If you’re looking for the right to vote, you won’t find it in the United States Constitution or the Bill of Rights.
The Bill of Rights recognizes the core rights of citizens in a democracy, including freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly. It then recognizes several insurance policies against an abusive government that would attempt to limit these liberties: weapons; the privacy of houses and personal information; protections against false criminal prosecution or repressive civil trials; and limits on excessive punishments by the government.
But the framers of the Constitution never mentioned a right to vote. They didn’t forget – they intentionally left it out. To put it most simply, the founders didn’t trust ordinary citizens to endorse the rights of others.
They were creating a radical experiment in self-government paired with the protection of individual rights that are often resented by the majority. As a result, they did not lay out an inherent right to vote because they feared rule by the masses would mean the destruction of – not better protection for – all the other rights the Constitution and Bill of Rights uphold. Instead, they highlighted other core rights over the vote, creating a tension that remains today.
Relying on the elite to protect minority rights
Many of the rights the founders enumerated protect small groups from the power of the majority – for instance, those who would say or publish unpopular statements, or practice unpopular religions, or hold more property than others. James Madison, a principal architect of the U.S. Constitution and the drafter of the Bill of Rights, was an intellectual and landowner who saw the two as strongly linked.
At the Constitutional Convention in 1787, Madison expressed the prevailing view that “the freeholders of the country would be the safest depositories of republican liberty,” meaning only people who owned land debt-free, without mortgages, would be able to vote. The Constitution left voting rules to individual states, which had long-standing laws limiting the vote to those freeholders.
In the debates over the ratification of the Constitution, Madison trumpeted a benefit of the new system: the “total exclusion of the people in their collective capacity.” Even as the nation shifted toward broader inclusion in politics, Madison maintained his view that rights were fragile and ordinary people untrustworthy. In his 70s, he opposed the expansion of the franchise to nonlanded citizens when it was considered at Virginia’s Constitutional Convention in 1829, emphasizing that “the great danger is that the majority may not sufficiently respect the rights of the Minority.”
The founders believed that freedoms and rights would require the protection of an educated elite group of citizens, against an intolerant majority. They understood that protected rights and mass voting could be contradictory.
Scholarship in political science backs up many of the founders’ assessments. One of the field’s clear findings is that elites support the protection of minority rights far more than ordinary citizens do. Research has also shown that ordinary Americans are remarkably ignorant of public policies and politicians, lacking even basic political knowledge.
Is there a right to vote?
What Americans think of as the right to vote doesn’t reside in the Constitution, but results from broad shifts in American public beliefs during the early 1800s. The new states that entered the union after the original 13 – beginning with Vermont, Kentucky and Tennessee – did not limit voting to property owners. Many of the new state constitutions also explicitly recognized voting rights.
As the nation grew, the idea of universal white male suffrage – championed by the commoner-President Andrew Jackson – became an article of popular faith, if not a constitutional right.
After the Civil War, the 15th Amendment, ratified in 1870, guaranteed that the right to vote would not be denied on account of race: If some white people could vote, so could similarly qualified nonwhite people. But that still didn’t recognize a right to vote – only the right of equal treatment. Similarly, the 19th Amendment, now 100 years old, banned voting discrimination on the basis of sex, but did not recognize an inherent right to vote.
Debates about voting rights
Today, the country remains engaged in a long-running debate about what counts as voter suppression versus what are legitimate limits or regulations on voting – like requiring voters to provide identification, barring felons from voting or removing infrequent voters from the rolls.
These disputes often invoke an incorrect assumption – that voting is a constitutional right protected from the nation’s birth. The national debate over representation and rights is the product of a long-run movement toward mass voting paired with the longstanding fear of its results.
The nation has evolved from being led by an elitist set of beliefs toward a much more universal and inclusive set of assumptions. But the founders’ fears are still coming true: Levels of support for the rights of opposing parties or people of other religions are strikingly weak in the U.S. as well as around the world.
Americans may have come to believe in a universal vote, but that value does not come from the Constitution, which saw a different path to the protection of rights.
The time is now! Voting in the presidential election will begin in many states in just a few weeks – as early as Sept. 4 in North Carolina. Every state’s regulations and procedures are different, so it is vital that you understand the requirements and opportunities to vote where you live.
Here’s how to make sure you’re ready to vote, and that your vote will count.
Check your registration
Make sure that you are registered to vote at your current address. You may not have voted in a while. You may have moved or changed your name. You may have forgotten when you last registered to vote. Calling or visiting your secretary of state’s office or local Board of Elections may be a good place to start.
You can also visit Vote.org, Rock the Vote, I am a voter or the U.S. Vote Foundation, all nonprofit, nonpartisan websites providing lots of detailed information about voting rights, registration and the process of voting. It took only a few minutes online for me to verify my own registration and voter ID number.
The federal government offers lots of useful voting information, too.
Not registered? Register now!
If you’re not registered – whether you have never registered or your registration is out of date – there is still time. September 22 is National Voter Registration Day, when millions of individuals register to vote.
If you’d rather register to vote on paper, download and print a simple form from the federal government, which asks you to provide some personal information, like your name and address. The instructions give state-specific details and provide the mailing address you need to send the form to.
While you’re at it, encourage your friends to register too.
Make a plan to vote
Not everyone who is registered to vote actually casts a ballot. You’re more likely to actually vote if you make a plan.
You’ll need to find out when to vote in person and where to do it. Election Day is Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020 – but different cities and towns have different voting hours. Many communities have several polling places, and you need to go to the right one, depending on where you live. Make sure you know where to go.
In some places you can vote in person for some number of days ahead of Election Day, often at the main municipal government building. Your town office – and its website – will likely have the dates and location information prominently displayed.
If you don’t want to vote in person, either because of your work or personal schedule, or because of the pandemic, think about voting by mail. Some states will mail you a ballot automatically, either because they conduct their elections by mail or because they have made special provisions to do so as a result of the pandemic. In other states you have to request one – and sometimes you need to provide a specific excuse for wanting to avoid in-person voting.
If you’re voting by mail, you may need to pay postage to send your ballot back in. Call your local election office and ask how much you’ll need – and get the right postage. You can order postage online for free delivery – and splitting the cost of a book of stamps is another great opportunity to share voting with a friend.
In 2016, nearly one-quarter of U.S. votes were cast by mail. Research and evidence show that it is safe and reliable – though with large numbers of people expected to vote by mail this year, it’s best to mail your ballot back as early as possible to make sure it has plenty of time to arrive before it needs to be counted. The U.S. Postal Service recommends mailing your ballot at least a week before the deadline.
Large amounts of mail also might mean you don’t get your ballot in the mail until just before the election. If it arrives with less than a week to go, call your local Board of Elections or municipal clerk immediately to find out what your options are. You may be able to drop off the ballot rather than mailing it in, and you should also still have the option to vote in person, either on or before Election Day.
If you’re worried about the safety of voting by mail, there are plenty of administrative and legal protections for mailed-in ballots, and steep penalties for those who tamper with election mail.
Set reminders to vote
Many people set reminders for all sorts of important things: medical appointments, friends’ birthdays, bill payment dates and so on. Add voting to your calendar – including alerts to request a mail-in ballot, to vote early, to mail your ballot and certainly for Election Day itself.
Tell your friends and family
Every vote that is cast is a vital contribution to the nation’s future. Encourage everyone you know to vote. You can even invite people to your calendar events – or share your plans on social media, in an email to family and friends. Send texts to people you know. Pledge to call 10 people and ask them to vote, and ask each of them to call 10 more people.
Do not be intimidated or afraid
If you make your plan and follow the requirements of your state and local government, you can cast your ballot and be certain that your vote will count.
You may encounter people claiming there could be “widespread” voter fraud or that the election is somehow “rigged.” But the biggest problem is that so few people actually vote: In 2016, 40% of eligible American voters didn’t cast a ballot.
It is your right to vote. Exercise that right proudly and make your voice heard.
The Role of The USPS In Health Delivery
When I worked in the emergency department, almost all patients had to get some sort of test—a blood test or an xray. And lots of times those test results took a few days to determine the results. Like, if a patient had an infection that required a specific type of antibiotic, that took a few days to figure out. Of course, by then, most of emergency department patients had been discharged ‘to home.’
Even though the patient had been discharged, the medical staff still needed to reach the patient to let them know about the need to come back for treatment. Of course, the staff would try to reach the patient by phone, but often patients did not have phones, or, the call went to voice mail—and personal medical information cannot be left on voice mail…Nor can it be texted.
So, how did the medical staff communicate important medical findings to patients? Especially to those patients that needed to come back to the hospital for medical treatment? Why, through the US Postal Service—by sending the patient an actual, physical letter. Not email, not a phone call, not text, not twitter or Facebook—only through the US mail, can medical institutions prove that they’ve tried to reach the patient. This is the necessary ‘physical paper trail’ that hospitals and doctors offices need to protect themselves should the patient never come back for medical treatment.
USPS Is A Branch of HealthCare
Actually, lots of healthcare happens via the mail. Lots. Without this ‘pony express highway’ running efficiently, patient safety and patient wellness is compromised. Consider this:
· At least 1 million prescriptions are sent through the USPS every single week.
· 80% of medications are sent to veterans by mail. These are important medications that control blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression and many other critical medical conditions.
· Medical notices for lab and x-ray results, and upcoming appointments are sent via mail.
USPS Is an Economic Engine for the USA
Additionally the USPS is a critical ‘super highway’ for getting
· Upwards of 72 million social security checks are mailed every single month.
· 472 million letters, checks, legal notices, love letters (remember those?) are delivered each and every day, regardless of snow, sleet or snow (as the saying goes) gets delivered to every American household.
· And still, today, some mail is delivered by mules (think bottom of the Grand Canyon).
· And, the USPS is as American as it gets—every single Founding Father supported the creation of the postal system. It’s even in the Articles of Confederation
Also, loads of Americans work for the USPS—roughly 600,000 Americans! One of those Americans included my father, who got a job as a letter carrier (or, back in those days, ‘a mailman’), to help him afford college.
The USPS Is Santa’s Helper
And let’s not forget that the Postal Service also sends letters to Santa Claus—several hundred thousand letters (True statement). If the postal service is cut, compromised or decommissioned, who will deliver all those letters? And more importantly, who will respond? Because—and this is true—the postal service employees will respond to the letters with a hand written response signed by Santa and—this is also true—some employees will purchase gifts for the children!
The Cost of Knee-Capping the USPS
So, this discussion about dismantling or knee-capping the postal service is not only a very serious healthcare concern, it is also a workforce and American identity crisis—for what is America without our 6-days-a-week US mail service?
If this non-partisan, non-profit organization goes away or is severely limited who or what will, in the absence of this Great American Institution, replace it? Goodness help us all if it becomes privatized. We know what happens when institutions ‘get privatized…’ Private for-profit companies will close post offices to save money, which means households in rural areas might not get home delivery but only regional delivery. Services will probably be cutback from 6 days a week to 4 days a week. For all that ‘great service’ of fewer days and no home delivery, these private companies will charge you more to mail a letter so that the executives can raise their stock share price.
The Best Value Money Can Buy
What organization that you know of can deliver 212 billion pieces of mail each year, to anywhere in the USA for 55 cents? Anywhere, any letter, 6 days a week for 55 cents… (Honestly, what can you possibly buy for 55 cents that produces that much value?)
USPS is More American Than Baseball
No question about this—the USPS is not only ‘like’ Mom, Apple Pie and Baseball, it is Mom and Apple Pie and Baseball of our Great United States. Stand united for the USPS because in doing so, We The People, are standing up for ourselves.
President Trump is taking a hard stand against expanding alternatives to in-person voting amid the coronavirus pandemic, arguing that mail-in voting risks “tremendous potential for fraud” and hands an advantage to Democrats.
While voting rights and elections experts say there may be some truth to Trump’s claim that mail-in voting is more susceptible to fraud, they note that electoral fraud of any form is exceedingly rare. And they say there are security measures that can mitigate those risks.
At the same time, experts argued that policymakers should be wary of restricting an already-existing alternative to in-person voting that has the potential to expand the electorate and limit the spread of the coronavirus.
“Perhaps there’s more potential for fraud than in in-person voting, but both can be done safely and securely,” said George Hornedo, the former deputy political director and national delegate director for former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s presidential campaign. “Election fraud in all instances is extremely rare.”
Hornedo suggested several measures to cut down on the risks of fraud in mail voting, including ballot tracking, pre-paid postage and setting up ballot drop boxes that would “eliminate the need for voters to hand over ballots to third parties.”
Vote-by-mail programs are already extremely common and have been in use for years.
Five states — Colorado, Hawaii, Oregon, Utah and Washington — now conduct their elections almost entirely by mail. And in about two-thirds of states, voters can request a mail-in ballot without providing an “excuse” for not being able to vote in person on Election Day.
Trump acknowledged at a press briefing this week that he voted by mail in Florida’s presidential primary last month, though he said that he was “allowed to” because he lived out of state and wasn’t able to vote in person. In other instances, he said, mail-in voting “is a terrible, terrible thing.”
“There’s a lot of dishonesty going on with mail-in voting, mail-in ballots,” he said at a media briefing.
Myrna Pérez, the director of the Brennan Center’s Voting Rights and Elections Program, said that the idea that mail-in voting is some “brand new thing” is “not consistent with the real world.”
“We are in the middle of an emergency situation, and the appropriate thing to be doing right now is to be looking at all things we know and figuring out how to make those things work for us in this crisis,” she said.
Pérez said that policymakers should look at the experiences of states with robust vote-by-mail programs and use them to guide efforts to expand those programs in other states.
“The challenge our country has to figure out is how to get this up to scale,” Pérez said. “That’s something that’s going to require thinking and resources, but we should not be starting from the premise that this is a brand new untested thing.”
Lonna Atkeson, a political science professor at the University of New Mexico, said there are still risks involved with mail-in voting. Fraud, for instance, becomes harder to detect when people don’t have to show up to vote in person, she said.
“If you show up the polls and you say you’re John Doe and you’re 25, and that John Doe is 50, you know there’s a problem,” Atkeson said. “Those kinds of catches are possible.”
“Where we see fraud, we tend to see it in absentee voting,” she added, pointing to the 2018 election in North Carolina’s 9th congressional district, when a contractor working for Republican candidate Mark Harris was charged with election fraud in connection to an absentee ballot collections scheme.
State officials eventually overturned the results of that race and called a special election for the House seat.
Experts also warn that external threats, such as foreign adversaries, could also pose a greater threat with absentee, or remote voting.
“The manipulation campaigns, Russia, China, Iran, and maybe some unscrupulous domestic operatives could seize this opportunity to actually promote downloads of bogus, basically absentee ballots and direct people’s votes to the wrong place,” said Theresa Payton, CEO of Fortalice Solutions and author of the forthcoming book “Manipulated: Inside the Cyberwar to Hijack Elections and Distort the Truth.”
Payton recommended holding mock elections as a means of working out any potential risk and pitfalls in the process.
“Let’s pretend, we got these ballots in the mail. Let’s scan them. How long does it take to scan a ballot? What is our error defect rate?” Payton said. “How we will audit an all absentee ballot, or maybe as high as 40 percent absentee ballot election because they’re not used to that yet.”
Democrats and election rights advocates are some of the most vocal voices pushing for expanded vote by mail. Democratic lawmakers, led by Sens. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), are calling on the federal government to send at least $1.6 billion to states as part of the next coronavirus spending package and that Congress impose requirements to ensure states permit vote-by-mail.
However, Republicans have continued to voice skepticism about vote-by-mail measures.
“I don’t think the Republicans are going to embrace any of the language that we’ve seen Senators Klobuchar and Wyden put forward to make the election universally accessible for every American,” said Matt Liebman, of the left-leaning group the Voter Protection Project.
“Republicans are going to take advantage of the situation to suppress voter turnout, and not only try to use that to hold the presidency, the United States Senate, but, you know, some of these critical state legislative races across the country,” he continued.
Trump and Republicans have also pushed the argument that expanding the use of mail-in ballots lends a partisan advantage to Democrats. That line of reasoning hinges on the notion that such programs increase the number of people who cast ballots and that high-turnout elections tend to favor Democrats.
But experts said there’s little evidence that one party or another benefits more from the widespread use of mail-in ballots.
“I have not seen any conclusive data on that and I cannot understand how anyone can pretend to know that,” Pérez said.
However, not all Republicans are opposed to the measures. Maryland’s Republican Gov. Larry Hogan ordered the state’s June 2 primary to be vote-by-mail.
“If one is in a pandemic, and you sit and you say, we’re not going to allow you to keep safe, and vote by mail and exercise your right to vote, that’s outrageous,” said Page Gardner, the founder of the Voter Participation Center.” “It’s a weakening of our democracy. It’s a weakening of our democratic institutions.”
Election officials are scrambling ahead of the November vote to ramp up alternative methods like mail-in voting as the coronavirus pandemic raises concerns about the safety of in-person voting.
That dash to expand polling options could bring a new wave of court fights around the 2020 election, legal experts say. As states move to bolster balloting options — or face challenges to such plans — both sides in the debate are likely to take those decisions to court.
And when Election Day arrives, questions over the handling of mail-in ballots could lead to more court fights.
“We do not want the election resolved in the courts and so I hope it does not come to that,” said Richard Pildes, a law professor at New York University.
Legal experts say the nightmare scenario would be a situation resembling the Supreme Court’s decision on Bush v. Gore, which was seen as an ideological one that undermined both the legitimacy of the court and the 2000 presidential election results among critics of the decision.
“We know that the current partisan divide over the legitimacy of the U.S. Supreme Court can be timed to the release of the Bush v. Gore decision,” said Charles Stewart, a political science professor and election expert at MIT. “So, we have to be worried both about the legitimacy of the result and the legitimacy of the courts.”
States are hoping to avoid the situation Wisconsin faced this week where widespread in-person voting took place, despite last-minute efforts to avoid that outcome amid a virus that had infected some 2,500 and killed nearly 80 in the state by the Tuesday vote.
“There’s nonstop work being done by election officials to plan for November,” Stewart said.
The hope is that the pandemic will have abated enough to allow for in-person voting, which could be done more safely if early voting is expanded to reduce crowding on Voting Day. But given the fears over inciting a second wave of infections, that may not be advisable by the fall.
All states allow at least some mail-in balloting for select voters. While some states have relatively expansive mail voting systems, others have few provisions.
The fight over expanding voting options has already sparked legal battles. Texas is one of the states that has cases pending in court over efforts to expand mail-in balloting.
Under the current state election rules in Texas, only voters with a “qualifying reason” — advanced age, disability, incarceration or planned travel — can mail in ballots, despite public health guidance to avoid public gatherings. But a lawsuit filed by Texas Democrats ahead of the July primary runoff seeks to have that criteria expanded by including social distancing as a qualifying disability.
Progress toward developing a voting failsafe by November is likely to be uneven among the states given that not all are beginning from the same starting point, and because the push has increasingly become riven by partisan politics.
States that have a head start will be better off, though, experts said.
“States that already have a well-developed vote-by-mail program may well have the capacity to supersize it, and states that don’t may well have the capacity to provide some incremental vote-by-mail capacity,” said Justin Levitt, a professor at Loyola Law School.
“But it will be a herculean task for a state without much vote-by-mail capacity to get to almost everyone voting by mail by November. That takes expertise and systems, equipment and personnel, and the capacity to print a lot more ballots. And it is not easy to get any of those quickly.”
Lorraine Minnite, a political science professor at Rutgers University-Camden, put it even more starkly.
“A large-scale change in procedure hastily administered will likely not run smoothly even under the best of conditions,” she said.
Experts warn that expanded mail-in voting could lead to more voter errors and omissions, create more opportunities for fraud or coercion, and pose special challenges for those who move frequently or lack a permanent address.
Edward Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, said that if states are too slow to mail out ballots, litigation could arise from those issues.
“The most likely problem to trigger litigation would be if voters request absentee ballots on time, but election officials because they are overwhelmed with the high volume of absentee ballot requests fail to send the ballots to voters in time for voters to return them by the legally specified deadline,” Foley said.
“This, then, creates a problem of wrongful disenfranchisement of eligible voters, through no fault of the voters but because of the government’s own problems, and requires a court to come up with an appropriate remedy,” he added.
Rick Hasen, a professor of law and political science at the University of California Irvine, said that more courts may be drawn into a battle similar to the one playing out in Texas over whether voting by mail should require a valid excuse.
“There are a number of issues courts may address related to the vote by mail and the coronavirus,” he said. “Do states have to expand ballot deadlines to deal with a flood of absentee ballots? Do voters have a right to be told their absentee ballots have been rejected and given the opportunity to ‘cure’ a problem for rejecting a ballot like a purported signature mismatch?”
According to Levitt, one common thread among states is the urgent need for money to ramp up mail-in operations.
“The single most important piece is funding,” he said. “There are a lot of logistics between here and there, including space and machinery and people to process mail ballots, and that takes money.”
The more than $2 trillion coronavirus stimulus package included $400 million for states to expand early voting, election by mail and for other election matters.
“The recent funding from Congress is an extremely welcome start, but only barely a start,” he added. “There needs to be much more, and quickly: it does little good to get more funding for this in October.”