A National Right to Vote

Via Ed Kilgore comes a new move from Iowa Governor Terry Branstad to disenfranchise voters ahead of the presidential election:

On the day he took office, Branstad signed an order reversing a six-year policy started under Democrat Tom Vilsack in which felons automatically regained their voting rights once they were discharged from state supervision. The move flew in the face of a nationwide trend to make voting easier for felons, making Iowa one of four states where felons must apply to the governor to have voting rights restored. Branstad’s new process requires applicants to submit a credit report, a provision critics call inappropriate and unique among states.

Since then, 8,000 felons in Iowa have finished their prison sentences or been released from community supervision, but less than a dozen have successfully navigated the process of applying to get their citizenship rights back, according to public records obtained by the AP.

I appreciate the honesty in this–Branstad won’t even pretend that this isn’t about reducing the Democratic share of the vote in an election year. In that, it’s similar to yesterday’s admission–by Pennsylvania Republican–that the state’s voter ID law is designed to keep Democrats from voting.

The broad problem here that there isn’t an affirmative right to vote in the Constitution. The broad assumption is that, if you want to vote, you’ll vote, and states aren’t at all incentivized to expand their electorates. Moreover, because states have wide latitude with regards to how they conduct elections, they have all the space they need to restrict voting rights without violating the letter of the law.

If we’re actually serious about democracy and participation, then we ought to have a voting rights amendment to the Constitution; guaranteed access to the ballot is the only way to avoid this partisan push to disenfranchise marginal citizens.