Voting System Needs a New Constitutional Foundation
Congressman Jesse Jackson, Jr.
Don't be confused or misled. Today's objection is not about an
election result, it's about an election system that's broken and
Today you're hearing the facts about voter irregularities in
Ohio. In 2000 you saw a similar mess in Florida. There were serious
voting problems in other states - for example, New Mexico, Nevada
and Florida again.
As we try to spread democracy to Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere,
it might be wise, first, to look in the mirror; to take a serious
look at our own house; and to analyze our own democracy.
What's wrong with our democracy? What's wrong with our voting
system? State-after-state, year-after-year, why do we keep on having
The fundamental reason is this: most Americans and many in this
body will find it shocking and hard to believe, but we have these
problems because Americans don't have the right to vote in their
Constitution! In 2000, the U.S. Supreme Court in Bush v. Gore said
in very plain language, "the INDIVIDUAL CITIZEN has no federal
constitutional right to vote for electors for the President of the
United States." You say, "Congressman, I'm a registered
voter and every time there's an election I'm entitled to vote - and
I vote. What do you mean I don't have a 'right to vote'?"
I mean as an American you don't have a citizenship right to vote.
Voting in the United States is a "state right" not
We keep on having these problems because our voting system is
built on the constitutional foundation of "states' rights"
- 50 states, 3,067 counties and 13,000 different election
jurisdictions, ALL SEPARATE AND UNEQUAL.
If you're an ex-felon in Illinois you can register and vote. If
you're an ex-felon in eleven states, mostly in the South, you're
barred from voting for life. There are nearly 5 million ex-felons
who have paid their debt to society but are prohibited from ever
voting again - including 1.5 million African American males. But in
Maine and Vermont you can vote even if you're in jail. Like I said,
we have a "states rights" separate and unequal voting
You ask, "What's the difference between a citizenship right
and a state right?"
The First Amendment contains individual citizenship rights that
go with you from state to state (that is, they are the same wherever
you are in the U.S.); and they are protected and enforced by the
federal government. You have equal protection under the law by the
executive, legislative and judicial branches of the federal
Therefore, as a result of the First Amendment, every American
citizen has an individual right to free speech, freedom of assembly,
and religious freedom (or to choose no religion at all), regardless
of which state you're in - individual rights that are protected by
the federal government. You don't have such a right when it comes to
A state right is NOT an American citizenship right, but a right
defined and protected by each state - and limited to that state.
Therefore, when it comes to voting, each state, county and election
jurisdiction is different.
One-hundred-and-eight of the 119 nations in the world that elect
their public officials in some democratic manner have the right to
vote in their Constitution - including the Afghan Constitution and
the interim document in Iraq. The United States is one of the 11
The Bible says if you build a house on sand, when it rains, the
winds blow and the storms come it will not stand. Our voting system
is built on the sand of "states' rights."
That's why every four years when the entire nation is focused on
a presidential election, and the rain of politics, the winds of
partisanship, and the storms of campaigning come, our democratic
house cannot stand the unitary test of voting fairness - and it has
come close to collapsing in 2000 and 2004.
The American people are gradually losing confidence in the
credibility, fairness, effectiveness and efficiency of our voting
system. We cannot export our current voting system or our form of
democracy to other nations because our "separate and
unequal" voting system, and our concept of an Electoral
College, do not reflect the best of a representative democracy. We
need to build our democracy and our voting system on a rock, the
rock of adding a Voting Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution
that applies to all states and all citizens.
We need to provide the American people with a citizenship right
to vote and provide Congress with the authority to craft a unitary
voting system that is inclusive of all Americans and guarantees that
all votes will be counted in a complete, fair and efficient manner.
It's the only foundation upon which we can build a more perfect
Every two, four or six years every member of Congress wants the
people in their district or state to stand up and vote for them.
Today it's time for every member of Congress to stand up and vote
for the right of the people to vote, and to have their vote fairly
and fully counted.