For a Voting Rights Amendment | The Nation


For a Voting Rights Amendment

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The fundamental problem with proposals for electoral reform is totally unrelated to November 7, 2000, or September 11, 2001. Every independent study, Congressional hearing and good legislative election reform proposal I have seen--including those from liberals and progressives, which I support and am a co-sponsor--is premised on the Tenth Amendment. The reason they will fail to solve our fundamental voting problem, even if they succeed legislatively, is because of their underlying ideological assumption--that voting is a state function, not a universal human or federal right.

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Jesse Jackson Jr.
Jesse Jackson Jr., member of the House Subcommittee on Labor, Health and Human Services, has represented Illinois's 2nd...

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Approve a Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution, granting all the
right to vote; craft a unitary voting system for federal, state and
local elections, guaranteeing an honest and efficient count.

What was consistent about the man was his belief that each state has a sovereign right to control its laws.

Therefore, even if Congress passes legislation establishing national standards for voting technologies and procedures, and adequately funds them, no state is under a constitutional obligation to adopt the changes or accept the funds. Based on the Tenth Amendment, states can still reject reforms and continue down the current state-centered election path.

Many state political parties, both Democratic and Republican, see the current system as working in their self-interest. But which system makes the most sense for the public's interest? One modern electoral system with consistent national standards? Or a bureaucracy of fifty state, 3,067 county and thousands of municipal election systems and standards--all separate and unequal?

Every sound idea for improving or rationalizing our voting processes and infrastructure--using sophisticated and nationally consistent ATM-style machines in every precinct in America; making sure all votes are tabulated and included, establishing an official vote total before a presidential winner can be declared; eliminating or reforming the Electoral College so that the people's popular vote elects electors, not a potentially arbitrary vote in a state legislature, which, under current constitutional law, can ignore the people's vote (as the Florida legislature was prepared to do in 2000); the federal government picking up the tab for a unified rational national election system--will be stymied because of the ideologically driven concerns and states' rights limitations of the Tenth Amendment.

Thus, federal legislation around electoral reform (or healthcare, education, housing or equal rights) will always be subject to the limitations of states' rights, local control and privatization. Some states will voluntarily reform and some will not. Contrary to the American people's desire, Congressman Tom DeLay used this same ideological orientation of states' rights, local control and privatization to fight the federal takeover of airline security.

This constitutional view finds its origins in the Democratic Party's ideological founder, Thomas Jefferson. Jeffersonian democracy is based on limited government, states' rights, local control, volunteerism and privatization. Democrats celebrate this philosophy every year at Jefferson-Jackson Day Dinners around the nation, but especially in the South. Slavery (without using the term) was enshrined in the Constitution in five different places at the Philadelphia Convention in 1787 and was protected by the philosophy of states' rights, local control, volunteerism and privatization. The nation had to pass a Thirteenth Amendment in order to overcome both the Tenth Amendment and slavery. African-Americans also needed a Fifteenth Amendment to legally overcome the Tenth Amendment and discrimination in voting. And women overcame the Tenth Amendment and voter discrimination on the basis of sex with the Nineteenth Amendment. Only an affirmative Voting Rights Amendment for all Americans can overcome the limitations of the Tenth Amendment with respect to our democracy's electoral processes. The only thing that can overcome the limitations of the Tenth Amendment with respect to voting is to add a Voting Rights Amendment to the Constitution.

Even with the addition of these subsequent amendments, the Tenth Amendment has hampered their full implementation and progress for African-Americans and women. It was also Jefferson's Tenth Amendment views that entangled states' rights and slavery with the Democratic Party; it's what caused eleven Confederate states, led by the Democratic Party, to leave the Union; it underlay the Democratic Party's sabotage of Reconstruction; it left the freedmen unprotected from Democrats after the 1877 Tilden-Hayes Compromise; it supported the Democrat-led legal idea of "separate but equal" in Plessy v. Ferguson; it established and sustained the Democrat-supported Jim Crow segregationist South; it led the Southern Democratic Party to be the chief resister of Brown v. Board of Education after 1954; and this philosophy undergirds today's predominantly conservative Republican Party and conservative Democrats.

The old conservative slavery and segregationist states' rights, local control, volunteerism and privatization Democrats are today's new conservative states' rights, local control, volunteerism and privatization Republicans. And because of the continuing influence of conservative, mainly Southern, Democrats, today's Democratic Party still tries to fit the nation's reality into Jefferson's limited-government rhetoric.

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