Technically, the U.S. Constitution doesn't guarantee the right to vote. It seems odd, considering all of the various other rights, guarantees and structural details enumerated in the document, but it doesn't.
That said, there are amendments that provide reasons why certain groups of people can't be denied suffrage. In other words, there's nothing that says, "All Americans have the right to vote." Yet there are passages that say, Americans can't be denied the right to vote because of [race, gender, etc...]
The 15th Amendment, for example, reads as follows: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude."
Throughout a series of amendments, such as the 15th, 17th (popular vote for Senate seats), 19th (women's suffrage), 23rd (D.C. vote for president) and 26th (voting age), the Constitution repeatedly deregulates voting -- it expands rights to those who had been previously disenfranchised either by exclusion or state laws.
Around 10 states have made it prohibitively difficult for as many as five million Americans without adequate financial means to vote through an array of restrictive Voter ID laws that force citizens to attain a government issued photo identification card, often with a fee attached along with whatever financial losses are incurred due to missed work and the cost of transportation to and from the government office.
So what we've seen over the last two years are Republican lawmakers who have passed multiple forms of legislation that force Americans to get an additional license from the government in order to vote -- on top of the pre-existing voter registration process. These new laws in effect add a second layer of government approval and regulation in order to vote. In Mississippi, for instance, the Voter ID law, which has yet to be approved by the federal government under the Voting Rights Act, requires that a birth certificate be presented in order to attain an ID. But Mississippi law also requires a photo ID in order to be issued a birth certificate copy.
Imagine you're 94 years old and you've voted in every election since 1936. You don't drive. And you live more than a dozen miles from the nearest government services office. And now, in your home state of Pennsylvania, Republican leaders (who have admitted to conspiring to disenfranchise Democratic voters) have passed a law mandating that you somehow have to attain a government identification card if you'd like to vote again.
This is the story of Bea Bookler, 94 years old, of Devon, Pennsylvania who, after all these years, has to somehow find a ride to the nearest DMV, then has to stand in interminably long and potentially confusing lines for hours on end, in order to retain her well-worn right to vote.
"How would I get there and how would I manage to stand in a line?" says Bookler, who uses a walker. She says she can barely make it to the polling place next door to her retirement community. She also doesn't understand why she has to go to all this trouble in the first place. She already has a voter registration card.
"I have an ID which says I am registered to vote in Chester County. There is no reason why I should need anything else. It's an outrage," she says.
There must be a serious voter fraud crisis in Pennsylvania that prompted lawmakers there to pass through another bureaucratic level of hell in order to vote. But there's not. The commonwealth is being sued by the ACLU and the NAACP, and in a pre-trial agreement, Pennsylvania admitted to it.
"There have been no investigations or prosecutions of in-person voter fraud in Pennsylvania; and the parties do not have direct personal knowledge of any such investigations or prosecutions in other states," the statement reads.
According to the agreement, the state "will not offer any evidence in this action that in-person voter fraud has in fact occurred in Pennsylvania and elsewhere," nor will it "offer argument or evidence that in-person voter fraud is likely to occur in November 2012 in the absense of the Photo ID law."
In 2007, after a five year study, the George W. Bush Justice Department determined that organized voter fraud was nonexistent.
Okay, so why the Voter ID laws? Obviously to disenfranchise voters who are more likely to vote Democratic (see also Mike Turzai).
According to the Brennen Center for Justice, millions of legitimately registered voters could be turned away at polling places this November:
--Nearly 500,000 eligible voters without cards do not have access to a vehicle, and many live in rural areas without public transportation access. --1.2 million black voters and 500,000 eligible Hispanic live more than 10 miles from state offices issuing free IDs. --People of color are more likely to be disenfranchised by these laws since they are less likely to have a photo ID than the general population.
But if we want to buy a handgun or a box of high capacity magazines loaded with deadly rounds of ammunition that allow us to fire at length in the direction of, you know, deer, turkeys and foreign invaders (yeah right) these exact same Republicans have told us that we should be allowed to do so without government interference and regulations.
In other words, the Republicans have actively been campaigning to make it easier to build an arsenal while making it more difficult to cast a ballot on Election Day.
It's because of various legal loopholes and gaps in the system that James Holmes was able to stockpile his arsenal. He ordered his ammunition and ballistic armor online without restrictions, and he purchased his firearms from various retail gun stores. There aren't any laws against buying bullets, save for armor-piercing bullets which remain illegal, so he was really able to stock up with enough ammunition to fill those controversially large magazines. The AR-15 semiautomatic assault rifle that Holmes bought in a store following (we presume) a background check was formerly illegal under the 1994 assault weapons ban, but the Bush era Republican Congress allowed that law to expire in 2004, making it possible for Holmes and others to buy them anywhere.
The NRA and the Republicans have historically refused to allow more regulations to be passed, such as closing the gun show loophole that allows the unfettered purchase of firearms without background checks at various trade shows, while allowing old regulations to expire.
Why? The Constitution, they say. Specifically the 2nd Amendment. Let's review the text: "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed."
The third word in the amendment is "regulated." And not just "regulated" but "well regulated," meaning thoroughly regulated. A variation of the word "regulation" is right there in the line of the Constitution that the NRA and Republican Party hold so sacred. So it can be argued that the 2nd Amendment calls for regulation of militias composed of citizens who own firearms. What else besides arms could the framers have intended to be regulated in the context of militias? The tri-corner hats? The pantaloons? The charming regional colloquialisms? Yes, people can "bear arms" (I don't know if the framers envisioned AR-15 rifles and high capacity magazines) but they can't bear arms without being well regulated, say nothing of the fact that government-raised militias are totally extinct making the 2nd Amendment almost completely irrelevant.
Bottom line: the Republicans are only selectively dedicated to the Constitution.
They see "the right of the people to bear arms" while they deliberately ignore everything else surrounding those words. Likewise, they've systematically passed new versions of poll taxes without bothering to read the 24th Amendment: "The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay any poll tax or other tax."
And yet they're passing Voter ID laws, which the attorney general of the United States has in no uncertain terms defined as poll taxes.
In a Republican world, it's mandatory for government to regulate voting even though the Constitution repeatedly deregulates voting, while it's a trespass against patriotism and the framers to regulate firearms, even though the Constitution explicitly calls for firearms to be "well regulated." Anyone who tells us that owning an AR-15 assault rifle should be easier, while voting in an election should be more difficult needs to be repeatedly questioned about his or her utterly backwards priorities. Sadly, this is the direction we're headed: a direction in which violent means are deregulated and non-violent means are restricted.
Crossposted at The Daily Banter.
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