Saturday, October 11, 2008

Who has a right to vote?

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.


M.Zephyr said...

You neglected to mention the 23rd amendment, without which the residents of the District of Columbia could not vote for electors for the office of President and Vice President. Prior to that amendment, only residents of states could do so. As you point out, residents of US Territories still cannot, but the answer to that would be to pass another amendment, if sufficient support can be found for it.

When citizens of the US vote - whether for senators, members of the House of Representatives, or electors for the office of President or Vice President - they are voting for people who represent their state. It makes sense to me that state law should govern such elections.

You use the phrase "federal government." We should bear in mind that our government is, indeed, a federation of states. The central government has already aggrandized far too much power to itself, and the states have simply laid back and allowed themselves to be raped of their rightful governmental roles. I have no wish to see the central government intrude further into state responsibilities, whether in election law or anything else.

As for myself, I would not wish to see everyone allowed to vote. Voting privilege (within the US) should be restricted to US citizens - neither legal nor illegal immigrants who are not citizens should be permitted to vote. Convicts currently serving sentences, in either prison or under house arrest, should not be permitted to vote. People who are not mentally competent to care for themselves should not be permitted to vote. I think it was wholly inappropriate to pass an amendment which set the voting age at no higher than 18 - if individual states wish to restrict the vote to people who are at least 20 or 21 then they should be permitted to do so.

I agree with you, as a matter of opinion, that some people who are currently not permitted to vote in some states should be permitted. People who have completely served a prison sentence should be so permitted (although I am more ambivalent about permitting it during the period where they got time off for probation, good behavior, or whatever). It would be nice if homeless people could vote, provided there was some way to ensure they were citizens and met the other requirements, but for many that could be problematic. Local governments should be required to make an effort to contact people who are purged from voter lists.

It's interesting how you called voting a "privilege" at the top, but thenceforth always referred to the "right" to vote. You might also want to edit the title of your entry; I suspect you meant "Who has a right to vote?"

antimatterenergy said...

I had accidentally posted this. It was supposed to be saved as a draft but I accidentally published it.

This didn't start out as a post on US voting rights. I was originally going to only post the part about Japan's voting. I then got sidetracked (and overshadowed) while writing about how it compares with the USA and then post my opinion. I hadn't done a read through for grammar or added in the 23rd amendment yet. I also hadn't added the US poll tax, or voter fraud. There was other stuff I was contemplating adding as well both about the USA and Japan - like how in Japan men were given universal suffrage in 1927. I could add more but this post is already long enough.

I have changed the post title, added in the 23rd amendment, changed some wording, and further clarified my opinion.

I use federal government to talk about the central government, state government when talking about state, and local when talking about county or city.

I too think that states should govern the details about elections but like the amendments that were made I feel there should be another one which further sets standards. Include territories, makes it more difficult to take away voter privileges, and set a standard for federal elections - i.e. presidential elections since it is a federal election not a state or local one.

antimatterenergy said...

The amendment that set the voting age of 18, sets a standard minimum age, also prevents other age related discrimination. It prevents voting privileges being taken away. Without it a state could say, for example, that people 60 and older can't vote.

I believe voting to be important and many people who are denied shouldn't be. Though I'd prefer some people to not vote, they should have the right to. Having, at one time, been in jail or not having a place to live should not revoke the privilege.