What Exactly is Voting?


Is voting a privilege that ought to be earned? A reward for
good behavior? The fundamental right of citizenship in
democracy, not to be confused with punishment for crimes?
As long as all our citizens are equal, but some are more
equal than others, our elections will remain under siege.   

—Joyce Hackett

We hold these truths to be self-evident,

—that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights,

—that among these are life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness,

—that to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed...



Thomas Jefferson, in the preamble to the Declaration of Independence, set down the assumptions the Founders were working from, as they began to construct a different form of government than had been seen before.  The first was that citizens have the right to life, to liberty, and to the pursuit of happiness.  The second: that the point of governments was to set up a system to protect these rights.  Third, and this was the most radical: that governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed.  

What this says, without saying it, is that all forms of government where people can't choose their leaders exercise power that is fundamentally unjust.

So who are "the governed"?  

In a democracy, isn't every adult citizen "governed"?  

If our government's power is to be legitimate, Shouldn't every adult citizen have the right the ability to consent?  

If our government denies us, as citizens, the right to consent, how can its powers be just?  High-minded principles.

But the Constitution's specifics, trapped in norms of the historical era, often fell short of its lofty principles.  Though all men were supposedly equal, and governmental power could only be just if it gave citizens the right to consent or withhold consent — that is, to vote — in another section, the Constitution gave states the right to restrict which citizens could, and couldn't, vote.