Inalienable, Right?

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One reason that the United States attracts the distain of Russian communist dictatorships and the admiration of purple-fingered voters in the Middle East? Every citizen has the right to vote.

Americans have taken voting for granted, to the point where only 60% of them voted in the 2016 elections. With less than two years left before the 2020 election, the question of whether or not we can consider voting an inalienable right is now more under debate and more important than ever.

Unknown to most, during Reconstruction after the Civil War, thousands of freed African-Americans held public offices, including US Senate seats. But, 100 years later, terrorism and Jim Crow laws had eliminated them from most governance. 

Many probably thought this issue was resolved with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its five subsequent amendments, which prohibited racial discrimination in voting. Strict Constitutionalists and Second Amendment advocates should also recognize the Fourteenth and Fifteenth Amendments, which guaranteed that the descendants of the Blacks who arrived as slaves in the 17th century had the same opportunities as the descendants of the Irish and Italian immigrants who arrived in the 20th century. 

In today’s world, a hooded Klansman might not ride up to a voter registration leader’s house or a grandmother be asked how many jelly beans in the jar, but there are subtler ways of determining who will and will not vote. Persistent redlining makes gerrymandering an effective segregation tool. Elderly or people with disabilities can be denied for not having drivers’ licenses. Younger people can be denied for having a past marijuana conviction for which they have already served time.

While many think his proposals are extreme, Bernie Sanders should be commended for stimulating debate about important issues, whether it is Medicare For All, free education for all, or taxes on the 1%. Though his recent comments about allowing people in prison to vote set off a firestorm about possibly letting terrorists elect presidents, Sanders did generate a needed discussion about voting rights in America. 

Some local jurisdictions, like Florida in a recent voter referendum to restore voting rights to released prisoners, have taken it upon themselves to expand voting rights. Meanwhile others, like Georgia, have sought to suppress them with an “exact match” policy that puts applications on hold for minor discrepancies between registration forms and official state records, like middle initials.

With the Mueller Report, there is now confirmation that the threat to voting rights is not just domestic but international. Russian tampering is not a red or blue issue. Without immediate measures to combat sabotage of any kind by any political forces – internal or external – it may be beneficial for other countries to have a Democrat in office in the future.

A review of the principles of democracy, always includes “citizen’s rights” and “the consent of the governed” at the top of the list. During a recent talk at the Arizona State University Center for the Study of Race and Democracy, former US Attorney General Eric Holder described how everything from discriminatory school expulsions and over-incarceration to disparate sentencing and arbitrary configuration of voting districts is disenfranchising Americans and threatening our democracy. Holder, who now devotes his time to National Democratic Redistricting Committee, warned that “politicians are choosing their voters instead of voters choosing their politicians.”

Voting rights is not as inflammatory an issue as immigration, nor does it involve the calamitous impacts of climate change. But it is the glue to hold together history’s most successful democracy: the United States of America.