The Constitution Does Not Protect Your Right To Vote [Opinion]

Provisions in the Constitution leave who can vote in federal elections up to the states, creating a barrage of problems across the nation.

A person holds out a voting rights sticker on their finger.
JLMcAnally / Shutterstock

Provisions in the Constitution leave who can vote in federal elections up to the states, creating a barrage of problems across the nation.

Americans across several states are grappling with some pretty outrageous attacks on their rights to vote.

Tens of thousands of Georgians — mostly people of color — are presently subjected to a hold on their voter registrations due to stringent rules about the process of signing up to vote. In North Dakota, another voting law, upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court, has made it so that thousands of Native American voters, lacking a physical address, will not be able to vote in this year’s midterm elections — even when they present a valid photo ID.

These and other restrictions, as reported by CNN, negatively impact how people are able to select their representatives at the federal level as well as in their respective home states. When it comes to voting rights, you’d think that the federal government could do more to protect an individual’s ability to cast a ballot. But the truth of the matter is that the U.S. Constitution barely even protects the right to vote at all.

Two provisions of the Constitution state who can vote. The first, found in Article I Section 2, stipulates who is a qualified elector (read: voter) in selecting federal officeholders to serve. Read the Constitutional passage carefully — as provided by the Cornell Law School website — and you’ll see that it doesn’t say that citizens actually have a right to vote.

“The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature.”

That line in bold means that people can vote for Senators, Representatives, and Presidential candidates only if they’re legally allowed to vote for their state representatives also. Let’s use an extreme possibility to highlight how maddening this rule really is.

Suppose your state decided that, from now on, only dog owners would be allowed to vote for state lawmakers. It may be absurd, but if there’s no state constitutional provision saying otherwise, your state has the ability to do so.

If they pass that provision into law, that also means that only dog owners in your state would be allowed to vote for federal offices. If you had a dog allergy, it wouldn’t matter — you’d have to buy a dog in order to cast votes for presidential candidates, for example.

A separate amendment does make one condition clear with regards to the voting process. The 26th Amendment states that voters cannot be restricted by the states from voting if they’re over the age of 18. But this is only one protection that exists — using the hypothetical above, the 26th Amendment would only require the state implementing the fictional “dog owner law” to allow any dog owner over the age of 18 to vote.

Other barriers besides non-existent voter protections in the Constitution also impede some citizen’s ability to vote. One of the biggest issues is that Congress cannot enforce a uniform system of voting — there are 50 different rules across 50 different states.

There are proposals out there to fix these types of problems. One would be to pass a simple, short amendment — like the Right to Vote Amendment that was proposed by Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wisconsin) a few years ago, according to FairVote.org. That amendment has two very basic lines that seem agreeable to many who read them.

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.

This proposal would make the right to vote a concrete right within the Constitution. It would also give Congress the right to enforce laws protecting that right, making things more uniform across the nation on certain matters.

As we get closer and closer to the midterm elections, it’s important that we respect the right to vote and understand that it’s an important right to protect. But we must also come to understand that it’s not being protected enough — especially nationally — allowing states to enact unfair and biased rules against people who simply want to select who represents them in Washington.