The Entitlement of Voting

Submitted by Kevin Cronin on Sat, 02/05/2005 - 23:06.

The “right� to vote, the subject of nonviolent protests, bloody confrontations and solemn pronouncements by Supreme Courts and Congress for centuries, is very much in doubt. Like a desert mirage, the image of an effective election, with widespread, universal voting looms before us, but always out of reach. In a practical manner, the right to vote is defined, not by the United States Constitution or the lives lost to ensure a vote, but by the amount of money legislators, Governors and other state officials are willing to spend to implement fair elections.  The President and Congress should treat the right to vote as a full entitlement, guaranteed by the Constitution, and provide the money needed to ensure accurate elections. 


Why were an inadequate number of voting machines deployed in Columbus, Ohio to meet the projected turnout?  Why, under pressure of long voting lines in Northern Ohio, were votes spoiled when paper ballots were placed in the wrong punch card booths, erroneously recording voter preferences?  Why, despite virtually non-stop campaigning, do presidential elections still generate votes from only about 50% of those qualified to cast a ballot?  Machines, voter education, information and adequate training cost money.  With $40 million inaugurals, astronomical political campaign expenses, and elections implementation done on the cheap, errors of all shapes and sizes are inevitable, as are opportunities for abuse, manipulation and accusation of intent, fraud and ill will. 


It’s long-past time for the federal government to ensure the implementation of the constitutional requirement of a meaningful ballot for every American.  Election and the right to vote are unique, simultaneously an undeniable right of all American citizenry and guarantor of all other rights and advantages in our civil society.  Federal elections, like civil rights in the last half of the 20th century, have demonstrated that state systems and state government are rife with potential for conflict of interests that undermine or undermine voter confidence in the vote itself. 


The federal government needs to nationalize, develop objective implementation standards and practices and fund the election process.  These steps would hardly be radical or even unusual.  In a wide range of areas of American life, the US Congress has enacted legal requirements and offered vital funding without establishing the precise mechanics for implementation.  Medicare, student loans, even the administration of the federal courts and a federal Judge’s salary, are all activities that receive federal funding without defining the precise means of implementation.  In many of these instances, the federal and state governments share responsibilities for implementation.  In the case of the federal courts, Congress provides federal funding with little spending oversight for fear of violating the courts’ independence guaranteed by the Constitution.  The importance of the goal, need for system integrity and insulation from legislative control, warrant that these program receive adequate federal financial support. 


If ever there were a basis for an entitlement, it should be the constitutional right to cast an accurate, meaningful ballot. While it has evolved over time, the right to vote is constitutionally guaranteed.  But like many guarantees, implementation has proved erratic and uncertain.  It’s long past time for Congress to back up that guarantee, with adequate support to allow state and local governments to conduct more effective elections, in which the accusations and claims of the last two Presidential elections are a distant memory.  As illustrated by the recent election of the Governor of Washington, a race decided on the third recount by fifty votes, every vote really, truly counts.  It’s time for the President and Congress to guarantee that every vote, and every potentially qualified voter, is counted as well.