File under “They aren’t even pretending.”
Indiana’s deplorable legislature is in session (you can tell by the number of us cringing during news reports), and the outnumbered Democrats are battling attacks on Indianapolis, on public education, and on voting.
Democratic Representative Carrie Hamilton introduced a bill that would extend Indiana’s shortest-in-the-nation voting hours. The bill would allow voters to cast ballots until 8:00 p.m. rather than the current cut-off at 6:00, as is currently the case in most states. Rather obviously, a 6:00 p.m. cutoff primarily disadvantages lower-income workers who lack the flexibility of professionals and business executives.
Our legislative overlords–the GOP super-majority–immediately nixed Hamilton’s effort. Presumably, they’re worried that extending the time to vote would increase the turnout of “those people” who– they worry– tend to vote Democratic.
Making it difficult for certain people to vote has become a favorite Republican suppression tactic, along with the party’s ongoing commitment to gerrymandering.
Readers of this blog know me to be a vigorous defender of the U.S. Constitution, but it is impossible to overlook several provisions of that document that have become obsolete (i.e. the Electoral College) or others that are missing from it. Election expert Richard Hasan outlined one of the most important of those omitted provisions in a recent column for the New York Times.
The history of voting in the United States shows the high cost of living with an old Constitution, unevenly enforced by a reluctant Supreme Court.
Unlike the constitutions of many other advanced democracies, the U.S. Constitution contains no affirmative right to vote. We have nothing like Section 3 of the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms, providing that “every citizen of Canada has the right to vote in an election of members of the House of Commons or of a legislative assembly and to be qualified for membership therein,” or like Article 38 of the Basic Law of the Federal Republic of Germany, which provides that when it comes to election of the Bundestag, “any person who has attained the age of 18 shall be entitled to vote.”
As we enter yet another fraught election season, it’s easy to miss that many problems we have with voting and elections in the United States can be traced to this fundamental constitutional defect. Our problems are only going to get worse until we get constitutional change.
Hasen pointed out that most expansions of voting rights in the United States are the result of constitutional amendments and congressional action. The Courts have routinely reiterated that the the Constitution doesn’t contain any guarantees of the right to vote for President (see Bush v. Gore, in which the Court also ruled that states may take back the power to appoint presidential electors directly in future elections.)
As most lawyers know, and as Hasen points to
the only period in the 235-year history of the Supreme Court when it was hospitable to broad constitutional voting rights claims. The court, under Chief Justice Earl Warren, saw a broad expansion of voting rights in the 1960s, thanks mainly to its capacious reading of the equal protection clause.
Hasen’s column provides several examples of the Court’s reluctance to find a right to cast a ballot, and it is one more gloomy element to assess in what is shaping up to be an election deciding the fate of American democracy.
He then turns to state-level efforts to restrict voting.
Often, voting restrictions are an effort to shape the universe of those who vote. Although both parties have played this game over time, today it is mostly Republican-led states that seek to limit the franchise, out of a belief that lower turnout, especially among those they expect to vote for Democrats, helps Republicans.
Finally, Hasen points to three reasons to pass a constitutional amendment confirming a positive right to vote: it would prevent states from limiting the franchise and erecting barriers intended to prevent voting by eligible voters, like onerous residency requirements or strict voter identification laws; it would diminish the current explosion of election litigation–which has nearly tripled since 2000;. and it “would moot any attempt to get state legislatures to override the voters’ choice for president through the appointment of alternative slates of electors, as Donald Trump and his allies tried to do after the 2020 election.”
Rules that guarantee not only the right to vote but also the right to have that vote fairly and accurately counted would provide a basis for going after election officials who sought to disrupt the integrity of election systems. Leaks of voting system software or an administrator’s lack of transparency in counting ballots could become constitutional violations.
In many ways, our Constitution is a marvelous document, but the addition of an affirmative right to vote would definitely improve it.