Toward a More Perfect Constitution
Published: Monday, September 16, 2013
Updated: Tuesday, September 17, 2013 16:09
We Americans take our Constitution seriously, and we should: Our founding document has helped create a durable foundation for our country. While we celebrate our Constitution today, National Constitution Day, we should take care to not let this praise lapse into worship. Our foundation can be strengthened. The best way to honor our Constitution is to improve it.
Over the years we have done so by making our Constitution — and its application through legislation and judicial rulings — more egalitarian and more democratic. We have eliminated slavery and expanded due process protections. We have approved the direct election of senators. We have extended the right to vote to people of all races, women and those over the age of 18. Each expansion of political equality and democracy has made our Constitution — and our country — a more perfect union.
Oddly, the Constitution does not itself directly guarantee our voting rights, nor does it ensure our principle of “one person, one vote.” It should. In this spirit, I offer four amendments to enhance and protect equality and democracy. The first two amendments secure our voting rights; the second two ensure that all votes carry equal weight.
The first change I propose would be a 28th Amendment: “As Government requires the consent of the Governed, Congress shall make no law infringing upon the right to vote.”
The Constitution forbids Congress from restricting our freedoms of religion, speech, press and assembly; it states that our rights to bear arms shall not be infringed. Our voting rights are equally deserving of protection. When a person arrives at a polling place to cast a ballot asserting this right, the burden of proof would be on the government to disprove this claim. This amendment would prohibit additional voter registration requirements and would presumably require expansive voting periods so that this right could actually be exercised.
Secondly, a 29th Amendment: “Each citizen shall have the right to vote. Citizens with legal guardians (e.g., minors or the incapacitated) may have the guardian cast their vote on their behalf.”
Yes, all citizens should have the right to vote, for at least two reasons. First, this would help assure that public policy responds more accurately to citizen preferences. Have you wondered why our policies heavily favor the elderly at the expense of children? The answer is clear: Children cannot vote; the elderly do. Second, it reinforces that we all have rights. Our sex, ethnicity, religion, income and age do not determine our rights. Our humanity does.
For my proposed 30th Amendment: “Each state shall have the number of Senators proportional to its population.”
The current Senate grossly violates the principle of one person, one vote: the voters of Wyoming have vastly more weight in the Senate than the voters of California. There is no compelling reason why the weight of our vote should depend on the accident of our location.
With my amendment, the essential benefits of the Senate are maintained. The Senate would remain smaller than the House, with senators having longer terms. The Senate’s deliberative role is protected. Federalism is preserved. The separation of powers and its checks and balances are retained. Yet the Senate will more accurately represent the true will of the American people.
And lastly, my 31st Amendment: “The President shall be elected by a majority of the popular vote.”
The Electoral College is deeply flawed. It doesn’t meet the “one person, one vote” standard, as voters in less populated states have more weight than voters in the larger states. It enables presidents to be elected with a minority of the popular vote. This amendment would ensure that the president represents the majority of actual voters, not the majority of some faceless “college.”
If these voting rights actually existed and the American people were then called to vote on these amendments through a national referendum, they would be approved. And they should be. With them, I thoroughly believe that our Constitution would be better and our nation would be stronger.
Mark Rom is an associate professor of government.