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“Right to Vote” amendments and voter suppression

May 14, 2013

Ready,_Set,_Vote_3Some good news on the federal front, with regard to voting rights. A pair of Congressmen have plans to introduce a Constitutional Amendment that would guarantee the right to vote. Congressmen Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Keith Ellison of Minnesota have drafted the amendment, via the Nation —

SECTION 1: 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.

SECTION 2: Congress shall have the power to enforce and implement this article by appropriate legislation.

Earlier in May, the Tennesseean reported that Rep. Jim Cooper was also working on a “right to vote” amendment in the House, albeit in a potentially very off-color manner.

This is a welcome trend, and it echos a slight shift that we have seen on the state level this year. While (some) reps in Congress are looking towards guaranteeing the right to vote, the Brennan Center reports that eight bills that expand opportunities for eligible citizens to register and vote have passed at the state level. Brennan Center also reports that eight restrictive bills have passed, and while those should not be overlooked, the pendulum is swinging away from restrictive laws, considering the number that passed in 2011 and early 2012.

The importance of expanding voter access and registration opportunities cannot be understated. True, 2013 is not a major election year, but the laws passed now will have lasting effects on elections to come, and legislation proposed during election years has a greater tendency to be met with resistance with partisan intentions coming into play.

However, Jotaka Eaddy of NAACP notes that the voter suppression efforts aren’t letting up, and she is right. Despite the introduction of some access opportunities, efforts to restrict the vote are not going anywhere, and this will have consequences for the “rising American electorate,” made up largely of women, people of color, young folks, and those who are multiple of the above.

The consequences of successful efforts to suppress voting rights are dire for communities of color.  With the United States projected to become a “majority-minority” nation for the first time in 2043, civic engagement in Black, brown and youth communities has never been more important. But without full and unfettered access to the ballot box, this rising electorate’s ability to fully participate in our democracy will be at stake.

We need immediate action from our leaders on voting rights. Thank you to the Congressmen who have worked on introducing these laws at the federal level, but with 50 different states administering 50 different sets of election laws, (and 13,000 voting districts at the local level nationwide) the work in the near term will be done on the state and local levels. While at least some of the future work will be dictated by how the Supreme Court rules on some voting rights cases this summer, states will have to decide for themselves whether they want to protect or dismantle the right to vote.