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Tuesday, August 09, 2005Beyond the Voting Rights Act: Why We Need a Constitutional Right to Vote
As thousands of civil rights advocates celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act (VRA) in Atlanta last weekend, most media coverage conveyed the Act's importance in protecting minorities' political rights. Yet many of those same stories helped perpetuate a dangerous illusion by asserting that a right to vote is guaranteed by the 15th Amendment.
The trouble is the Supreme Court doesn't see it that way.
In its 2000 ruling, Alexander v Mineta, the Court decided the 600,000 or so (mostly black) residents of Washington D.C. have no legal recourse for their complete lack of voting representation in Congress (they have one “representative” in the House who can speak, but cannot vote). The Court affirmed the district court's interpretation that our Constitution "does not protect the right of all citizens to vote, but rather the right of all qualified citizens to vote.” And it's state legislatures that wield the power to decide who is “qualified.”
As a result, voting is not a right, but a privilege granted or withheld at the discretion of local and state governments.Yes, our Constitution explicitly prohibits discrimination in granting the franchise based on a person's race, sex, or (adult) age via the 15th, 19th, and 26th Amendments, but those protections are like a house with no foundation. States and other governments can and do disenfranchise individuals and groups of citizens, and so long as they do it without provable bias, it's entirely legal. Link
Maybe this is why Blacks could be disenfranchised in the past two elections and no one was really held accountable, because it is legal.