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there is a glimmer of hope for voting rights advocates, however, it's that the court merely ruled that the formula was outdated, and that Congress "may draft another formula based on current conditions."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 2:45 PM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Michael Bloomberg and Shannon Watts say Americans are ready for sensible gun laws, but politicians are cowed by the NRA. Everytown for Gun Safety will prove the NRA is not that powerful.
updated 9:28 AM EDT, Thu April 17, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says Steve Israel is right: Some Republicans encourage anti-Latino prejudice. But that kind of bias is not limited to the GOP.
updated 7:23 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Peggy Drexler counts the ways Phyllis Schlafly's argument that lower pay for women helps them nab a husband is ridiculous.
updated 12:42 PM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Rick McGahey says Rep. Paul Ryan is signaling his presidential ambitions by appealing to hard core Republican values
updated 11:39 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Paul Saffo says current Google Glasses are doomed to become eBay collectibles, but they are only the leading edge of a surge in wearable tech that will change our lives
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Kathleen Blee says the KKK and white power or neo-Nazi groups give haters the purpose and urgency to use violence.
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Rep. Henry Waxman say read deep, and you'll see the federal Keystone pipeline report spells out the pipeline is bad news
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed April 16, 2014
Frida Ghitis says President Obama needs to stop making empty threats against Russia and consider other options
updated 5:29 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say the Kansas Jewish Center killings are part of a string of lethal violence in the U.S. that outstrips al Qaeda-influenced attacks. Why don't we pay more attention?
updated 12:41 PM EDT, Tue April 15, 2014
Danny Cevallos says families of the passengers on Malaysian Airlines Flight 370 need legal counsel
updated 11:23 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Frum says Russia is on a rampage of mischief while Western leaders and Western alliances charged with keeping the peace hem and haw
updated 7:56 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Most adults make the mistakes of hitting the snooze button and of checking emails first thing in the morning, writes Mel Robbins
updated 1:54 PM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Wheeler says as middle-class careers continue to disappear, we need a monthly cash payment to everyone
updated 7:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Democrats need to show more political spine when it comes to the issue of taxes.
updated 11:55 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Donna Brazile recalls the 50th Anniversary of the Civil Rights Act as four presidents honored the heroes of the movement and Lyndon Johnson, who signed the law
updated 9:17 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
Elmer Smith remembers Chuck Stone, the legendary journalist from Philadelphia who was known as a thorn in the side of police and an advocate for the little guy
updated 2:56 PM EDT, Sun April 13, 2014
Al Franken says Comcast, the nation's largest cable provider, wants to acquire Time Warner Cable, the nation's second-largest cable provider. Should we be concerned?
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Philip Cook and Kristin Goss says the Pennsylvania stabbing attack, which caused grave injury -- but not death, carries a lesson on guns for policymakers
updated 3:06 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Wikipedia lists 105 football movies, but all too many of them are forgettable, writes Mike Downey
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
John Sutter and hundreds of iReporters set out to run marathons after the bombings -- and learned a lot about the culture of running
updated 12:49 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Timothy Stanley says it was cowardly to withdraw the offer of an honorary degree to Ayaan Hirsi Ali. The university should have done its homework on her narrow views and not made the offer
updated 10:16 AM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
Al Awlaki
Almost three years after his death in a 2011 CIA drone strike in Yemen, Anwar al-Awlaki continues to inspire violent jihadist extremists in the U.S, writes Peter Bergen
updated 9:21 PM EDT, Fri April 11, 2014
David Bianculli says Colbert is a smart, funny interviewer, but ditching his blowhard persona to take over the mainstream late-night role may cost him fans
updated 1:31 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Rep. Paul Ryan says the Republican budget places its trust in the people, not in Washington
updated 5:28 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Aaron David Miller says Obama isn't to blame for Kerry's lack of progress in resolving Mideast talks
updated 11:22 AM EDT, Mon April 14, 2014
David Weinberger says beyond focusing on the horrors of the attack a year ago, it's worth remembering the lessons it taught about strength, the dangers of idle speculation and Boston's solidarity
updated 12:32 PM EDT, Thu April 10, 2014
Katherine Newman says the motive for the school stabbing attack in Pennsylvania is not yet known, but research on such rampages turns up similarities in suspects and circumstances
updated 2:39 PM EDT, Wed April 9, 2014
Wendy Townsend says the Rattlesnake Roundup -- where thousands of pounds of snakes are killed and tormented -- is barbaric
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT