Politics

Lawmakers Seek to Enshrine Right to Vote in Constitution

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Special to the NNPA from the Afro-American Newspaper

Civil rights leaders and groups are hailing legislation introduced by U.S. Reps. Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.) and Keith Ellison (D-Minn.) on Jan. 22 that would unequivocally guarantee every American’s right to vote under the U.S. Constitution, in the wake of growing attacks on that right.

“This amendment would affirm the principle of equal participation in our democracy for every citizen,” Pocan said in a statement. “As the world’s leading democracy, we must guarantee the right to vote for all.”

Added Ellison: “Our nation is stronger when we make it easy for Americans to participate in democracy…A guaranteed right to vote in the Constitution would go a long way towards increasing access to the ballot box for all Americans.”

Contrary to popular belief, the lawmakers said, the right to vote is not enshrined in the U.S. Constitution, and the “Pocan-Ellison Right to Vote Amendment” would amend the Constitution to expressly guarantee that fundamental right.

“It is shocking that in a country dedicated to the principle of government by the people, for the people, there is no constitutionally enshrined right to vote,” said Rep. Judy Chu (D-Calif.), an original co-sponsor of the legislation.

Chu, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) and 21 other House Democrats joined their peers in co-sponsoring H.J.Res.25. They all said the legislation was necessary given the increasing attacks on voting rights across the country.

According to the Brennan Center for Justice, at least 83 restrictive voting bills were introduced across 29 state legislatures in 2014. Recent barriers have included restrictive photo ID laws, voter roll purges, reduction of early voting and same-day registration opportunities, making it harder for students to vote and more.

“With more than 300 successful voting rights lawsuits over the last two decades, the Supreme Court striking down critical Voting Rights Act protections, and states across the South making it harder for citizens to vote, it is clear that more must be done to protect this cornerstone of our democracy,” Cohen said.

“Without a right to vote, minorities are at risk of being excluded. We saw this when women were told to keep out of government, we saw it in the Jim Crow South, and I’ve seen it in my own family’s experience with the Chinese Exclusion Act,” Chu added. “Universal suffrage is still recent in American history, and it is dismaying to see it already under attack by status quo stalwarts who fear the diversity that makes America so great…[This legislation] will put a stop to the ongoing assault on voting rights we are seeing across the nation.”

The bill has garnered support from civil rights leaders such as the Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. and the endorsement of groups including the Advancement Project.

“I am honored to join in support of Congressmen Mark Pocan and Keith Ellison as they introduce legislation that would add a right to vote amendment to the U.S. Constitution,” said the Rev. Jackson said in a statement. “As our civil and human rights democratic movement continues to struggle for full equality for all Americans, it’s not obvious that there was a ‘before Selma’ dimension to our struggle for voting rights, but that there must also be a ‘beyond Selma’ dimension.”

“A constitutional right to vote is not only an idea whose time has come – it’s long overdue,” said Advancement Project Right to Vote Campaign Director Shuya Ohno. “Out of approximately 120 democratic countries, the United States is one of only 11 in the world that does not definitively guarantee the right to vote in its constitution. With no affirmative language making this right explicit, there is no guarantee for elections that are free, fair and accessible. Instead, civil rights advocates are forced to play defense, constantly litigating against attacks on voting. The constitution should provide an explicit safeguard against these assaults, once and for all. Democracy demands no less.”

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