[We’ve spent some time in the first three parts of this series closely examining our Constitution, its looming structural problems or fault lines, governance problems in our history that have been caused by the cumbersome Electoral College system, and issues like the meaning of the term native born citizen as it has been injected into the current presidential campaign. In Part Four, we examine a series of model amendments that are offered as a way to start a national conversation aimed toward repairing a broken system that is increasingly dysfunctional due to the injection of billions of dollars into political campaigns by corporations and billionaires with agendas that are – surprise – self-serving and therefore injurious to the democratic process.]
Once again, we are back to using the term what if. Unfortunately, forget about the Constitutional Convention route for reform. We’ve been warned against that approach by, among others, Professor Laurence Tribe and Justice Antonin Scalia. Instead, a series of resolutions needs to be introduced into Congress to jumpstart the conversation about constitutional reform. In order to assist in that effort, the language contained in such amendments should be plain and direct, with apologies offered to the memory of James Madison, our constitution’s principal author, and other Founders of the republic.
Yes, let us dream for a moment and ask what if we could see these ideas advance and gain traction in our national discourse. Can you imagine a Second Bill of [Voting] Rights as a result?
Therefore, fellow citizens, I offer proposed Amendments 28-34 for purposes of discussion, with apologies to Mr. Madison. (Take another sip of that pina colada, or perhaps a shot of bourbon before reading.)
Amendment 28. Voting as participation in the democratic process. The act of voting is essential to our republic through the participation of citizens who give their consent to be governed. Voting is therefore a fundamental right of citizenship and shall not be infringed by legislation, administrative action, or by methods that create barriers to citizen participation in self-governance.
It is apparent that the abolition of the poll tax has not stopped local and state authorities from designing ways to limit voter participation. By defining voting as a fundamental right guaranteed by the constitution, all citizens should enjoy unfettered access to the electoral process in the future. In particular, some voter requirements, including Photo ID, disenfranchise hundreds of thousands of poor and minority voters, and create a barrier for other individuals to have access to the act of voting, including those that live in care facilities who don’t have a driver license. (Disclosure: The Photo ID requirement is of particular concern to me inasmuch as a family member living out-of-state in a care facility located in a rural area and whose driver license expired about five years ago has been effectively disenfranchised by this legislation.)
Amendment 29. Popular election of president and vice president. The president and vice president shall be elected by a majority of the qualified voters participating on the national election days. In the event a candidate receives a plurality, but less than 40% of the popular vote cast, a runoff election between the top two candidates shall be held within two weeks of the election.
This measure would effectively repeal the 12th Amendment, the basis for the electoral system we have today, and ensure that the winner of the popular vote is installed as president. Adoption of such an amendment would demonstrate that our country has embraced the concept of one person, one vote embedded in the landmark case of Baker v Carr in 1962. Interestingly enough, the 17th Amendment, ratified in 1913, made the U. S. Senate a more democratic institution, and the historian David McCullough has said that the direct election of senators was the most transformative event in the history of the “world’s most deliberative body.” Certainly the direct election of the president would be an even more transformative event, as it would also inject new vitality into the republic and further expand our idea of democracy.
Amendment 30. National Election Days. Beginning with the ratification of this amendment, national voting for president and vice president, and for such other congressional offices, shall be held every four years on the first Saturday and Sunday of November, and that such days shall be deemed national holidays. Elections for the House and for certain Senate terms shall be conducted two years from such dates. National voting shall be conducted in a uniform fashion, with all polls opening and closing at the same time, irrespective of time zone. All polls shall be open for 24 hours during these two National Election Days. The Congress shall establish this uniformity of election year, dates and times by appropriate legislation.
My recollection of the 1980 election is still vivid, particularly since I worked part-time that year as a political editor for News Election Service. The 1980 contest was the first national election where exit polls were used to determine a winner. Many remember the stories of thousands of Californians leaving long voting lines when television news anchors in the east called the election for Ronald Reagan at 5:15pm Pacific Time, while polls in the west were still open. In 2004, while acting as a poll worker in Ohio, I witnessed more than one hundred frustrated voters leave the long voting lines – this in only one precinct among thousands in the state. If institutional memory is a virtue, every election needs to be significant for any American citizen, from California to the New York islands – and beyond. Limited, arbitrary voting times during a weekday do not address the needs of busy, stressed people who need access to the polls and encouragement to participate in the democratic process.
Tomorrow, in Part V, the final article in this series, we’ll look at proposed Amendments 31-34 as additional elements to this Second Bill of [Voting] Rights.
Denis Smith is a retired school administrator, Fulbright Fellow, and a former graduate and undergraduate history student. He was born in Philadelphia, birthplace of the United States Constitution, and maintains a strong interest in ensuring a healthy democratic system of government.