Why Right To Vote

The Need for Fundamental Voting Rights Reform

The right of Americans to participate meaningfully in political life is under assault.

Americans today face numerous barriers to the ballot box – strict voter ID laws, proof of citizenship requirements, discriminatory voter purges, draconian felon disenfranchisement schemes, and an assortment of inconsistent and complex voting guidelines at the state and local level.  These barriers have a disproportionate impact on voters of color, low-income voters, and elderly voters.

Moreover, today, hostility at all three branches of government elevates legal and legislative schemes at the state and national levels that create those barriers to voting and building power for people of color. With the Department of Justice retreating on its oversight of discriminatory state voting practices and with the U.S. Supreme Court poised to further weaken national protections for voting, we are fighting against the dangerous narrative of voter fraud promoted by the current administration that is intended to justify further hurdles for voters of color, precisely as they become an ever larger proportion of the Growing American Electorate – poised to take power. This is no coincidence.

The U.S. Supreme Court has enabled this frontal assault on the right of Americans to participate in political life. It gutted a key provision of the Voting Rights Act that required federal review of new voting practices in states with a history of discrimination in voting. And, it has watered down the level of constitutional scrutiny applied to state restrictions of the right to vote.

Across the nation, 13,000 different local voting jurisdictions administer elections for about 186,000 precincts with limited protections for voters, resulting in a different voting experience depending on your zip code.[1]

It is no wonder then that Americans – particularly young Americans – are disillusioned with our democracy, even as they exhibit high levels of political interest and engagement on issues such as policing, poverty, and ecological devastation. “In one study, a record-high twenty-four percent of young Americans said they thought that democracy was a ‘bad’ or ‘very bad’ way of running the country. The proportion of Americans who think it is essential to live in a democracy has decreased, especially among millennials.”[2]  Millennials, especially millennials of color, are rejecting the political status quo with 71 percent of millennials calling for a major third party.[3]

The time is ripe to fundamentally reform our democracy.

For almost two decades, Advancement Project has called for a nationwide movement to secure the ultimate protection for voting: an affirmative right to vote at the federal level.

Why do we need this ultimate protection?  Why should we work to enshrine an affirmative Right To Vote?

National Standards. Currently, voting is largely controlled by the states and local, county-level election authorities – some 13,000 eection jurisdictions, resulting in inconsistent and different voting experiences depending on one’s zip code. An affirmative right to vote at the federal level would make voting “an element of national citizenship, not a derivative of state citizenship,”[4]  thereby creating the legal foundation for fair, simple, and uniform voting standards across the nation and for the defeat of restrictive state laws.

Greater Legal Protection. A national right to vote would subject all voting restrictions to heightened judicial scrutiny, requiring states to demonstrate compelling justifications for voting restrictions.

Affirmative Responsibility to Bring All People into the Political Process. Currently, voting protections at the federal level are generally framed in negative terms. In contrast, an “affirmative conception of voting” means the government would have “an affirmative obligation to facilitate citizens’ exercise of the franchise . . .  If we can persuade the public that the government has a responsibility to enable all citizens, including poor people, people with disabilities, and members of minority groups, to participate fully in the electoral process, then perhaps we can also persuade them that the government has a responsibility to provide all individuals with the tools necessary to participate fully in other arenas of American life.”[5]

Defeat of the Confederacy and “States’ Rights” – Once and For All.  The “voting wars” have always been about race and belonging.  Who belongs in and to this nation – and who does not.  Who is a citizen – and who is not.  A national right to vote affirms the fundamental humanity of each person in the nation.  It says we all belong: one person, one vote.


[1] In Pursuit Of An Affirmative Right to Vote: Strategic Report, Advancement Project (July 2008) at 9, available at http://b.3cdn.net/advancement/ae94ee5ad8686f5760_27m6vr0j7.pdf (quoting Jesse L. Jackson, Jr., Democrats Should Fight for a “Right to Vote” Amendment, The Nation (Nov. 15, 2005), available at http://www.jessejacksonjr.org/query/creadpr.cgi?id=6908)).

[2] Tokaji, Daniel P., Vote Dissociation (October 26, 2017), 127 Yale L.J. F. (Feb. 2018 Forthcoming); Ohio State Public Law Working Paper No. 424 at 10, n. 58 (citing Roberto Stefan Foa & Yascha Mounk, The Signs of Deconsolidation, 28 J. DEMOCRACY 5, 5 (2017)).  .

[3] Rebecca Shabad, CBS News (Nov. 29, 2017), available at: https://www.cbsnews.com/news/poll-71-percent-of-millennials-want-a-third-political-party/

[4]  Richard Briffault, Three Questions for the “Right to Vote” Amendment, 23 Wm. & Mary Bill Rts. J. 27, 30, 45 (2014), available at http://scholarship.law.wm.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1705&context=wmborj.

[5] Pamela Karlan, Voting Rights and the Third Reconstruction, The Constitution in 2020, Jack M. Balkin and Reva B. Siegel, eds., New York: Oxford University Press, 2009 at 162, 165.

The Need for Fundamental Voting Rights Reform

The Need for Fundamental Voting Rights Reform The right of Americans to participate meaningfully in political life is under assault. Americans today face numerous barriers