A Voter’s Bill of Rights

It’s time for a constitutional amendment to protect voter’s rights: A Voter’s Bill of Rights.

(Here’s an essay I wrote earlier this year and posted to my blog where you can find other essays on various subjects.)

I’m presenting a proposal that, if carried out, will actually change our political system for the better. I’ve given it some thought over the last few months, and I hope it will appeal to those who believe, as I do, that one of the fundamental problems of American democracy is that it has impediments to the influence of voters on their government … impediments that were put in place by people in positions of undue power who want to keep that undue power, at the expense of your votes and mine.

bill of rightsI’ve been thinking that it’s time for a constitutional amendment to protect voter’s rights, and to reform the system toward a true “one citizen, one vote” condition. I call it the “Voter’s Bill of Rights.” Here’s what it should do:

  1. Eliminate the Electoral College. It’s a relic of the slave system that no longer serves any useful purpose except to enhance the political power of voters in sparsely-populated states, and to nullify the votes that were cast by the minority voters in winner-take-all swing states. Its apologists also maintain that it should act as a safeguard against blatantly unqualified people from becoming president despite having won a majority in the electoral college, a theory that has sadly proved to be false. It should be immediately replaced in favor of a direct vote.
  2. Count every vote. Amazingly, huge numbers of votes go uncounted in areas where those votes are not thought to make a difference in the outcome, on the grounds that the expense of counting these votes was not fiscally sound. That’s public information, and it should be made public.
  3. Require all votes to be put into hard-copy form, so that recounts can be made efficiently and accurately. Require that these votes not be destroyed, but stored for a sufficient period that they may be made available for recounts in contested elections.
  4. Allow ex-cons to vote, once they have fulfilled their sentencing and parole requirements, and have paid their “debt to society.” Once they have re-entered society, they should be entitled to vote on candidates and issues that affect them, just as every other citizen has that right. (It might even be argued that those in prison should have the vote, since they are entitled to representation on issues that affect them. But I don’t think that society in general is ready to embrace that concept, so I’ll save that battle for another time.)
  5. Make the voting process easier by allowing vote-by-mail, advance voting, fair distribution and hours of polling places, and easier voter registration. Laws that only serve to place impediments to citizen voting, such as harsh voter identification laws, would be deemed unconstitutional and repealed.
  6. Require that districts be drawn by non-partisan agencies rather than by partisan political interests, to reflect the actual distribution of voters in their areas rather than enhance the influence of the prevailing political party in that area.
  7. Forbid all tactics that are used to purge voter rolls before an election. If such rolls are purged, there must be sufficient time for those whose names were dropped to be notified of their disenfranchisement to permit an appeal of the decision, so that any errors could be rectified by election day.

I know that these proposals are somewhat rough, because I’m not a lawyer, but I think that the intent of the Amendment is clear. I believe that there are plenty of lawyers in government who could make the Amendment more airtight, and I invite their participation.

The big stumbling block to the passage of this Amendment is, of course, that it eliminates everything that works to the favor of the dominant political party. Right now, that party is the Republican Party, which has devoted an immense amount of effort into restricting votes for minorities. But thirty years ago, it was the Democrats who wielded that influence. Thirty years from now, it could again be the Democratic Party who is wielding that influence, and it would be the Republicans who are against it and for voter reform.

That’s why I call it the “Voter’s Bill of Rights.” The original Bill of Rights was to guarantee that there are some things beyond the reach of the “tyranny of the majority.” Your rights to free speech, freedom of the press, and religious freedom cannot be denied to you, even by a majority vote of the citizens. Shouldn’t a bill of rights include your right to have your vote counted exactly the same as anybody else’s vote, regardless of who is in power?

So the real question is: does a Voting Rights Amendment work for true and accurate evaluation of the will of the people? For the only way democracy can work is if its citizens, of whatever political persuasion, know that their votes count equally, and that they are not cheated of their right to vote.

Let’s put it more baldly. It all comes down to this: Is it more important for the voting process to reflect the true and accurate desires of the American people, or for it to augment the influence of the party in power? If it’s the former, then a Voter’s Bill of Rights is needed, and needed right now. If it’s the latter, then we’re saying that we have no problem with powerful people using their power to stay in power. If that’s the case, we can just kiss democracy goodbye. We’ve just admitted that we don’t deserve it.

Here’s where you come into it. There are two things you can do to get behind this if you support it. The first step is easy, and requires a minimum of effort on your part: share the link to this blog with anybody you care to, in any social medium you please. Get people thinking about it.

Second, if you support a Voter’s Bill of Rights, let your Senators, Representatives, state legislators, and Governors know. Ask if they support such an amendment. If they do, tell them to introduce it into Congress, and pave the way for its approval by the states. If they don’t support it, refuse to vote for them or contribute to their campaigns, regardless of their party affiliation, or yours. Tell them that you’ll be voting instead for somebody who truly has the interests of the people at heart.

Who’s with me?

John LaTorre
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