A Voting Rights Amendment Is an Unnecessary Measure to Meet Exaggerated Needs

This debate is just an overheated reaction to a misunderstood Supreme Court decision and once uncontroversial ballot‐​integrity measure.
November 3, 2014 • Commentary
This article appeared on The New York Times on November 3, 2014.

Amending the Constitution to guarantee the right to vote is a solution in search of a problem, because the Constitution already protects this right.

Article I specifies that members of Congress shall be “chosen … by the People of the several States.” Article II goes into similar detail regarding presidential elections, whereby the popular vote is filtered through the Electoral College.

And of course the right to vote “shall not be denied … on account of” race (15th Amendment), sex (19th Amendment) or age for citizens 18 or older (26th Amendment).

So our voting rights are about as safe as constitutional text can make them.

But this debate isn’t really about voting rights. Instead, it’s an overheated reaction to a misunderstood Supreme Court decision (Shelby County v. Holder) and a ballot‐​integrity measure (voter ID) that was uncontroversial until very recently.

Shelby County eased out what was supposed to be an emergency provision enacted in 1965 to provide temporary federal oversight of state election law based on that era’s racial disparities. Just as the court was correct in 1966 to approve that federal receivership of morally bankrupt states, it was correct in 2013 to restore the constitutional order.

While many politicians act as if Shelby County resurrects Jim Crow, the only difference from the previous regime is that plaintiffs who claim voting infringements now have to prove racial discrimination, as they do with every other civil rights law. And if they can’t meet that standard, how can they claim that voting rights are being trampled?

As for voter ID, largeconsistent majorities (including Democrats and racial minorities) support it, probably because it instills confidence in our electoral process. When more than 30 states — plus “progressive” places like Canada, Holland and Sweden — have such requirements, surely racism isn’t the motivation. Indeed, minority voting rates have increased in several new voter‐​IDstates.

Ultimately, these “voting wars” are fought by elites to scare voters for partisan gain. Most fraud is committed in some way other than impersonation, such as at the registration stage or with ballots sent to voters — which is why all‐​mail elections are troubling — while very few Americans don’t have IDs (and states have to make them easy to get to pass constitutional muster).

There’s much to be done to improve election administration, but the best way to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act is to build on its triumphs instead of pretending that nothing’s changed.

About the Author
Ilya Shapiro

Ilya Shapiro is the director of the Robert A. Levy Center for Constitutional Studies at the Cato Institute and publisher of the Cato Supreme Court Review.