Right/Voting Rights and Suffrage/Culture and Politics

Jump to navigation Jump to search

Voting Rights and Suffrage

Is there general and widespread belief that this right is a fundamental right that should generally be protected (and that exceptions should be rare)? 🖉 edit

For several decades, the right to vote has been widely recognized as fundamental to fair, participatory government by a wide variety of international organizations and individual nations. The most prominent example comes from the United Nations’ International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights of 1966, which recognized that “every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity...to vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors” (UN General Assembly 1966). In addition to international decrees and declarations identifying the importance of suffrage, international election monitoring and observation bodies exist around the world to protect citizens’ ability to vote and analyze countries’ electoral processes. There is strong global consensus that voting rights ought to be protected and are an essential element of successful representative democracies.

In an American context, the United States Constitution explicitly protects citizens’ right to vote in Section II of the Fourteenth Amendment, the Fifteenth Amendment, Nineteenth Amendment, and Twenty-Fourth Amendment. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 and its subsequent amendments also describe the right to vote as an “inherent constitutional right” (H.R. 4249, 91st Congress 1970). Additionally, prominent Supreme Court cases concerning voting rights such as, Reynolds v. Sims (1964) , Harper v. Virginia Board of Elections (1966) , and Kramer v. Union Free School District (1969) convey the fundamental nature of suffrage, pushing back against previous interpretations by the Court in Minor v. Happersett ( 1875) that “the Constitution...does not confer the right of suffrage upon any one” (Supreme Court of the US 1875) and even older perceptions of voting as a privilege that had to be earned through societal metrics such as property ownership (Behrens 2004, 232). In Reynolds, the Court established that: "Undoubtedly, the right of suffrage is a fundamental matter in a free and democratic society. Especially since the right to exercise the franchise in a free and unimpaired manner is preservative of other basic civil and political rights, any alleged infringement of the right of citizens to vote must be carefully and meticulously scrutinized."

Harper concerned the constitutionality of poll taxes, and the Court reasoned that “wealth or fee paying has, in our view, no relation to voting qualifications; the right to vote is too precious, too fundamental to be so burdened or conditioned” (Supreme Court of the US 1966). Kramer similarly outlined that “any unjustified discrimination in determining who may participate in political affairs or in the selection of public officials undermines the legitimacy of representative government” (Supreme Court of the US 1969). Both majority opinions in Reynolds and Harper also relied upon previous rationale established in Yick Wo v. Hopkins (1886) that “though not regarded strictly as a natural right, but as a privilege merely conceded by society according to its will, under certain conditions, nevertheless [the right to vote] is regarded as a fundamental political right, because preservative of all rights” (Supreme Court of the US 1886).

In spite of these general beliefs legal precedent, certain members of society are still excluded from this fundamental right for reasons that are widely debated. Citizenship, for example, is often a requirement for suffrage. However, some countries, including certain local governments in the United States, allow noncitizens to vote in local elections after they have met certain residency requirements (Earnest). Felons are also often restricted from voting. In most countries with restrictions on felon voting, these penalties only take place when individuals are serving their prison sentence. In the United States, however, felon voting policy, like nearly all electoral policy, is a state decision. Restrictive felon voting policies are indicative to some experts that the United States has “failed to give the right to vote its true status as a fundamental right” (Behrens 275). In addition to the explicit prohibition of certain individuals from voting, unequal access to voting precincts and absentee drop-off locations as well as reduced voting hours and early voting periods also undermine the extent to which voting rights are protected around the world. Beyond restrictions of where citizens can vote, more explicit voter intimidation and election-related violence are employed even in countries that have signed on to international agreements outlining the importance of voting rights. Partisan gerrymandering, which the Supreme Court has defined as federally “nonjusticiable” in Rucho v. Common Cause (2019), also dilutes the impact of certain citizens’ votes, undermining their ability to meaningfully exercise suffrage.

Additionally, policies implemented to address voter fraud such as voter identification can also limit overall voting access. Critics of voter identification argue that requiring an often-times narrow list of permissible forms of identification puts an undue burden on citizens who are less likely to possess valid identification and constitute a modern form of a “poll tax” (Reeves).


Behrens, Angela. "Voting-Not Quite a Fundamantal Right-A Look at Legal and Legislative Challenges to Felon Disfranchisement Laws." Minn. L. Rev. 89 (2004): 231.

David C. Earnest, “Noncitizen Voting Rights: A Survey of an Emerging Democratic Norm,” 2003: http://citizenshiprightsafrica.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/Earnest_APSA_non-citizen-voting_2003.pdf

Celina De León, “Political Scientist Keith Reeves '88 Reacts to Latest Ruling on Pa. Voter ID Law,” October 2nd, 2012: https://www.swarthmore.edu/news-events/political-scientist-keith-reeves-88-reacts-to-latest-ruling-pa-voter-id-law

United Nations, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, 1966: https://www.ohchr.org/sites/default/files/ccpr.pdf

Does public polling reveal insights about the right as experienced in different countries? 🖉 edit

Electoral Rights and Europe

Being a part of the European Union, a citizen of a European country has electoral power in European, national, regional, and municipal levels, though that can bring confusion as to whether or not a European citizen can participate in all of the elections of a particular EU country. EU citizens can vote for European Parliament and municipal elections in any EU country that they live in, though they cannot vote in elections for national parliament nor in regional elections ('Flash Eurobarometer 485 - European Union Citizenship and Democracy', 2020, p. 3).

According to the Flash Eurobarometer 485 of July 2020, 71% European citizens were aware that a citizen of the EU that lives in their country has the right to vote for European Parliament (p. 5). 53% correctly stated that it is false that EU citizens living in their country can vote for national elections. A similar fifty percent split was found with European citizen’s belief of whether other EU citizens not from their country could vote for municipal and regional elections (p. 5).

This data implies that most Europeans recognize their own and others’ right to vote, and that their voting is done in conjunction with European voters from different countries and cultures. This creates an experience of voting that is decidedly international, both in the power that a European has with their vote and also the effects they feel from the votes of others. Voting power is much more expansive than just their own locality, and is instead affecting a much larger trans-national federation.

Later in the report, it shows that 63% of Europeans believe that a citizen of the US is justified in having the right to vote in the national elections of the country that the foreign citizen resides in (p. 6). The countries with the highest number of citizens who thought it justified was Ireland with 77% and Portugal with 74%. The lowest was Denmark with 40% and Sweden with 35%.

With the countries with more citizens that believe it is justified like Portugal and Ireland, the data implies that the right to vote should be expansive and farther reaching, with less importance placed on nationality and more on where someone lives. Moreover, the citizen’s desire for a wider net of participation implies an experience of voting that is too restricted, and far away from being universal.

With countries on the lower end with citizens that believe it to not be justified like Denmark and Sweden, the data implies that their conception of the right to vote is one that should be kept close with the ethnic and cultural natives of the country. The electoral net is too wide, and there would be a greater benefit if voting access were to be restrained and more controlled. This is further supported by the report later on which states that 49% of Danes and 56% of Swedes (the highest percentage) believe that European citizens should only vote in their country of origin (p. 21).


Flash Eurobarometer 485: EU Citizenship and Democracy: https://data.europa.eu/data/datasets/s2260_485_eng?locale=en

Is this right exercised in different ways depending on the political governance regime in place (democracy, autocracy, hybrid regime)? + create

Is this right interpreted and exercised in different ways in different countries? Focus on particular countries in which the right is interpreted distinctively + create