Skip to main content

Keep states' hands off your right to vote

By Mark Pocan, Special to CNN
updated 9:08 AM EDT, Wed July 10, 2013
California voters cast ballots in the last president edlection, November 6, 2012.
California voters cast ballots in the last president edlection, November 6, 2012.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS

Editor's note: U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat, represents Wisconsin's second congressional district. He serves on both the Budget Committee and the Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, and has been appointed an assistant minority whip.

(CNN) -- That didn't take long. Just two weeks since the Supreme Court struck down Section 4 of the Voting Rights Act, state legislatures are moving quickly on voter suppression measures.

Already, six of the nine states that were previously covered by the requirement that changes in voting procedures be pre-cleared have started to bring up restrictive voter ID laws. If there is a glimmer of hope for voting rights advocates, however, it's that the court merely ruled that the formula was outdated, and that Congress "may draft another formula based on current conditions."

I agree with the court that indeed, the previous formula included in the Voting Rights Act does not address today's attempts to restrict the right to vote. In fact, I think it underestimates them.

Mark Pocan
Mark Pocan

Under the former formula used by the Voting Rights Act, nine entire states and certain counties and municipalities in six additional states were required to obtain federal preclearance before passing new voting laws. But according to the Brennan Center for Justice, already in 2013 more than 30 states, including my home state of Wisconsin, have introduced more than 80 bills that would restrict the right to vote. These bills would do everything from requiring photo identification at the polls, to limiting early voting opportunities, to creating burdensome registration requirements.

Although these efforts are not as blatant as previous voter suppression techniques such as literacy tests and violent intimidation, they are still discriminatory. The victims of these voter suppression efforts are usually the same, no matter the state: minority and low-income voters, the elderly and students.

In a country built on the foundation of civic participation, voting should be our most fundamental right, the right that ensures all other rights we possess. But the right to vote is, contrary to popular belief, not explicitly guaranteed by our Constitution. Although the right is inherent or implied throughout our founding document, and amendments prohibit discrimination based on race, gender, and age, we possess no affirmative right to vote. If we did, state lawmakers wouldn't continue to pass, and courts would not continue to uphold, these various restrictive voting laws.

Holder: 'Deeply disappointed' in ruling
High court guts Voting Rights Act

So Rep. Keith Ellison of Minnesota and I have proposed a solution that we believe accurately reflects the current voting rights landscape; a solution that applies to all 50 states and protects the voting rights of all who call this country home.

This spring we introduced a "Right to Vote" amendment to the U.S. Constitution that would guarantee an affirmative right to vote for all Americans, no matter where they live. Our amendment is both simple and absolutely necessary: It ensures that every American citizen possesses the fundamental right to vote in any public election where he or she resides, and empowers Congress with the authority to protect this right.

The consequences of this amendment would be profound for the rights of voters everywhere. Now, it is the voter who has to demonstrate that his or her right to vote has been impeded by the state. With the ratification of our amendment, the burden of proof would switch to the states, which would have to demonstrate that they possess a compelling interest to restrict a voter's rights.

This would mean that all of the states who believe that we need voter ID laws to protect against a "crisis" of voter fraud would actually need to demonstrate that such a crisis existed. Predictably, when an investigation into voter fraud was launched in Wisconsin in conjunction with proposed voter ID legislation, barely a case was found when someone had voted in place of someone else. Other studies have found the same thing. Voter ID laws to counter voter fraud represent little more than a cure in search of a disease, and states must be stopped from implementing these discriminatory measures.

While the recent dismantling of the Voting Rights Act is certainly disheartening, we have a chance to strengthen our fundamental right to vote. As President Lyndon B. Johnson declared in 1965 to a joint session of Congress to encourage passage of the landmark legislation, "There is no duty which weighs more heavily on us than the duty we have to ensure that right." And there is no way that we can better protect that right than through a right to vote amendment to our Constitution.

Follow @CNNOpinion on Twitter.

Join us at Facebook/CNNOpinion.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Mark Pocan.

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
updated 8:35 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Frida Ghitis: Anger over MH17 is growing against pro-Russia separatists. It's time for the Dutch government to lead, she writes
updated 8:27 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Julian Zelizer says President Obama called inequality the "defining challenge" of our time but hasn't followed through.
updated 7:57 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Gene Seymour says the 'Rockford Files' actor worked the persona of the principled coward, charming audiences on big and small screen for generations
updated 10:17 AM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
Daniel Treisman says that when the Russian leader tied his fate to the Ukraine separatists, he set the stage for his current risky predicament
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Andrew Kuchins says urgent diplomacy -- not sanctions -- is needed to de-escalate the conflict in Ukraine that helped lead to the downing of an airliner there.
updated 9:50 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Jim Hall and Peter Goelz say there should be an immediate and thorough investigation into what happened to MH17.
updated 11:07 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Pilot Bill Palmer says main defense commercial jets have against missiles is to avoid flying over conflict areas.
updated 1:55 PM EDT, Sun July 20, 2014
Valerie Jarrett says that working women should not be discriminated against because they are pregnant.
updated 3:53 PM EDT, Mon July 21, 2014
David Wheeler says the next time you get a difficult customer representative, think about recording the call.
updated 3:33 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Newt Gingrich says the more dangerous the world becomes the more Obama hides in a fantasy world.
updated 6:11 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Michael Desch: It's hard to see why anyone, including Russia and its local allies, would have intentionally targeted the Malaysian Airlines flight
updated 3:14 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
LZ Granderson says we must remember our visceral horror at the news of children killed in an airstrike on a Gaza beach next time our politicians talk of war
updated 8:06 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Sally Kohn says now the House GOP wants to sue Obama for not implementing a law fast enough, a law they voted down 50 times, all reason has left the room.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
A street sign for Wall Street
Sens. Elizabeth Warren, John McCain and others want to scale back the "too big to fail" banks that put us at risk of another financial collapse.
updated 4:16 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Newt Gingrich writes an open letter to Robert McDonald, the nominee to head the Veterans Administration.
updated 12:01 PM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Paul Begala says Dick Cheney has caused an inordinate amount of damage yet continues in a relentless effort to revise the history of his failures.
updated 10:04 AM EDT, Fri July 18, 2014
Kids who takes cell phones to bed are not sleeping, says Mel Robbins. Make them park their phones with the parents at night.
updated 1:29 PM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Buzz Aldrin looked at planet Earth as he stood on talcum-like lunar dust 45 years ago. He thinks the next frontier should be Mars.
updated 2:04 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Mark Zeller never thought my Afghan translator would save his life by killing two Taliban fighters who were about to kill him. The Taliban retaliated by placing him on the top of its kill list.
updated 11:18 AM EDT, Thu July 17, 2014
Jeff Yang says an all-white cast of Asian characters in cartoonish costumes is racially offensive.
updated 9:24 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Gary Ginsberg says the late John F. Kennedy Jr.'s reaction to an event in 1995 summed up his character
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Wed July 16, 2014
Meg Urry says most falling space debris lands on the planet harmlessly and with no witnesses.
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT