Two members of the House of Representatives insist the Constitution doesn’t guarantee you the right to vote—and one leading fact-checking group says they may be correct, on a technicality.
Mark Pocan, a representative from Wisconsin, has joined with Keith Ellison from Minnesota to introduce a new constitutional amendment in the U.S. House of Representatives that guarantees everyone 18 years and older the right to vote in elections.
The folks at PolitiFact, the Pulitzer Prize–winning website in Florida, evaluated Pocan’s statement on the House floor that “nothing in the Constitution explicitly guarantees our right to vote."
The proposed amendment reads as follows,
“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.”
Related Link: Read full House bill
The verdict from PolitiFact: “Whether adding such a guarantee would have much impact is debatable. But Pocan’s narrowly constructed claim is accurately stated.”
In other words, the use of the word “explicitly” in Pocan’s statement may be correct.
PolitiFact checked more than a dozen sources, including constitutional experts from several sides of the political spectrum.
And while there is some agreement that the original wording of the Constitution doesn’t explicitly say there is a right to vote, the intent and the existence of multiple constitutional amendments, as well as court decisions interpreting those amendments, make it clear that people have voting rights.
"It is correct that there is not an explicit provision in the Constitution guaranteeing the right to vote," Hans von Spakovsky from the Heritage Foundation told PolitiFact, "but several amendments guarantee the right to vote at age 18, free of racial discrimination, and protected by the Equal Protection doctrine."
In fact, the 14th, 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th, and 26th Amendments deal with voting-rights issues.
To be sure, Pocan and Ellison don’t want to take away the right of the people to vote. Both men are involved in the broader political battle over voter identification at the polls.
Supporters of voter ID laws say the measures will cut back on voter fraud, which diminishes the rights of all voters.
Voter ID opponents say the laws restrict the ability of some people to vote by posing barriers that affect lower-income groups, disabled people, and minorities.
Pocan said he was inspired to support the amendment after a voter ID law effort in Wisconsin was defeated because of a “right to vote” clause in that state’s constitution.
“Even though the right to vote is the most mentioned right in the Constitution, legislatures across the country have been trying to deny that right to millions of Americans, including in my home state of Minnesota. It’s time we made it clear once and for all: every citizen in the United States has a fundamental right to vote,” Ellison said when the bill was introduced.
Historically, states have controlled voting rights, including measures that kept blacks away from the polls during the Jim Crow era.
In addition to the battle over voter ID laws, the Supreme Court will announce a decision on a possible change to the Voting Rights Act of 1965 in June.
The Supreme Court could eliminate a key provision of the act that requires states with a history of discrimination at the polls to get federal permission, or pre-clearance, before changing their election procedures.
The Obama administration was able to contest voter ID laws in South Carolina and Texas last year in federal courts that had jurisdiction under the Voting Rights Act.
According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 30 states have active voter ID laws, and three other states have law that were passed but are pending.
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