On early voting, what the Founders thought should not matter

images (7)As part of the speeches on a constitutional amendment for early voting in Maine, one opponent of this proposal invoked the Founding Fathers.

According to reporter Steve Mistler:

During the debate, Rep. Lance Harvell, R-Farmington, said that the founding fathers would not have envisioned early voting.

This comment presumes that what the founders thought about voting should guide us today.

(It also presumes that we can figure out what people long dead would think about a proposal discussed today. Without a functioning ouija board or time travel machine, we cannot know how they would view a policy for our time.)

Moreover, if we followed the founders on voting today, women wouldn’t vote. Black people (and perhaps other people of color) wouldn’t vote. And white men without sufficient property wouldn’t vote.

Not only don’t we follow the Founders on voting, Americans worked hard to change those laws.

We have passed four constitutional amendments on voting — the 15th for former slaves and ending limits based on race, the 19th for women, the 24th banning the poll tax, and the 26th for people age 18 and above.

Myriad court decisions and federal and state laws have changed access to the ballot.

And these required much action, from the deaths of the civil war to the direct actions and lawsuits of the civil rights era, to the external mobilization and internal legislative coalition building that led to new laws and constitutional amendments.

Whether or not early voting is a good idea, invoking the founders on voting is not.

Those great men did much that is truly admirable, but their vision of who votes and how is something not applicable to our democracy today.

Amy Fried

About Amy Fried

Amy Fried loves Maine's sense of community and the wonderful mix of culture and outdoor recreation. She loves politics in three ways: as an analytical political scientist, a devoted political junkie and a citizen who believes politics matters for people's lives. Fried is Professor of Political Science at the University of Maine. Her views do not reflect those of her employer or any group to which she belongs.