With the up coming election in my country (USA), I feel that I should write a bit about voting. I really should have written this last month, since the time to register to vote has passed in the majority of states, including my own. My personal belief is that voting is an extremely important privilege and that everyone who is able to should partake in.
Why do I say privilege instead of right? The reason for that is because even though constitutional amendments do prevent discrimination. There is no amendment guaranteeing an individual right to vote. The Bush vs. Gore Supreme Court case of 2000 even said "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States".
There are a significant amount of people who can not vote or whose votes are denied. The 15th amendment to the Constitution prevents discrimination in voting from race, color, or previous condition of servitude (those who were slaves). That was in 1870 but it did not give everyone the right to vote. The Constitution was amended again in 1920, 19th Amendment, prevents discrimination in voting based on sex. The 23rd amendment (1960) extends voting privileges to the District of Columbia. It was amended yet again in 1971, 26th Amendment, setting the voting age as 18. This one was created to prevent discrimination based on age, setting a minimum age of 18. It doesn't state that younger people can't vote, so a state could allow younger people to vote if the state wanted to allow it. If you haven't noticed nowhere does the Constitution say that people have the right to vote, only states some reasons that can not be used to prevent voting. This means that many people can (and are) not allowed to vote so long as the reason they aren't allowed to vote is not one of the above mentioned reasons.
Before I go onto people barred voting rights in the present, I'm going to point out a few from the past. The Native Americans were not given citizenship until 1924, Indian Citizenship Act, but even then many were not allowed to vote. Utah did not grant the Native Americans that right until 1956. There was a poll tax, which is an individual tax that had to be paid to vote. This was abolished by the 24th amendment. This prevents, at least in part, discrimination against the poor who could not afford to pay the tax.
Voting is not really governed by the federal government, it is the states who make the decision about who has the privilege to vote. Many states prevent people who should be able to vote, from voting. They do this in many ways. People who have committed crimes lose their privilege to vote, many even after having served their sentences have difficulty registering or are out right denied their vote (depends on state). People who are citizens of the United States but live in territories instead of states do not have the right to vote for president. The homeless people in this country, a significant and rising number (my county alone has, at bare minimum, 2,272 – the number of a recent point in time census of homeless shelters and most likely far higher), have an extremely hard time exercising their right since they do not have a home to register with. The mentally handicapped can not vote in some states. People who do not have a photo id are prevented from voting. People who go to the wrong voting place have their votes tossed out. The state purge their voter list so people who are registered voters might not be counted because their names were purged from the list of registered voters. Foreigner and illegal aliens can not vote. Many of those like the homeless, the people who served their jail time, and people in territories should, in my opinion, be allowed to vote.
People should fight to prevent their voting privileges, and the privileges of others, from being taken away. I do not think that absolutely everyone should have a right to vote. Foreigners and people who live here illegal should not be allowed to vote and some people for other reasons like lacking mental ability probably shouldn't vote. Many of the people who are citizens of this country and have the responsibilities, such as paying taxes, have trouble voting when they should not have trouble. I feel that people are far to complacent about allowing their privileges to be revoked. In my view, anything that is done that prevents or makes it difficult for people who are eligible to vote is a criminal act and should be protested. I also think a new amendment including federal standards should be implemented that gives and protects everyone's privilege to vote. There are too many different and varying rules the central government should create a new amendment that grants the privilege to people living in territories, gives everyone eligible who lives in a jurisdiction the right to vote, and set some standards to prevent voter disenfranchisement (explicitly prevent some of the dishonorable tactics from being used to bar voters).
Since this blog is, at least in part, on Japan. I'll mention Japan's voting rights here. The Japanese Constitution, not amendments - there are none, guarantees universal adult suffrage and a secret ballot. It also explicitly prevents discriminate in voting based on "race, creed, sex, social status, family origin, education, property or income". Age of adulthood is 20 in Japan.