Lawmakers across the country have found ways to lock millions of Americans, particularly Black and brown Americans, out of their voting rights.
The right to vote is among the most fundamental and sacred in American democracy, yet it is still not something every voting-age U.S. citizen can count on. The struggle and sacrifice of generations of brave Americans has brought our society closer to our democratic ideals, and today the Constitution contains more protections for the right to vote than when it was enacted. However, this foundational document—in which we enshrine our most fundamental values and most durable structural change—still does not offer an affirmative, comprehensive guarantee of that right to vote. As a result, lawmakers across the country have found ways to lock millions of Americans, particularly Black and brown Americans, out of their voting rights and, in turn, out of full participation in our democratic society. Voting rights organizers and advocates are again today engaged in creative and courageous efforts to resist voter suppression and other tactics that threaten our democratic ideals, and to make the right to vote real for all eligible Americans. These efforts are complicated, and sometimes thwarted, by the limitations of protections for the right to vote in our laws and, most critically, in our Constitution.
Codifying an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution will ensure every eligible person has full, inalienable access to the franchise.
Our current political moment has brought renewed attention to how the ills baked into American democracy are still being used to strip away the ability of Americans to participate in the political process. It has also brought a heightened appetite for reforms to fix what is broken and realize the promise of democracy for the most racially diverse generation in our history. As we collectively imagine an inclusive democracy and identify the reforms necessary to get us there, we should articulate an affirmative vision of how we could more fully enshrine the right to vote in the Constitution itself. Codifying an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution and amending it to address some of the most egregious failures of the promise of democracy will do more than anything else to realize the unfulfilled promise of democracy and ensure every eligible person has full, inalienable access to the franchise.
This paper lays out the kind of robust constitutional protection for the right to vote that we envision, in the form of a new amendment—a Right-to-Vote Amendment for a 21st Century Democracy—that names how the right to vote has been obstructed over the years and offers concrete remedies to these distortions of our democracy. Such an amendment would:
- State the right to vote in the affirmative;
Promote universal voter registration by constitutionalizing automatic voter registration & same day registration;
Protect against laws that have the effect of denying or diluting the voting rights of historically disenfranchised communities;
Abolish the Electoral College and ensure the President and Vice-President are elected directly by the people;
- Establish statehood for the District of Columbia;
- Guarantee sovereignty and self-determination of political status to the people of the U.S. territories;
- End the practice of penal disenfranchisement;
- Prevent extreme partisan gerrymandering;
- Curb the distorting role of big money in politics; and
- Give Congress broad enforcement powers, including the ability to establish election administration standards for all elections and require federal preclearance of state voting law changes, so that the right to vote will be made real for all eligible people.
Demos’ hope is to stimulate a conversation that goes beyond denouncing the latest form of voter suppression and instead centers the structural and systemic reform necessary to realize the full promise of our democracy.