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there is a glimmer of hope for voting rights advocates, however, it's that the court merely ruled that the formula was outdated, and that Congress "may draft another formula based on current conditions."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 12:11 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Leon Aron says the U.S. and Europe can help get Russia out of Ukraine by helping Ukraine win its just war, sharing defense technologies and intelligence
updated 1:24 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Timothy Stanley the report on widespread child abuse in a British town reveals an institutional betrayal by police, social services and politicians. Negligent officials must face justice
updated 9:06 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peter Bergen and David Sterman say a new video of an American suicide bomber shows how Turkey's militant networks are key to jihadists' movement into Syria and Iraq. Turkey must stem the flow
updated 11:16 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Whitney Barkley says many for-profit colleges deceive students, charge exorbitant tuitions and make false promises
updated 10:34 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Mark O'Mara says the time has come to decide whether we really want police empowered to shoot those they believe are 'fleeing felons'
updated 10:32 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Bill Frelick says a tool of rights workers is 'naming and shaming,' ensuring accountability for human rights crimes in conflicts. But what if wrongdoers know no shame?
updated 10:43 PM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Jay Parini says, no, a little girl shouldn't fire an Uzi, but none of should have easy access to guns: The Second Amendment was not written to give us such a 'right,' no matter what the NRA says
updated 9:40 AM EDT, Thu August 28, 2014
Terra Ziporyn Snider says many adolescents suffer chronic sleep deprivation, which can indeed lead to safety problems. Would starting school an hour later be so wrong?
updated 9:30 AM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
Peggy Drexler says after all the celebrity divorces, it's tempting to ask the question. But there are still considerable benefits to getting hitched
updated 2:49 PM EDT, Fri August 29, 2014
The death of Douglas McAuthur McCain, the first American killed fighting for ISIS, highlights the pull of Syria's war for Western jihadists, writes Peter Bergen.
updated 6:42 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Former ambassador to Syria Robert Ford says the West should be helping moderates in the Syrian armed opposition end the al-Assad regime and form a government to focus on driving ISIS out
updated 9:21 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Ruben Navarrette says a great country does not deport thousands of vulnerable, unaccompanied minors who fled in fear for their lives
updated 9:19 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Robert McIntyre says Congress is the culprit for letting Burger King pay lower taxes after merging with Tim Hortons.
updated 7:35 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Wesley Clark says the U.S. can offer support to its Islamic friends in the region most threatened by ISIS, but it can't fight their war
updated 7:26 AM EDT, Wed August 27, 2014
Jeff Yang says the tech sector's diversity numbers are embarrassing and the big players need to do more.
updated 4:53 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
America's painful struggle with racism has often brought great satisfaction to the country's rivals, critics, and foes. The killing of Michael Brown and its tumultuous aftermath has been a bonanza.
updated 4:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Ed Bark says in this Emmy year, broadcasters CBS, ABC and PBS can all say they matched or exceeded HBO. These days that's no small feat
updated 3:19 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
Rick Martin says the death of Robin Williams brought back memories of his own battle facing down depression as a young man
updated 11:58 AM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
David Perry asks: What's the best way for police officers to handle people with psychiatric disabilities?
updated 3:50 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Julian Zelizer says it's not crazy to think Mitt Romney would be able to end up at the top of the GOP ticket in 2016
updated 4:52 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Roxanne Jones and her girlfriends would cheer from the sidelines for the boys playing Little League. But they really wanted to play. Now Mo'ne Davis shows the world that girls really can throw.
updated 12:29 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider say a YouTube video apparently posted by ISIS seems to show that the group has a surveillance drone, highlighting a new reality: Terrorist groups have technology once only used by states
updated 5:04 PM EDT, Mon August 25, 2014
Kimberly Norwood is a black mom who lives in an affluent neighborhood not far from Ferguson, but she has the same fears for her children as people in that troubled town do
updated 5:45 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
It apparently has worked for France, say Peter Bergen and Emily Schneider, but carries uncomfortable risks. When it comes to kidnappings, nations face grim options.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Tue August 26, 2014
John Bare says the Ice Bucket Challenge signals a new kind of activism and peer-to-peer fund-raising.
updated 8:31 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
James Dawes says calling ISIS evil over and over again could very well make it harder to stop them.
updated 9:05 PM EDT, Sat August 23, 2014
As the inquiry into the shooting of Michael Brown continues, critics question the prosecutor's impartiality.
updated 6:47 PM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Newt Gingrich says it's troubling that a vicious group like ISIS can recruit so many young men from Britain.
updated 10:50 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
David Weinberger says Twitter and other social networks have been vested with a responsibility, and a trust, they did not ask for.
updated 7:03 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
John Inazu says the slogan "We are Ferguson" is meant to express empathy and solidarity. It's not true: Not all of us live in those circumstances. But we all made them.
updated 8:23 AM EDT, Fri August 22, 2014
Retired Lt. Gen. Mark Hertling says he learned that the territory ISIS wants to control is amazingly complex.
updated 3:51 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Cerue Garlo says Liberia is desperate for help amid a Ebola outbreak that has touched every aspect of life.
updated 1:42 PM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Eric Liu says Republicans who want to restrict voting may win now, but the party will suffer in the long term.
updated 11:38 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Jay Parini: Jesus, Pope and now researchers agree: Wealth decreases our ability to sympathize with the poor.
updated 8:00 AM EDT, Thu August 21, 2014
Judy Melinek offers a medical examiner's perspective on what happens when police kill people like Michael Brown.
updated 6:03 PM EDT, Tue August 19, 2014
It used to be billy clubs, fire hoses and snarling German shepherds. Now it's armored personnel carriers and flash-bang grenades, writes Kara Dansky.
updated 1:27 PM EDT, Wed August 20, 2014
Maria Haberfeld: People who are unfamiliar with police work can reasonably ask, why was an unarmed man shot so many times, and why was deadly force used at all?
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT
ADVERTISEMENT