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Right to Vote Frequently Asked Questions

I have never had a problem voting.  Don’t we already have a right to vote?
American adults living in states typically can vote, but they do not have a federally protected right to vote enshrined in the Constitution. States protect the right to vote to different degrees based on the state’s constitutional language and statutes. The federal government traditionally only steps in to prevent certain broad abuses, such as denying the right to vote based on race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment), or age (26th Amendment).

In most states, counties design their own ballots, pursue their own voter education, have their own policies for handling overseas ballots, hire and train their own poll workers, select polling place locations and maintain their own voter registration lists. States have wide leeway in determining policies on absentee voting, polling hours and funding of elections.  As a result, voters and potential voters have different experiences going through the registration and voting process depending on where they live. These differences can be even more pronounced in some local elections because of varying degrees of federal and state support.

States also currently have the power to explicitly limit the franchise. , Current data shows states have chosen to deny nearly five million American citizens the right to vote because of felony convictions, including millions who have completely paid their debt to society. Some states even deny certain classes of overseas voters the right to vote.

Don’t citizens have a right to vote in presidential elections?                                                    
Not necessarily. Article II of the Constitution reads in part: “Each state shall appoint, such manner as the legislature thereof may direct, a number of electors…” In other words, it is the state legislature and not the citizens of a particular state that determine which presidential candidate receives that state’s electoral votes. In the early decades of the country, several state legislatures actually appointed electors to the Electoral College, rather than hold popular elections in their state. In the 2000 Bush v. Gore decision, five justices declared, “The individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States unless and until the state legislature chooses a statewide election as the means to implement its power to appoint members of the Electoral College.”  The Court went on to say that Florida’s legislature has the power to take that power away from the people at any time, regardless of the popular vote tally.

In addition, it took a constitutional amendment in 1961 to enable residents of Washington, D.C. to vote for president. But the millions of American citizens living in territories like Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam still cannot vote for president.

What administrative problems do we have with voting in the United States and how will a constitutional amendment help?
Without national standards, states are free to create their own voting policies and procedures, which can limit or restrict a citizen’s ability to vote. Only clear standards will ensure that every vote counts. States would be held accountable for running fair elections, and the federal government would be responsible for ensuring that funds were available to meet those high standards.

According to a study of the 2008 presidential election produced by the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, led by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, 2-4 million registered voters were “discouraged” from voting because of administrative hassles, such as long lines, voter identification and problems obtaining an absentee ballot. The same study reports an estimated 9 million eligible people attempted to register but failed due to voter registration barriers like missed deadlines and changes of residence. A Constitutional Right to Vote will give Congress broad discretion in setting standards to ensure greater equality in election administration.

What groups of Americans are protected by H.J. Res. 28?
H.J. RES. 28 states that all American citizens who are at least 18 years old have an individual right to vote “in any public election held in the jurisdiction in which the citizen resides.” The federal government would protect this individual right to vote, thus making it more difficult for states or localities to disenfranchise groups or maintain procedures that make it unnecessarily difficult for citizens to vote. It would enfranchise all those who had been stripped of the right to vote due to a felony conviction and would  pave the way for voters in Washington, D.C. to vote for a federal representative and Senators. In general, it would create more ways for individuals to ensure that their county and state use procedures that give citizens’ the ability to vote.

Will citizens in the territories (Puerto Rico, Virgin Islands and Guam) be able to vote for president?
At present, residents of Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, and Guam are all citizens of the U.S.  They pay taxes and can be drafted into the military, but do not vote for president.  While this amendment would not specifically give citizens of the territories the right to vote automatically, it does open the doorway for them to gain the ability to vote for president.

What about American Samoa?
Residents of American Samoa are not actually American citizens; they are nationals. H.J. Res. 28 specifies that only American citizens would have a right to vote, so nationals would not be included.

Will non-citizens and 16-year-olds be able to vote?
Under this amendment the decision about expanding the franchise to non-citizens and 16- and 17-year-olds would remain within states’ jurisdiction.

Does the amendment get rid of the Electoral College?
The amendment does not specifically comment on the Electoral College. However, by declaring that every U.S. citizen has a constitutional right to vote, it does lay the groundwork for an argument against the Electoral College.  But if the Electoral College remains, the amendment would bind state legislatures to appoint presidential electors based on the popular vote of the people.

How is this amendment different from the Help America Vote Act (HAVA)?
The Help America Vote Act of 2002 was a statute passed in response to the Florida election debacle and the systemic voting irregularities seen across the country after the 2000 presidential election.  This act establishes some helpful standards. For example, it includes section on provisional ballots that allows a person to cast a vote if the person believes he or she is registered but does not appear on the voter register of that precinct.  However, HAVA falls short because it does not set guidelines for how those provisional ballots should be counted.

Furthermore, the Act does nothing for the millions of Americans who are permanently disenfranchised in a dozen states because they are ex-felons. It does not prevent states from wrongly purging voters or engaging in other activities that limit the franchise.  Fundamentally, it does not grant a right to vote. States still have the authority to direct electors to vote for a candidate of the legislature’s choice. A constitutionally protected right to vote is the only means to ensure that every American will be protected.

Does the amendment guarantee statehood for Washington, DC?
The Right to Vote Amendment does not specifically call for statehood for Washington, D.C. and its half million residents.  However, the amendment does guarantee that all Americans who reside in our nation’s capital have a constitutionally protected individual right to vote, which could lead the way to full representation in Congress.

Is the right to vote a partisan issue?
No. The Supreme Court and many of our leaders from across the spectrum have affirmed the importance of the right to vote. Some may mistakenly believe that the amendment takes authority away from the states and moves it to the federal level, but in fact the amendment only ensures states meet certain clear standards in how they protect the right to vote. By ensuring that every American has an individual right to vote that is protected by the Constitution, this amendment establishes voting as an individual right, not just a privilege given by the states.