatives, under Article I Section 2, whoever has the right to vote in the election of the largest of the state legislative houses in a given state also has the right to vote for U.S. Representative. The 17th amendment provides for the same with regard to U.S. Senators.

In elections of the President, under Article II Section 1, state legislatures are given authority to determine how a given state's electors are chosen.

While those sections do not require election by popular vote, the 14th Amendment creates a serious sanction for states that restrict, with certain exceptions (removing the right to vote for commission of crimes, etc.), the right of their citizens to vote. Basically, those states who deny adults the right to vote will lose seats in the House of Representatives proportionately. Under the 14th Amendment, states and the federal government are also not allowed to discriminate with regard to the right to vote based on race -- thus, if a person of one race is allowed to vote, then a person of any race is allowed to vote. The 19th amendment provides the same guarantee with regard to sex, and the 26th amendment does the same for those at least 18 years old.

Thus, the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee the right to vote in congressional and presidential elections, but it does provide for certain protections and creates a serious disincentive for states tempted to restrict the right to popular vote.

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