US Constitution and Voting rights

Grudginely, I am starting a new category in this blog on US Politics. I work with a lot of British folk and they are all very curious about the US, and in particular, the US political system. I, as an American, am not really that curious about it because it’s just something that is all around me, like water for a fish.  But, I am uniquely positioned to provide an unparalleled perspective on US Politics — what makes the USA tick.

If you look at the US Constitution, really try to read it, you can come away feeling quite confused. Talking to literal originalists, they must admit that even such a work has evolved over time. If we look at voting rights, you can see that voting began with a bunch of guys in a chamber drawing up lists of who should be President. And that was probably how it was in 1776. Today, you have 150 million voters and the Constitution, as it is today, guarantees that each vote is counted, and counted equally. The 15th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote to all regardless of race, color, or previous servitude. The 19th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote regardless of sex. The 24th Amendment guaranteed the right to vote regardless of paying the poll tax — which discriiminated against the poor — by reason of failure to pay poll tax or any other tax. And the 26th Amendment ensured that anyone over 18 years of age could vote. The argument was that if you were old enough to be drafted and sent to Vietnam, you should have the right to vote.

What is a poll tax? Basically voting costed money. You had to pay a tax to vote. Makes sense. The poll workers needed to get paid, the polling places needed to be rented, and heated. So why not charge admission? Unfortunately (or fortunately) this discriminated against the poor, who either could not afford the tax, or did not want to waste their money on a vote. And it is illegal, has been ever since the 24th Amendment which was passed in 1964. The idea was that rich people weren’t somehow more entitled to vote than poor people.

It is pretty clear, at least to me, that the Constitution has evolved, progressed, refined over time. A strict originalist interpretation is bogus, you really have to look at the overall document.

Today, we have a country that has big urban highly populated areas which are often quite poor and surrounding sparsely populated areas which can be quite wealthy (though not necessarily). What is true is that the mechanics of voting in a rural, or suburban area can be quite different that an urban area. Especially in this pandemic era. But not necessarily.

When I voted in the Republican primary in 2015 in Nevada, I waited in line for over three hours. The line was really a gauntlet, a ridiculous challenge. Looking back, I wonder why I even did that.

When I voted for President this past Tuesday I waited in line for about 1 hour, here in Missouri. Everyone was masked and the Corona virus was not far from everybody’s mind. Nevertheless the voting was orderly and not that bad. The poll lady, asked me about my absentee ballot, “Why are you voting today — you were sent an absentee ballot.” I told her the truth, that the absentee ballot was misplaced and I had looked all over the house for it. But I couldn’t find it so I had come to vote in person. These things happen. No big deal.

It makes perfect sense to me that not everyone was dumb as me. A lot of sensible people decided to skip the lines and use a mail-in ballot. This is more convenient and safer. Why should one have to chance spreading the virus or contracting it by standing in an election line? Why should we be holding a 150 million person super spreader event? This is a silly thing to do.

Should this be a Republican tell-tale? Only real men stand in line on election day? Again, this is a silly thing to do, and downright harmful.

It also discriminates similarly to a poll tax.  Wealthy, and or rural, people don’t have to queue up in long dangerous lines. Poorer, urban people face real challenges — long scary lines.

And then the discrimination continues. Wealthy, and or rural, people have their votes tabulated and recorded quickly with newer equipment. Their votes are easilty legal. But poorer, urban people have their votes stacked up in warehouses that take lots of time to sort through, tabulate and record. And their equal claim to their single vote is prejudiced by a President who immediately tars their stacked up votes as somehow corrupt, illegal, and rigged. How does he know — and more importantly how has he poisoned the whole process.? He really ought to be careful, because his oath is defend the Constitution. We should not presuppose corruption and bad intent. In this time of a pandemic, the mail in ballots make sense, and the logistics of trying to process 150 million ballots is daunting, to say the least.

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