Thursday, October 23, 2014

A Proposed New Constitution Article 3, Guaranteeing the Right to Vote

From the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.

Article 3-Guaranteeing the Right to Vote
1.The right to vote for all citizens of legal adult age is absolute and cannot be denied, limited, barred, blocked, or suppressed, whether by deliberate attempts or unintended outcomes. All current such attempts are ended. Any law with the outcome,  even unintended,  of denying the vote to members of a particular ethnic group, age group, economic background, or party, shall be immediately void.
    Many cynics will tell you that voting solves nothing. They are only half right. Believing voting is a magic bullet is false, for it is only one solution among many, one to be combined with others. Such a belief in voting alone as being the mark of a democracy almost turns voting into an empty ritual, part of what scholars call civic religion. But truly free and representative voting can and has solved much. For if voting were truly completely useless, American elites would not spend so much effort to stop it, centuries of trickery, exclusion, and often insane levels of violence.
    At first voting was incredibly limited in the US, not only by gender and race but by a high property requirement. In some states, more than nine tenths of white males could not vote at the time of the constitution. It took two generations for the majority of poor white males to sometimes be able to vote. Even that was later limited by poll taxes aimed as much at stopping poor whites from voting as Blacks. The Fifteenth Amendment was supposed to protect Black voting rights. It took enormous violence, over 50,000 deaths after the Civil War and a corrupt and then indifferent Republican Party to intimidate the Black community into not voting, something that was not reversed until as late as the 1970s in some areas.
    Over 6,000,000 Americans today are legally barred from voting, over 3% of the total. The excuse for taking away their vote is that they have criminal records. Since the “justice” system is incredibly unequal and racist, this falls almost entirely on minorities. Though almost two thirds of American criminals are white (since two thirds of Americans are white) two thirds of those locked up in prisons or on parole are Black or Latino. A Black or a Latino are far more likely to be charged and imprisoned, and for longer, than a white committing the exact same crime.
    The laws deciding when ex convicts can vote are incredibly uneven. In some states, voting returns automatically after a set period. Other states require a formal pardon, and the process can be a quick formality or very drawn out and difficult. In six states, all in the south, felons are barred from voting for life. Stealing a car at 17 means one will never vote their entire life. In three states, Florida, Kentucky, and Virginia, one out of five Blacks cannot vote. In Florida, the majority of Black males cannot vote.
    Being blatantly racist, this is simply unjust. The right to vote should return automatically when one pays one's debt to society. For lesser nonviolent felonies, it should not be taken away at all. Having the vote available to some prisoners could aid their rehabilitation, were it to become one more thing a parole board could look at as a sign of a genuine attempt to reform. (Those imprisoned for drug possession should not be in prison at all. Proposed Article 15 will end the Drug War as a violation of the right to privacy.)
    There are a wide range of attempts to limit voting, old fashioned voter suppression by other names. Voter ID laws could block up to 9% of all voters from voting, mostly minorities and the poor. In some states there are laws or attempts to make it more difficult for college students to vote. Others are putting in place shorter absentee voting times or harder requirements. Many states make it difficult for Americans overseas to vote. Some states like Texas require a ballot to be applied for within the state before leaving and then sent by mail. In some nations with poor postal systems means one needs to vote many months in advance.
    The right to vote as a part of Proposed Article 3, or a constitutional amendment, stops all these attempts. It is already widely proposed. 173 congressmen have already signed on as co sponsors, including 11 Republicans. Two counties and a city, with a combined population of two million, have also passed resolutions in support.
2.Any official who deliberately or unintentionally makes voting more difficult shall be immediately removed, their decisions voided and actions reversed. Deliberately blocking others from voting or blocking voting recounts shall always be prosecuted and punished as a felony.
    Having very partisan officials in charge of elections, as election commissioners or Secretaries of States, almost guarantees partisan outcomes. Besides requiring election committees to be entirely nonpartisan, as Proposed Article II does, one needs both to remove the incentive to cheat and provide punishment if someone does.
    Removing the official will be the punishment. Automatically voiding and reversing their decisions removes any incentive. Blocking voting or recounts needs to be a felony punished harshly. While the civil rights acts do punish for killing someone to stop them from voting, there is no punishment for such crimes as a riot that partly blocked the Florida recount in 2000 or those who sent false voter registration information in Wisconsin in 2012.
3.Voting days shall be national holidays, with a paid day off for workers only with proof of voting.
    The average voter turnout is much lower than most people think. Most references to US voter turnout are to presidential elections and claim the typical turnout is 1/2 to 3/5 of all eligible voters. (Notice also that using “eligible voters” as a standard rather than “all voters” leaves out the many who never vote.) The actual average voter turnout is under 10% for all US elections. For local elections, especially special districts set up for water or community colleges, turnout is routinely under 1%. Compare this to other democracies. Almost all nations have turnouts of at least 2/3. Most have turnouts over 90%. The US is almost unique in its high voter apathy and disgust of an enormous part of the public.
    Some members of the media elite such as George Will argue low turnout is a sign of contentment. Such a view could only come from the very sheltered or willfully blind. Turnout is lowest among those who have the least reason to be content. The poorest vote least of all, minorities much less than whites, the young less than the old, and the less educated much less than the most educated. If contentment were why voters did not vote as Will claims, the wealthy never would vote, and the poor always would. The reality is the exact opposite.
    The reason why poor and minorities vote much less is obvious. They are being smart, or at least realistic. They know they are not being represented, and see no reason to waste their time. To get them to vote, one must not only make a system which will represent them, as Article 2 does. One must also give them other incentives.
    A waitress or construction worker has little incentive to vote if it means they lose money by taking off time when they could be working. An eight, ten, or twelve hour shift of physical labor makes it difficult to go and wait in line. Partisan election commissions don't make it any easier. There were many accounts in the last several elections of waiting up to ten hours to vote in inner cities while suburban voters were done in minutes.
    One way to boost turnout is to make election days national holidays. Most other democracies have their elections on either Sundays or make them national holidays. But since many working class people work weekends, and many others see Sunday either as a day for church or for relaxing watching pro sports and having a barbecue, Sunday is not ideal. A paid holiday gives workers incentive, being paid for a day's work for showing up to vote that hopefully is done in a short time. Failing to vote would mean one is not paid for your holiday off.
4.The voting age is lowered to sixteen for any US citizen proving their maturity by holding a job, driver's license, or living on their own.
    Some other nations allow 16 and 17 year olds to vote. 5 nations in Latin America, 4 in Europe, and 2 in Asia allow voters under 18, sometimes conditioned on employment. Why not? If they are taking on the responsibilities of adults, why not reward them as adults, with adult powers such as voting? The intent here is not just to reward them for adult behavior, but also to establish the voting habit early. In the Philippines, there are mock elections in high schools. Thus their voter turnout is much higher.
    Tying voting to driving is another way to give them incentive to vote. Proposed Article 5 has a voter losing licenses, including your driver's license, if one fails to vote. The threat of losing their driver's license would spur voting habits to change, to be adopted early in life. A 16 year old knowing that they could lose their license if they don't vote will develop the habit early.
  Al Carroll is Assistant Professor of History at Northern Virginia Community College and the author of numerous articles and books including the forthcoming A Proposed New Constitution.

No comments:

Post a Comment