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Is the right to vote really a right?

A man marks his ballot in a voting booth January 8, 2008 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
A man marks his ballot in a voting booth January 8, 2008 in Manchester, New Hampshire.
Chris Hondros/Getty Images

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Since the 2008 election, significant changes in voting laws have been made in some GOP-controlled states. Republicans say that the new restrictions are based on a need to “protect the integrity of the election,” but Democrats are crying foul and calling the new laws “voter suppression.”

Speaking to a group of college students in July, former President Clinton said, “There has never been in my lifetime, since we got rid of the poll tax and the Jim Crow burdens on voting, the determined effort to limit the franchise that we see today."

The new restrictions include reducing early voting, requiring that voters show ID at voting centers, eliminating same-day voter registration and making it harder for college students to vote away from their home districts. Election workers can be fined for breaking these rules, prompting the nonpartisan League of Women Voters to suspend their Florida voter registration drives. Florida’s 29 electoral votes went to Obama in 2008, and the state was ground zero for the 2000 election’s fracas. How could we forget the legendary “hanging chads?”

Republicans in Florida justified the changes on the grounds that they believe voting shouldn’t be easy or convenient. During debate over the changes Florida Senator Michael Bennett argued that voting “is a hard-fought privilege. This is something people died for. Why should we make it easier?”

Democrats stand to suffer from the new restrictions, passed in several Republican-controlled states, because they will have the greatest effect on students, elderly voters, the poor, disabled and minorities – demographics that traditionally skew towards the Democrats.


Are the new restrictions a political agenda or based on a need to streamline the voting process? Is making it harder for people to vote a good thing? Is the right to vote a right or a privilege?


David Savage, Supreme Court reporter, Los Angeles Times

John Fortier, director, Democracy Project at the Bipartisan Policy Center

Heather Smith, president, Rock the Vote