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Thu Nov 22, 2012, 12:00 AM

Voter Bill of Rights


1. Pass a Constitutional Amendment Confirming the Right to Vote

Most Americans believe that the "legal right to vote" in our democracy is explicit, not just implicit, in our federal Constitution. In fact, the federal Constitution recognizes each state’s guarantee of voting rights, and furthermore, guarantees equal protection of those rights. Additionally, the federal Constitution provides for elections for the U.S. House and Senate, and repeated amendments to the Constitution have affirmed that the right to vote belongs to all citizens regardless of race (15th Amendment) or sex (19th Amendment), and to all citizens over the age of eighteen (26th).

Despite two centuries in which the right to vote has been affirmed and expanded as a constitutional right, the U.S. system of elections still does not adequately protect voting rights. Indeed, Justice Scalia in Bush v. Gore claimed that, "the individual citizen has no federal constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the United States." (Bush v. Gore, 531 U.S. 98, 104 (2000)). Because the Supreme Court, election administrators, and elected officials have, for the most part, proven themselves unable or unwilling to implement the reforms required to protect American voting rights, we must work to adopt a federal constitutional amendment confirming every citizen's right to vote.

2. Guarantee a Voter-Marked Paper Ballot for All Voting

Every voting system in the United States must be equipped to facilitate a permanent, visible record of every vote cast, and to honor the right of the voter to mark their own ballot themselves. The public is the only realistic check on vote counts, because elections determine the composition of government itself; those in power cannot be trusted to count or process -- unsupervised -- the very ballots by which they came to office. The acid test for a free people is the guaranteed right to remove incumbents at will, especially criminal incumbents, from office. Any system that allows secret and therefore unaccountable vote counting is unacceptable because it denies the right to vote and to “kick the bums out” at precisely the moment when that right is needed the most.

3. Replace Partisan Oversight with Non-Partisan Election Commissions

It is time to overhaul our federal, state, and local election agencies to guarantee fair elections. We must replace the current system of partisan election administration, in which partisan secretaries of state, county clerks, election commissioners, and other partisan officials are able to issue rulings that favor their own political parties and themselves, with a non-partisan, independent system of running elections. We must end the practice of contracting out fundamental election functions, such as the maintenance of voter lists, to private corporations. We must also insure that independent international and domestic election observers are given full access to monitor our elections.

4. Celebrate Democracy: Make Election Day a National Holiday

Working people should not be forced to choose between exercising their right to vote and getting to work on time. While the laws of 30 states guarantee the right to take time off from work to vote, many workers and employers are unaware of these laws. Holding national elections on a national holiday will greatly increase the number of available poll workers and polling places and increase overall turnout, while making it much easier for working Americans to go to the polls. Election Day is already a holiday in Puerto Rico in presidential election years, and many Puerto Ricans celebrate and make Election Day a fun and festive party with a purpose. It's time for the United States to follow Puerto Rico's lead.

5. Make it Easier to Vote

Many citizens are discouraged from voting by unnecessary bureaucratic hurdles and restrictions. We must simplify and rationalize voter registration so that no one is again disenfranchised for failing to check a superfluous box, as occurred this year in Florida, or for not using heavy enough paper, as nearly occurred in Ohio. We must require voter registrars to sign affidavits promising to submit any registrations in their possession in a timely manner. We must eliminate police intimidation, language, physical disability, extra-legal requirements of personal identification, and other barriers to voting. To ensure that all qualified voters are able to vote, we must follow the lead of states like Minnesota and Wisconsin by replacing restrictive voter residency requirements with same-day voter registration, allowing qualified voters to register at the polls on Election Day itself.

Our current system forces millions of voters to wait up to ten hours to vote. This is unacceptable, and it disenfranchises those who cannot afford to wait. To increase access to the polls, all states must provide sufficient funding for enough early voting and election-day polling places to guarantee smooth and speedy voting. To ensure equal access and minimize the wait at the polls, election authorities must allocate resources based upon the number of potential voters per precinct. We must put an end to the government-backed practice of allowing partisan activists to challenge the voting rights of individual voters at the polls. Instead, the government must invest in campaigns designed to educate voters about how they can exercise and protect their right to vote.

6. Count Every Vote!

Voters must know that their vote will count and make a difference. Every recent presidential election has been marred by the discounting millions of spoiled, under-vote, over-vote, provisional and absentee ballots. This discounting of votes has disproportionately impacted people of color, especially African Americans, and is a fundamental voting rights and racial justice problem. Election officials must ensure that every voting precinct and wards is adequately staffed with sufficiently trained personnel and professional supervision; that old and unreliable voting machines are replaced; that absentee ballots are mailed with a sufficient time for delivery; that every ballot, including provisional ballots, are counted; and that provisional ballots count for statewide and federal contests regardless of where the vote is cast. Election officials should wait until after any recounts have been completed to provide final certification of election results.

7. Implement Instant Runoff Voting (IRV) and Proportional Representation (PR)

We must replace our current "first-past-the-post" system with Instant Runoff Voting (IRV). Unlike our current system, which forces voters to reject their preferred candidate in favor of a "lesser evil" who may have a better chance of defeating the candidate they most fear, IRV allows them to choose both. In this way, it eliminates the so-called "spoiler" and "wasted vote" effects and gives voters a more democratic set of choices. Under IRV, voters simply rank candidates in order of their preference (first, second, etc.). If a candidate wins a majority of first choice votes, that candidate is the winner. If no candidate gets a majority of first choices, the lowest vote-getting candidate is eliminated, and his/her votes are given to the candidates whom the supporters of the eliminated candidate chose as their second option. Counting continues until one candidate has received a majority. IRV therefore not only allows voters to voice their real preferences; it also ensures that the will of the true majority, not a mere plurality, produces the winner of each election. In addition, IRV makes it possible to conduct the runoff count without the need for a separate and expensive runoff election. Instant Runoff Voting has been used successfully around the world, including Ireland, Australia, and most recently, San Francisco.

The right of representation belongs to all citizens. Our winner-take-all elections award representation to the largest factions and leave everyone else, often the majority, unrepresented. The winner-take-call system unnecessarily restricts choice, polarizes politics and limits political discourse. We must adopt Proportional Representation (PR) for legislative elections to ensure the fair representation of all voters. Millions of Democrats in Republican areas and Republicans in Democratic areas are unrepresented in our system, and the majority of Greens, Libertarians, and other independents are unrepresented at all levels of government. Our system should provide fair representation to all voters, in proportion to their numbers.

8. Replace Big Money Control With Public Financing and Equal Air-Time

In a system where the amount of money a candidate spends is directly related to their likelihood of winning, it is not surprising that voters think politicians are more concerned with big campaign contributors than with individual voters. We must follow Maine's lead by establishing a nationwide system of full public financing for all ballot-qualified candidates. We must require the broadcasting corporations that license our public airwaves to provide airtime for debates, and free time for all ballot-qualified candidates and parties.

9. Guarantee Equal Access to the Ballot and Debates

In our current electoral system, independent parties and candidates face a host of barriers designed to limit voter choice and voice. Ballot access laws and debates specifically designed to exclude independent party candidates discourage voting and undermine the legitimacy of our elections. In most cases, the established parties have never themselves met the signature requirements they impose on independent parties. We must eliminate prohibitive ballot access requirements, and replace the partisan Commission on Presidential Debates with a non-partisan Citizens Debate Commission.

10. Abolish Electoral College, Enfranchise Ex-Offenders, Enact Statehood for the District of Columbia

It is time to end the safe state/battleground state dichotomy and make all votes equal, no matter the state of the voter. We must amend the Federal Constitution to replace election of the President by the Electoral College with direct election by the voters. At the same time, for so long as the Electoral College persists, we must amend our state laws and constitutions to allocate each state's electors to the winner of the national popular vote.

The permanent disenfranchisement of former felons, a practice that falls outside of international or even U.S. norms, is an unreasonable and dangerous penalty that weakens our democracy by creating a subclass of four million excluded American citizens. The practice has also been used to purge voter lists of hundreds of thousands of citizens never convicted of any felony. Because the criminal justice system disproportionately penalizes African American males, this disenfranchisement is racist in its impact and is constitutionally suspect. Those states that permanently disenfranchise felons must amend their laws and practices to restore full citizenship to ex-offenders.

It is also time to end the disenfranchisement of the over half million Americans who reside in the District of Columbia. D.C. residents deserve the same political rights enjoyed by citizens of our nation's fifty states, namely full voting representation in both houses of the U.S. Congress, as well as legislative, budgetary, and judicial sovereignty. Washington D.C. is the only existing majority African American federal jurisdiction, and thus, the denial of D.C. voting rights is inherently racist. Furthermore, the denial of D.C. voting rights cannot be defended on the basis of population size; the majority white State of Wyoming has a smaller population. It is time to grant statehood to the District of Columbia.

About the Voter Bill of Rights:
The Voter Bill of Rights is a product of the 2001 Democracy Summer program, a proto Liberty Tree Foundation event. It was amended for the 2004 No Stolen Elections! campaign, and amended again for the No More Stolen Elections! campaign.

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Reply Voter Bill of Rights (Original post)
eridani Nov 2012 OP
Peace Patriot Nov 2012 #1

Response to eridani (Original post)

Thu Nov 22, 2012, 04:31 PM

1. Hear, Hear! Great post!

I agree with each and every one of these proposals!

I would only raise a word of caution about federal control over elections. As a civil rights worker in Alabama in 1965-66, I am acutely aware of the importance of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (and the Civil Rights Act of 1964), which put the election systems under federal control (certain southern states) where African-American voting rights were being systematically denied.

However, 50 years later, given the corporate coup d'tat of corporate-run, 'TRADE SECRET' voting systems that was spread like a cancer to every state, during the 2002 to 2004 period, and the continued and worsening non-transparency of U.S. vote counting, I have to say that the federal government, specifically Congress, was the culprit and cannot therefore be trusted with the remedy.

In passing the so-called "Help America Vote Act," including a $3.9 billion boondoggle for private voting machine corporations, in Oct. '02 (same month as the "Iraq War Resolution", and EXCLUDING any audit requirements or controls of any kind for these systems, Congress set the American people up for one of the filthiest lobbying scenes we have ever suffered AND for multiple stolen elections. A Democratic Congress, at that.

Now, a private corporation--ES&S, which bought out Diebold--has acquired a 70% monopoly over U.S. vote counting, all done with 'TRADE SECRET' code--code that the public is forbidden to review--and with NO AUDIT AT ALL (comparison of ballots to electronic results) in half the states of the U.S. (and a miserably inadequate 1% audit in the other half). And this is not just any corporation--it is a corporation with hair-raising far rightwing connections, and furthermore one that asserted in a Florida court that its right to profit from our election system trumps the right of the voters to know how their votes were counted and won that point from an obviously corrupt (or mentally incompetent) judge.

All done by Congress. All done by corrupt lobbying. (Congress did NOT mandate e-voting; just funded it.)

How to undo this horror? There is only one way, in my opinion--by grass roots movements in every state and local jurisdiction, to throw the purchasers of 'TRADE SECRET' voting machines out of office.

The power to choose voting systems still resides at the state/local level! We live under constant threat of that changing--of the federal government usurping the power of the states to choose the method of voting. And believe me, they are not going to fix this, if they get involved again; they are going to make it worse and much harder to fix. But, for now, the only hope of returning to a transparent, PUBLIC vote counting system is LOCAL.

You may never meet your congressperson face to face and certainly can have little idea of what they are doing in Washington DC and little or no say in any policy, unless you are very rich. Your local voter registrar, on the other hand, may live down the street from you and most Americans don't live that far from their state capitols and have more access to state legislators than to congressional reps.

We currently HAVE the power--the state and local power--to throw the 'TRADE SECRET' voting systems out. We have no reason to believe that Congress, the Courts or the President will help us rid ourselves of these diabolical machines and every reason to believe they will make things worse and harder to remedy. Currently, citizen movements pressuring local and state officials is the only way to change it.

I do understand the possible implications of what I'm saying. We may end up with "blue states" with transparent voting systems and an array of voter rights protections (like the above) vs "red states" that will continue to be subjected to rigged elections and voter repression. But is this worse than, say, a Bush Junta II gaining control of the federal government and REQUIRING an easily riggable, unverifiable, privately-run, national vote counting system?! Where would you go to demand a recount? What would you use for a recount in an e-voting system with no ballot? Who would you complain to, of miscounts or voter suppression? Who would have the power to do anything about blatantly rigged, phony vote counts?

One more thing about power: The "military-industrial" complex is among the top worst threats to our democracy. It is based in Washington DC and embedded within every branch of government and agency. Should control over election systems also be located there?

We have A LOT OF work to do before we are in any position to get a Constitutional Amendment on election integrity. It is a worthy goal but we mustn't ignore what is happening in the meantime, because what is happening in the meantime--highly riggable vote counting in all states--is going to add to the difficulty of getting a Constitutional Amendment, and probably make it impossible.

It's better to have half the states with true vote counts than none, if nothing else is possible on the near horizon.

One final thought on the above proposal. Okay, say you get the Amendment passed. What then? Who enacts its provisions? Who implements them? Who runs our election system?

I would include a provision in this Amendment to re-assert states rights over election systems, with perhaps some oversight duties by a new and independent agency (an elected one?). One problem will be how to certify election systems as being in compliance with the provisions of the Amendment. Currently, Congress supposedly "certifies" the results from the states on the presidential election (via accepting the Electoral Votes). If you remove the Electoral College, what mechanism is there to certify--or challenge--the presidential vote? Many of us will remember the dramatic, heart-breaking challenge of the Ohio Electoral Vote in Congress in 2004. Though it failed, it did provide a mechanism of challenge and did bring the matter to public attention. What will substitute for this?

I think the power to establish voting systems and administer them, and certify elections, should remain with the states, but--as with the Voting Rights Act--there should be some federal power to certify the system, guided by the new Amendment. Doing otherwise--general federal control of elections--will lay us open to massive abuse, whereas states rights only lays us open to local abuse. Which abuse is easier to remedy--local or federal? Which officials are the most accessible? Which officials are most vulnerable to citizen pressure?


"Any system that allows secret and therefore unaccountable vote counting is unacceptable because it denies the right to vote and to 'kick the bums out' at precisely the moment when that right is needed the most."


Yes, but what if the "bums" have control of the whole, national election system?

They can--and will--make up their own rules about what "secret" means, and what "accountable" means--just like they made up their own rules on torture and many other matters. Our only defense against this, on election integrity, is states rights--ironically enough.

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