Make the Right to Vote a Fundamental Right
WHEREAS, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People ("NAACP") strives for equality of social and economic rights of all persons through pursuing enactment of federal, state, and local laws securing civil rights; and
WHEREAS, the right to vote is central to democracy, so much so that it is included in the dictionary definition of the word. When Americans are asked what rights they value most under the United States Constitution, over 90% of survey respondents believe that the right to vote is either the most important or one of the most important rights in a democracy; and
WHEREAS, by making the right to vote fundamental, any law that affects this right would be reviewed under strict scrutiny to ensure that the right to vote is not restricted unless doing so fulfills a compelling state interest through narrowly tailored means; and
WHEREAS, the U.S. Supreme Court has stated that the Due Process Clause of the Fourteenth Amendment protects liberties that are "so rooted in the traditions and conscience of our people as to be ranked as fundamental." Supreme Court Justices have contended that this concept of liberty protects personal rights that are fundamental outside of those explicitly mentioned in the Constitution; and
WHEREAS, examples of fundamental rights include marriage, interstate travel, and procreation; and
WHEREAS, the Supreme Court has treated certain aspects of voting as a "fundamental political right" and applied strict scrutiny to instances where the state attempted to exclude qualified citizens from voting with the rest of the state's electorate. Although the Constitution does not specifically recognize the right to vote as a fundamental right, amendments have been enacted to protect minority groups from having their right to vote limited; and
WHEREAS, although the Constitution provides that States may prescribe the "Times, Places and Manner of holding Elections for Senators and Representatives," the Court has held that States retain the power to regulate their own elections through election laws that will impose burdens on individual voters. Given the absence of a fundamental right to vote, when a state election law imposes "reasonable, nondiscriminatory restrictions" on the First and Fourteenth Amendment rights of voters, the State's regulatory interests are usually deemed sufficient to justify the restrictions; and
WHEREAS, a state election law may be nondiscriminatory on its face, and therefore not subject to strict scrutiny but have a discriminatory impact, for example: voter ID laws, reduced early voting days, elimination of same-day registration, voter roll purges, and the elimination of polling locations all suppress access to the ballot box for people of color, the elderly, and low-income communities; and
WHEREAS, voter ID laws in particular have a disproportionate effect on minorities, given that racial and ethnic minorities are less likely to have a valid photo ID. White turnout in relation to voter ID laws were unaffected; and
WHEREAS, while in many ways voter ID laws have replaced previously employed voting barriers like literacy tests, the modern methods employed by groups seeking to disenfranchise minority voters have focused on voting methodology and electoral schemes. Well-established threats to minority group voting rights are electoral schemes like 'at-large' districts that dilute the voting power of the minority group and make it virtually impossible to elect a candidate of the group's choice; and
WHEREAS, if voting were a fundamental right, any law, including electoral schemes like at-large districts would be subject to strict scrutiny and therefore would need to fulfill a compelling state interest through narrowly tailored means. It would be difficult to argue that at-large districts serve a compelling state interest when single member districts allow minority groups a greater chance to choose a candidate of their choice, particularly because the creation of majority-minority districts can be required under Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act.
THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED that the NAACP supports federal legislation, litigation, or a constitutional amendment making the right to vote a fundamental right.