Election Year in a pandemic is a new and frightful experience for many of us. Spy columnist Al Sikes made a compelling argument that Maryland should send ballots to all registered voters, rather than requiring the absentee process.
The mail-in balloting is underfunded, states are passing laws to make it more difficult to vote, our President who does not want mail-in voting. This is unprecedented.
Actually, it is not. It is just what the founding fathers intended.
The Constitution does not directly give us the right to vote. It alludes to it in Article 1 Section 4:
1: The Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives, shall be prescribed in each State by the Legislature thereof; but the Congress may at any time by Law make or alter such Regulations, except as to the Places of chusing (sic) Senators.
The conservative Supreme Court used this Article in their Bush v. Gore 2000 decision, where they ruled that it gave states the power over elections (effectively ending the recount). To paraphrase, they decided that while subsequent Amendments gave us the right to vote, they did not give us the right to have our voted counted. That is the state’s right.
The same court used this Article to effectively gut the 1965 Voting Rights Act in 2013.
While this conservative court’s decisions are egregious, they are not wrong.
The framers of the Constitution only intended for white men of property vote. They didn’t consider expanding the right to minorities, women, slaves or free people of color, or immigrants. As a first act after approving the Constitution, states immediately set restrictive guidelines for voting.
So, the Supreme Court is acting upon the wishes of the founding fathers.
While the founding fathers are frozen in time, our country is not. Almost a third of the Amendments have been passed to increase voting rights. Amendments to allow direct election of Senators, voting rights to freed men of color, women, immigrants, 18 year-olds, and Amendments to eliminate voting barriers, the poll tax, literacy tests, property requirements.
Still, if you want to restrict voting rights, look no further than Article 1 Section 4. States have historically restricted rather than expanded voting rights (especially in the South).
Time for a 29th Amendment—to amend the Constitution to give Congress the authority to grant and enforce voting rights, given the egregious history of some states. FairVote is a bipartisan group lobbying for just this.
In 2013, an Amendment to the Constitution was proposed in the House of Representatives (H. J. RES 44) that stated simply:
- 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.
- Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.
It died in Congress.
Today we have corporations as citizens, an underfunded voting system that can be changed at will by states. Allowing the Federal Government to control voting, at least in Federal elections, would ensure all our votes could be counted.
Of course, this is a proactive situation, we haven’t passed a substantive Amendment in almost 40 years. But to quote the Beach Boys:
“Wouldn’t it be nice?”
Angela Rieck, a Caroline County native, received her PhD in Mathematical Psychology from the University of Maryland and worked as a scientist at Bell Labs, and other high-tech companies in New Jersey before retiring as a corporate executive. Angela and her dogs divide their time between St Michaels and Key West Florida. Her daughter lives and works in New York City.