Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Should Everyone Have the Right to Vote?

Photo: Martin Olsson

Yesterday's post raised some interesting questions regarding secret ballots and mandatory voting, here's another:

We all know the circumstances under which conditional voting was imposed in the context of post civil war reconstruction, but it wasn't until the passage of the 24th amendment in 1964 that poll taxes in federal primaries and elections became unconstitutionalIt wasn't until 1966 that the Supreme Court reversed it's previous decision that poll taxes were constitutional in Breedlove v. Suttles (1937) with it's decision in Harper v. Virginia State Board of Elections that they weren't (under the 14th Amendment).  Currently other conditions placed upon voting would technically be constitutional, although most would be illegal under the 1965 Voting Rights Act, e.g literacy tests deemed constitutional in Lassiter v. Northampton County Board of Elections (1959).

So the question is, should everyone be allowed to vote?

The Constitutional requirement is that all persons be treated the same under the law yet 15 states and DC bar persons under guardianship or or adjudged mentally incompetent or incapacitated from voting.  20 states have laws that bar people from voting only if they have been adjudged specifically to lack the capacity to vote, three states bar those who have been deemed non compos mentis, nine states bar "idiots" and "the insane" from voting yet the laws are seldom enforced due to the ambiguity of the terminology, 11 states have no requirements at all.

Yes, in Colorado if you have the mental acuity of a house plant you still have the right to vote. If you're incompetent to stand trial in North Carolina... you still have the right to vote.

Legally, only a court can take away your right to vote yet a study of Philadelphia nursing homes determined that staff was deciding who was competent to vote and who was not... in Pennsylvania, which is one of the eleven states that do not have voting competency requirements.

In 2008 it was estimated that 2.5% of potential voters (5.3 million) could not vote due to felony disenfranchisement, in 2012 that number had climbed to 5.8 million.  The Supreme Court held felony disenfranchisement constitutional in Richardson v. Ramirez (1974) under the 14th amendment "shall not be denied... "except for participation in rebellion, or other crime"It is left up to the individual states to decide.  Maine and Vermont have no felony restrictions on voting, 13 states allow voting after release, four states allow voting after parole, 20 states allow voting after probation, eight states have circumstantial rules, and three states require the convict to petition for restoration.

I'll start the conversation with this Robert Heinlein quote:

“Both for practical reasons and for mathematically verifiable moral reasons, authority and responsibility must be equal - else a balancing takes place as surely as current flows between points of unequal potential. To permit irresponsible authority is to sow disaster; to hold a man responsible for anything he does not control is to behave with blind idiocy. The unlimited democracies were unstable because their citizens were not responsible for the fashion in which they exerted their sovereign authority... other than through the tragic logic of history... No attempt was made to determine whether a voter was socially responsible to the extent of his literally unlimited authority. If he voted the impossible, the disastrous possible happened instead - and responsibility was then forced on him willy-nilly and destroyed both him and his foundationless temple.” 

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