[In the concluding part of this series, we examine four more model constitutional amendments that are vital in strengthening the structural fault lines of our electoral system. In Part Four, we saw proposed amendments that would define voting as a fundamental right, popular election of the president and vice president, and a call for national election days with uniform voting times. It is hoped that these four amendments, if considered and approved, will repair the other remaining fault lines of our republic.]
Amendment 31. Universal voter registration. The United States shall support a system of universal voter registration for all citizens that is administered by the states. This system shall register those citizens 16 years and older through electronic means, and such system shall have the ability to amend and update the place of residency for all eligible voters.
The states should maintain a 21st century voter registration system in cooperation with schools, motor vehicle departments, and other qualified entities in furtherance of the democratic process. In particular, our schools were established to educate the young and prepare them for citizenship. Schools already are required to teach, in addition to reading, writing, mathematics, science, the arts, courses in history and government, and, in some places, problems of democracy. With that in mind, schools should also serve as voter registrars, where, with assistance from their high school teachers, 16-year-olds are added to a universal registration system that serves as the engine of civic engagement for those who wish to participate in the process of self-governance. As an educator, I can assure you that this would be one new mandate that schools would embrace enthusiastically, as young people would be inducted into the electorate and taught the importance of voting as civic participation and a responsibility of adulthood.
Amendment 32. Eligibility for office. Any person who has attained the age of 35 years and who has been a citizen of the United States for at least 18 years shall be eligible to serve as president and vice president.
This amendment will nullify Clause 5 of Article 2, which provides that only native born citizens are eligible to serve in the nation’s two highest offices. As an example, two former governors, California’s Arnold Schwarzenegger, a native of Austria, and Jennifer Granholm, who was born in Canada, would be eligible to serve as president under this provision. Other democracies don’t have an issue with native born status as a qualifier for holding office. In another example, Julia Gillard, the former prime minister of Australia, was born in the United Kingdom and served for three years as Australia’s head of government.
Amendment 33. Eligibility to vote. No citizen of the United States shall be denied the right to vote in any federal election based upon their place of residence. The Congress shall have the power to establish this precept by appropriate legislation.
“In order to form a more perfect union,” as the preamble to our constitution proclaims, we the people need to act upon the idea that the constitution should allow any American citizen the right to vote for the leader of the republic. If you are an American citizen, where you live shouldn’t matter. And if you are a resident of Puerto Rico, Samoa, Guam, the Virgin Islands or the Northern Marianas, you will always be a second-class citizen until you are given the right to vote for president. Extending the right to vote for president to every American citizen will provide for a more perfect union. Certainly, John Oliver agrees with this.
Amendment 34. Federal support for elections. The treasury shall provide sufficient monies to fund candidates for every federal office, being those of president, vice president, and members of Congress. No other monies from any other source shall be spent in the general election for any federal office. The Congress shall establish this precept by appropriate legislation.
While our electoral system has struggled with its imperfections, the Citizens United ruling caused a tidal wave of money – some apparently from outside the country – to engulf the last several elections and imperil our democratic system. With huge multinational corporations and other groups now unfettered in their ability to influence the outcome of American elections, it is now past time to invest in and guarantee the integrity of our electoral system. We can expect the usual argument that a provision such as Amendment 34 would violate freedom of speech and limit an individual’s ability to fund their own campaign, and we should be prepared for such objections. Primary elections would not be subject to this restriction as a concession to First Amendment concerns. To paraphrase Lord Acton, money corrupts and an endless supply of money in our electoral system corrupts absolutely.
Has the pina colada helped to digest these ideas about constitutional reform? I’m hopeful that it might have helped.
These seven model amendments are offered as a way to strengthen our federal system and promote deep constitutional thought. Yes, they could be considered one by one for debate and possible ratification, or they could go the route of the Constitutional Convention. However, because of their combined impact on our system, each should be introduced as part of a series of coordinated resolutions in the Congress “in order to form a more perfect union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility” – all principles that need to be more fully recognized in order to strengthen our republic.
Inevitably, we are back to that word. I have been careful to use the word republic rather than democracy, the more common descriptor for our system of government, for good reason.
The story has been told that in 1787, at the conclusion of the constitutional convention in Philadelphia, a woman greeted the young nation’s elder statesman, Benjamin Franklin. “Mr. Franklin, what kind of government have you given us?” she asked. “A Republic, madam,” Franklin quickly answered. “If you can keep it.”
As a native of Philadelphia, it should be no surprise that my hometown hero is Ben Franklin, who certainly valued a republican form of government. But with our republic, we also yearn for a democratic system where the will of the majority will elect the president, where a more perfect union describes a system of governance that allows any adult American citizen the chance to become president, where a national holiday will be declared to honor the importance of a free people to determine their future, and where every adult American citizen, regardless of where they reside, will have the right to vote in a system free from the corruption of too much money injected by too many special interests exerting too much influence on politicians beholden to that money and those interests.
Are there other areas of the Constitution that need to be addressed? Certainly. But in order to get to a place where our national charter can catch up to the 21st century, we must address these fundamental reforms first as the last, best hope of working on even greater constitutional change later.
The spirit of reform should help us recognize that in order to form a more perfect union, our republic can demonstrate all of those qualities for its citizens, regardless of place of birth, residence, or any factor that might limit participation in our system.
Mr. Franklin was indeed correct. We have a republic. If we can keep it. We owe this constitutional renewal effort to ourselves and for all future generations. Can we agree to begin the conversation?
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.