“Voting under the Federal Constitution”

Travis Crum has posted this draft on SSRN (forthcoming, Oxford Handbook of American Election Law). Here is the abstract:

There is no explicit, affirmative right to vote in the federal Constitution. At the Founding, the franchise was largely limited to property-owning White men and States had total discretion to choose their electorate. But over the course of two centuries, the United States democratized, albeit in fits and starts.

A series of constitutional amendments prohibited discrimination in voting on account of race (Fifteenth), sex (Nineteenth), inability to pay a poll tax (Twenty-Fourth), and age (Twenty-Sixth). These amendments were worded as anti-discrimination provisions with nearly identical language. Although they vastly expanded who was eligible to vote, these constitutional amendments’ negative framing permits States to disenfranchise voters through facially neutral requirements, such as felon disenfranchisement laws.

Starting in the 1960s, the Supreme Court relied on the Equal Protection Clause—rather than the voting rights amendments themselves—to protect the “fundamental” right to vote, applying strict scrutiny to voting qualifications. This line of cases comes closest to recognizing an affirmative right to vote that receives protection even absent an invidious facial classification. These decisions, combined with the Voting Rights Act of 1965 (VRA) and the civil rights movement, helped eradicate Jim Crow.

This chapter charts how the United States democratized, and its focus is on voting qualifications under the federal Constitution. As this chapter demonstrates, democratization has been accomplished through federal constitutional amendments, state-law changes, judicial decisions, and popular mobilization, often in response to a major war.

Share this: