Is Voting a Right or a Privilege?

And should everyone in this country be allowed to vote?…

By: Hayden Cunningham

Voting rights has been a heavy debated topic in this country recently as states have tried implementing new voter laws. While those on the right for voter security laws that mostly include photo identification to vote, Democratic politicians cry that any restriction on our current system is racism and oppression. But what was the intended system of voting in this country, and what should future elections look like?

The Electoral College

There are a total of 538 electorates in the Electoral College. The candidate that receives 270 electoral votes (a majority) is declared President. The number is a reflection of the number of people in Congress (535) plus 3 electorates for the District of Columbia. Each state’s electoral vote is indicative of their population, but with some exceptions. Every state is guaranteed at minimum of 3 electoral votes. Therefore, electoral votes are deducted from the most populated states and given to the least populated states.

Opponents of the Electoral College argue that this system creates inequality. What they don’t understand is that it’s not supposed to be equal. The result of less power to highly populated states is intentional. The framers of our electoral system feared direct democracy. If one candidate wins an election by 51%, you still have 49% of the country who is discouraged. Without the Electoral College, candidates would only appeal to voters in big cities, and rural Americans would rarely have their voices heard.

The swing state fallacy is constantly mentioned every election year. The argument is that your vote does not matter if you don’t live in a swing state. This is not necessarily true. Of course a candidate is going to campaign more in states that are evenly split and less in states that they are confident in winning. The problem is making assumptions about how a state would vote.

California is heavily democratic, and we can assume that the state will vote for the Democratic candidate every election year. But constantly displaying that conclusion discourages the Republicans who vote there. The same is true for states that don’t lean as heavy one way. In 2016, Hillary Clinton was confident she would win Wisconsin. The state had been blue for years, and every poll showed her winning by wide margins. Hillary Clinton did not hold one rally in the state during the general election. Trump, however, campaigned heavily there and was confident he could flip the state red. While the state was not considered a “swing state” by so-called election experts, Donald Trump won the state. It’s not about living in swing states, it’s about the need to treat every state like a swing state.

There are genuine criticisms of the Electoral College. The biggest concern are unbound delegates. Use the state of Washington as an example of how this works. In 2016, Hillary Clinton won Washington. When she won, her campaign appointed 8 electoral delegates from the state to attend the Electoral College vote and cast ballots for her. While she appointed people who intended to vote for her, these electors are under no legal obligation to vote for Clinton even though she won the state. 4 of the electoral decided to vote for someone other than Clinton. Even though a majority of the people in the state voted for her, half of the electoral votes did not go towards the candidate.

Over 20 states allow faithless electors in the Electoral College. A beneficial reform of our current system is making all 50 states have electors who must vote for the winning candidate of that state.

States that traditionally vote Democrat are calling for a different reform to electors. There is a growing desire by citizens (mostly on the left) to abolish the electoral college and have a direct election of Presidents. To do this would require change to the Constitution and would need cooperation from most states. To get around this, states are calling for a reform called “The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact.” This compact is a group of states calling for a law that forces their electors to cast votes for the winner of the popular vote, not the winner of the state itself.

For example, if Donald Trump won Colorado but Joe Biden won the popular vote, Colorado’s delegates would have to vote for Joe Biden. The idea is that if enough states sign on to this plan that their total delegate count equals 270, the popular vote winner will always win the election. Currently, states that have signed off on this plan agree to not let the law go into effect until they have 270 total votes between them. 195 electoral votes worth of states have agreed so far.

The Electoral College is a crucial aspect of our country’s republic. the United States was never intended to be a pure democracy because that will inevitably turn into mob rule. Instead, we are a Constitutional Republic. We have democratic aspects of our voting system, but ultimately we vote for politicians who represent us. Our society worries to much about presidential elections now. This is because the president has far more power than was ever intended.

Popularity contests never work out. Those that complain about the Electoral College typically lack an understanding of its intention and the historical reasons it was put in place.

Direct Election of Representatives

Citizens of each state vote for congresspeople to represent their state in Washington. However, this used to not be a case. Prior to the Seventeenth Amendment, there was not a direction election of senators. State legislators would be voted by the people, and would then appoint a senator to go represent that state in the capitol. The House of Representatives was considered to be the chamber of Congress that was elected by the people and represented the entire population. The Senate was considered to be elite and small.

The criticism of direct elections is that it steers away from the ideology of state rights. With an appointed Senator by the state legislature, it would be much easier to recall a senator who was not effectively calling for the needs of that state. It was a system designed for a State to have it’s voice in the capitol. Now, both chambers of Congress are elected by the people. States are less of a priority and the country has become more federalized.

Felon Voting

For a long time in this country, felons were not allowed to vote. In the last few decades, states have begun to change their stance on citizens convicted of a felony being allowed to vote. 21 states only ban voting while incarcerated. 16 states allow a person to vote once again after a certain period of time following their incarceration. 11 states felons lose their ability to vote permanently.

The historical rationale was this: a person who commits a violent crime does not have the moral clarity to elect leaders in this country. It is also why a former felon is not allowed to own a firearm. Even though gun ownership is guaranteed to be a right under the second amendment, a person is still able to lose that right.

Those in favor of felon voting argue that the law is systemically racist. More black people are felons than white people, and therefore the law is in place to suppress black voices. While the outcome may be unequal, the law and its intentions are not. Barring felons from voting applies to people of all races. The argument can be made for felons to require the ability to vote after a specific time past their incarceration. The argument for prison inmates to vote, however, is absurd.

Senator Bernie Sanders has made comments about allowing prisoners to vote. This is a terrible idea. Historically, prisoners losing their ability to vote was a consequence for their actions. Voting was seen as something valuable, and is taken away from you if you commit a crime. Hardly anyone in today’s time would think “I shouldn’t commit this crime because I won’t be allowed to vote.” Stripping away the ability to vote is not about being a deterrent of crime. Instead, it’s the belief that a prisoner has debts to pay to society. While you are in jail, you are paying off that debt. A prisoner lost his/her right to freedom. One of the consequences given to you is a ban from voting.

If you get out of prison and have suffered the consequences of your actions, perhaps you should be able to vote again. But if you are and active prisoner who is allowed to vote, you have the ability to vote on laws that directly affect you as a prisoner. Why should prisoners be allowed to vote on criminal reform?

Who Should be Allowed to Vote?

The 15th amendment bans the discrimination of voting by race. The 19th amendment gives women the right to vote. 26th amendment sets the minimum age of voters to eighteen years of age.

Should there be restrictions on voting? Any restriction of voting on the basis of sex or race is illegal and it should be. Even with the 15th amendment in place, the Jim Crow South saw literacy tests unfairly applied to black voters to prevent them from voting. The problem with these literacy tests were their unfair application and purposefully confusing directions to trick black citizens trying to vote.

But what about a modern day competency test applied to all voters? The argument could be made that all voters should have to prove some level of education to vote (geography, American history, etc.). We do not let people drive a car in public without first proving the ability to drive, so what is absurd about a person having to prove an understanding in current events before they are allowed to elect lawmakers? Our current system allows an 18 year old, who knows nothing about the country but had an organization come into his high school and register him to vote, have the same voice as a voter who watches the news and has an understanding of politics.

A competency test for voting may never happen, but a great litmus test for voting is mandatory in-person voting. If a person has the dedication to go to a polling place and wait in line, then they have shown at least some appreciation for their ability to vote. That is also one of the many reasons why universal mail-in voting is a terrible idea. A person should have to make an effort to go vote and not be able to mindlessly sit back and cast their ballot. Voting is extremely important and should be treated as such.

Is There a Right to Vote?

If Americans are voting for Electoral College delegates, and not directly for a candidate to be President, then is voting a right? The term “right to vote” was never mentioned in the Constitution until the 14th amendment. But until then, there were many unfair restrictions to voting that deserved to be corrected.

All rights have several conditions for a person to exercise it. Because voting is treated differently than our fundamental rights recognized in the Bill of Rights, voting is both a right and a privilege. You can lose that privilege in many ways, and there are safeguard in our election that prevent pure democracy.

Voting needs to be treated less as a right and more as a privilege. This may be an unpopular opinion to a majority of this country, but there are far too many Americans that have shown they do not have the qualifications to execute the ability to vote. You should not be allowed to vote if you are not knowledgeable in what you are voting on. A large amount of citizens use their vote as a virtue signal instead of an approval of proposed policies. Reform like this would never happen, but it is a fair argument to say that proving competency to vote would be a net positive for the future of our country.

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