This blog focuses on the case for establishing a right to vote in the Constitution. But when we win an affirmative right supporters of voting rights will need to keep working to protect and secure it. With Election Day 2010 tomorrow, here are examples of actions being taken right now to ensure equal and fair access to the ballot.
- The Department of Justice (DOJ): The DOJ has announced plans to deploy more than 400 federal observers to 18 states to monitor polling places, and see to it that racial minority voters are able to cast a vote in an intimidation-free manner. It has established a hotline (1-800-253-3931 and website) to provide a receptive ear to anyone who feels they have been, or see someone else who has been the victim of “voter intimidation or coercion targeted at voters because of their race, color, national origin or religion”.
The DOJ seeks to provide these protections due to the Voting Rights Act 1965. Such observers have been scattered around the country since the late 1960s to make sure the VRA is properly applied in districts. Precincts included in the observation are part of many states, such as Alaska, Arizona, California, Georgia, NJ, NM, Ohio, SD, Texas, Florida, Hawaii, Mississippi, NY, PA, and Tennessee.
- Also, the Election Protection Hotline, 1-866-687-8683, is a national hotline with live staffers trained in every state’s laws. Led by People For the American Way Foundation, the NAACP, and the Lawyers' Committee For Civil Rights Under Law, this organization offers bi-partisan bi-lingual services to voters who are having problems at the polls.
Many Americans believe that these protections illustrate a protected Constitutional right to vote. But the truth is, there is no Constitutional right to vote in America today. While many laws such as the Voting Rights Act and several amendments protect voters, they remain overly limited in their scope.
Such laws protect a person from being discriminated against when trying to vote based on certain characteristics like race or gender, yet they do not specifically enumerate a right to vote; they only detail the right to not be discriminated against.
Some of the most egregious acts against voting rights have happened without any federal oversight or action (voting
machine failures, long lines, voter registration snafus, absentee ballots being mishandled…) In light of the numerous issues that can arise at a polling location, such hotlines are all vitally important – but so must be changing the Constitution to provide strict scrutiny to policies and procedures that undercut voting rights.
Also important to highlight are the efforts of tens of thousands of pollworkers, like my colleague Amy Ngai. Others, like our intern Brian Bennett, act as partisans volunteers to alert authorities of any issues, and train others, to ensure the process will be conducted smoothly and in a fair manner. Pollworkers perform absolutely essential work, but often with few resources and limited training. Our thanks to them and the many election officials doing their best to make democracy work -- and our hope that in the future they will have the resources, training and oversight to do their work all the better.