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Know Your Voting Rights … Act!

Fred McBride,
Voting Rights Project
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September 17, 2008

It’s really interesting how a fundamental right — the right to vote — is fraught with challenges like photo identification requirements, felon disfranchisement, voting while a student, voting with a disability, vote caging and purged voting lists. Although the Constitution only directly speaks to voting with the 15th, 19th, 24th, and 26th Amendments, the ability to cast votes in a free and fair election is a cornerstone of democracy. How can the United States judge, criticize, and attempt to help other countries institute democratic election systems if it continues to enforce provisions that infringe upon a voter’s ability to cast a ballot and have that ballot counted?

Over the past few years we have witnessed voters turned away from polls due to the inability to produce state-issued identification, intimidation, or administrative mistakes. Such challenges have had even more adverse effects on poor and minority citizens. Is this a true democracy if voting is more of a privilege for the few, rather than a right for all?

The Constitution stands as an instrument for democracy, but the very principles upon which it stands must be enforced. Were the framers fearful of we the people? Yes! Was the ratification struggle for the Constitution difficult? Yes! Were citizens disfranchised at the formation of this government? Yes! Hence, today “We the people…” has a fervent meaning that popular sovereignty exists and the Constitution was eventually ratified by all 13 states. This was done by citizen involvement and participation to ensure the Constitution stands for all people.

I believe, like James Madison, that the Constitution is a masterful document detailing express powers of the government while ensuring both state and citizen rights. But I also believe as Thurgood Marshall stated:

[T]he government they devised was defective from the start, requiring several amendments, a civil war, and momentous social transformation to attain the system of constitutional government, and its respect for the individual freedoms and human rights, that we hold as fundamental today.”

Yet there remain individual freedoms and human rights — the right to vote — that must still be enforced. Until these rights are consistently enforced, I will, as Marshall eloquently stated, observe the anniversary with hopes not realized and promises not fulfilled.

Get involved and give the Constitution meaning! Know your voting rights … act! If you have problems voting or questions about voting, call 1-877-523-2792.