Voting Rights Amendment
Congress shall make no law, abridging the right of franchise of adult citizens of the United States, nor make any law affecting the exercise of franchise in a significant disproportionate way by supporters or opponents of any candidate, ballot question or aligned group of candidates, or members of any protected class of citizens (including but not limited to the ethnic groups, religions, sexes, income levels and sexual orientations.)
This is a starting-point draft for what could be a reasonable amendment to the US constitution (and belong in all constitutions.) It addresses the seminal problem of democracies -- the people who are the subject of elections have control over the rules of elections, and can't be trusted not to bend the rules to their advantage. When the legislators can't be trusted is exactly when you need constitutional rules.
This amendment would be designed to ban, among other things
- Requiring voter registration rather than automatic registration
- Depriving felons of votes
- Poll taxes and all such related tricks
- Much of what the Voting Rights Act stopped
The test proposed says that if you make a rule, and then a court finds either in advance or after the fact, that the rule will disproportionately affect the exercise of franchise by a party or a major group, the rule is invalid.
The rule needs some refinement. It is easy to see how it might actually be used against its goal. It must be clear that to be unlawful, the rule has to affect the elements of franchise -- voter registration and qualification (if any) and ease of voting.
This would be the first rule to actually recognize the existence of political parties, which comes with some risks.
There should be clarity on how much the rule can create affirmative duties. For example, it takes effort to reach polling places, especially in rural areas. People who own cars (ie. the wealthy) have an easier time voting. This would not require that the government give free rides to the polls for the poor -- parties tend to do that anyway -- but it might require that if reasonable alternatives, like vote by mail or early voting can be made available to level the playing field, they should be done.
We also want to consider the security implications. Vote by mail erases the concept of secret ballot, and it's not hard to see how some interpretations of this rule might encourage less secure things, like online or voting machine voting. On the other hand, we don't want security to be an easy way around the amendment. So it needs pre-tuning.
Could it pass? On one level, who would not be for this fairly obvious principle? The answer, of course, is the same legislators we can't trust to make election rules. All the house members whose seat depends on gerrymandering or other cheats are likely to come up with some excuse why they can't support this. It might need a major groundswell of support, so that not supporting it is viewed as evidence of corruption and cheating. That's one reason it has to be tuned to be pure.
Some would argue, of course, that the guarantee of equal protection under the law already guarantees these rights, and the courts need to be convinced of that. And there are cases before the court on gerrymandering and related issues.
I am presuming that, like other amendments, "Congress shall.." is binding on all the states and branches. If not, I intend it to.
You may ask about felons. Don't they deserve a punishment? They do, but removing their voting rights is not in any way, I suspect, a deterrent to crime. These rules only have effect in aggregate, and that effect generally has a political, rather than deterrent purpose.
What improvements might you make in an amendment like this.