Senate Judiciary Subcommittee Examines the War on Voting

Yesterday afternoon, the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Subcommittee on the Constitution, Civil Rights and Human Rights held a hearing on “New State Voting Laws: Barriers to the Ballots,” examining the spate of new voting laws passed throughout the Nation making it harder for Americans to exercise one of our most precious constitutional rights — the right to vote.   In what has been called a “war on voting,” new state laws have imposed new burdensome restrictions on the right of groups, such as the League of Women Voters, to conduct voter registration drives, required voters to present particular types of government-issued photo identification, and cut back on periods for early voting, threatening the right to vote of many American citizens, including members of the military, members of religious orders, college students, African Americans, Hispanics, and the elderly.

Constitutional Accountability Center submitted testimony for this hearing discussing the text and history of the Constitution’s numerous Amendments protecting the right to vote.  At the hearing, the Senators picked up on this constitutional text and history in chronicling the arc of our constitutional progress toward a democracy committed to the full promise of “government of the people, by the people, and for the people.”  Opening the hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Senator Richard Durbin observed that “our Constitution has been amended more to expand and protect the right than for any other issue.  Six Constitutional Amendments – the 15th, 17th, 19th, 23rd, 24th,  and 26th – ratified over the course of 100 years, underscore our nation’s commitment to ensuring  that all adult citizens enjoy full and free access to the ballot.”  Senator Durbin chronicled the history of these Amendments, describing how “courageous Americans fought . . .  to guarantee the right to vote to all citizens – regardless of race, sex, class, or income, or state of residency.”  In a written statement, Senator Patrick Leahy, Chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, also emphasized our constitutional progress toward securing the right to vote to all citizens, without regard to race, sex, age, or class.  “Our founding document begins with ‘We the People.’  Successive generations of Americans have come together to amend our Constitution six times to expand the participation of its citizenry in the election of the government–to former slaves, to women, to young people, to include the direct election of Senators, and to prohibit poll taxes. In this way, ‘We the People’ have reiterated and affirmed the fundamental importance of the right to vote.”

As the Senators pointed out, new efforts by states to suppress the right to vote — many now under review in courts and by the Department of Justice — are at war with our Constitution’s text and history.  Laws that shut down voter registration drives and disenfranchise American citizens violate the Constitution’s guarantee of the right to vote, a right at the core of our Constitution’s protection of equal citizenship for all Americans.

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