People's rights are already being brazenly violated in Florida, Ohio, and other places, but at the moment those rights are derivative of general Civil and Constitutional rights without necessarily being explicit. This creates the possibility for corrupt conservative courts to hold that by some Bizarro World logic it's legal to deliberately impose 9 hour waiting times on voters in Blue-leaning districts while the wealthy and white get every possible resource devoted to their polling stations, and perpetrate the various other dirty tricks that are now standard operating procedure for Republicans. In order to strengthen and expand the law guaranteeing free and fair elections, I would suggest the following Constitutional Amendment.
Since I'm not a lawyer, the language is intended to be flexible and mostly to cover ground rather than create a legally air-tight document. However, I have been very thorough, so this is no vague statement of intent:
1. Absolute and equal right to vote.
All citizens over the age of 18 not currently imprisoned on conviction of felony crimes or judged mentally incompetent in a legal proceeding have the absolute and equal right to vote in all public elections within their jurisdiction. This right shall not be infringed nor the practical ability to exercise it neglected by any means, and all levels of government must take all feasible measures to not only guarantee, but facilitate the exercise of this right thoroughly and equally.
2. Automatic registration of eligible voters.
(i) States shall maintain a list of all eligible voters under their jurisdiction and automatically register them to vote no later than six months prior to the commencement of voting in an election.
(ii) Double-redundant notice of automatic registration must be sent by mail and accessible from official websites immediately upon completion. Paper notices will include the form for partisan registration if a voter wishes to participate in primaries.
(iii) Homeless citizens may use the nearest post office as their address for the purposes of voter registration and receiving official notices free of charge.
3. Purging Ineligible Voters
(i) Officials must prove to a reasonable extent in a judicial proceeding that a citizen on the voter rolls or applying to be added is ineligible, and a judge must sign off on each and every person struck from the rolls.
(ii) Those targeted for removal must be notified in advance of this proceeding by Process Server a minimum of one month before the proceeding occurs, must be notified of the reasons for removal, and have the right to appear at the proceeding to challenge their removal or designate a surrogate to do so.
(iii) Removal decisions may be appealed to a higher court only by a United States Attorney asserting an overwhelming case for reversal, either on behalf of or against the citizen, and the entire appeals process must conclude no later than three months before the commencement of voting in an election. Judicial failure to conclude the process within the time limit results in automatic default in favor of the citizen.
(v) Final removal from voting rolls cannot occur later than three months before the commencement of voting in an election.
(vi) If a targeted person does not appear to challenge removal, Process Server notice of removal must be delivered to the person or sworn affidavit given that such person could not be located, in addition to prominent public notice in papers of record and official websites, double-redundant mailed notices, and double-redundant phone calls each occurring a minimum of 1 week apart and a maximum of 2 weeks apart.
4. All practical means must be exhausted to facilitate the free, fair, and equal exercise of voting.
(i) Election Day is a National Holiday: The final day of a regularly scheduled (i.e., non-special) election shall be a paid holiday celebrating democracy for all citizens not employed in critical public functions. However, citizens wishing to vote in-person before Election Day must still be granted paid time to vote, with official certification from poll workers showing how long they had to wait.
(ii) Employers must also permit employees paid time off to appear at hearings challenging removal from registration lists with presentation of prior official notice and certification of appearance afterward.
(iii) The state will reimburse the expense of public ground transportation to and from proceedings to challenge purges as well as traveling to and from polls, or the least expensive alternative if such transportation is unavailable. The federal government will reimburse the state. Reimbursement to the citizen will occur immediately. If additional, documented special needs are required to exercise voting rights, they will be met at government expense. Notices of registration or purging will prominently inform voters of these rights and options.
(iv) The election process will be fully federally funded, with allocations to states on a per-capita basis.
(v) All polling places must be provided for in accordance with the total number of eligible voters in the area, not merely on the basis of expected turnout.
(vi) Significant deviations from equality in per-capita spending on elections between different areas by a state or local government must be explicitly justified and certified by a US Attorney no later than five months before the commencement of voting - e.g., if there are unique practical challenges requiring that more be spent in one place than another, or if savings can be realized in some area without in any way compromising access.
(vii) The per-capita number of voting machines and staff must be universally equal, and the number of available ballots must be 10% greater than the total number of registered voters to account for voter error leading to new ballot requests.
(viii) Universal standardization of ballots in all US elections. To prevent error in the printing, marking, and evaluation of ballots, a standard ballot design shall be selected for all US elections and maintained for no less than 10 years. The selection shall occur in a transparent process completely open to submitted suggestions and public comment beginning no later than two years before the selected ballot goes into effect, with final selection occurring no later than one year before it goes into effect. Final selection must be objectively justified with rigorous, peer-reviewed experimental evidence indicating superior performance over alternative designs in avoiding confusion or error, both human and mechanical, as well as securing the integrity of the ballot.
(ix) A maximum of one hour of waiting time to vote shall be guaranteed. All necessary resources to achieve this must be devoted in advance, regardless of expense. Any certified waiting time greater than one hour will automatically trigger a federal inquiry and voters at that place will be asked if they found the facilities inadequate. If a substantial number say that was the case, changes in future budgets and procedures may be imposed by federal officials. If a large enough majority say so, and the waiting times are extreme enough, a federal criminal investigation of the officials responsible will be undertaken.
(x) The selection of polling locations must provide adequate access to all voters. This means they must be within range of public transportation - or else shuttle services provided to voters free of charge - and must also have adequate nearby parking, also free of charge. Polling locations must be announced no later than six months prior to the commencement of voting, following a two-month public comment period. If a place is chosen despite strong practical objections, a petition meeting some minimum proportion of those who would be served by that location would trigger federal review and possible arbitration of a different location.
(xi) No election result may be certified if the official margin of victory is beneath the number of voters intending to support the official loser who have filed sworn affidavits that they were denied access to vote, either through overt obstruction or due to conditions at polling places (e.g., wait times, or acts of intimidation) making it impractical.
(xii) To allow time for voter affidavits to be gathered in the event of a potentially tainted result, certification of election results may only occur a minimum of three weeks after the final day of vote counting, but challengers have a maximum of five weeks in which to gather affidavits before the result is automatically certified. If sufficient numbers are found, a federal investigation is automatically triggered. If the investigation validates a sufficient number of affidavits for the challenge to stand, those voters will be allowed to vote retroactively and the state officials involved will face criminal investigation.
(xiii) If the inquiry into an election continues into the term of the office being decided with no decision reached, and if the office is a legislative one, the ultimate victor will be able to vote on legislation retroactively that was voted upon in the interim. This will prevent orchestrating investigations as a partisan tool to delay legislative actions in closely-divided bodies.
(xiv) No onerous requirements may be imposed on voters that would selectively disadvantage economic or social classes, racial or ethnic groups, or age groups.
5. All practical means must be exhausted to ensure the integrity, accuracy, and thoroughness of election results.
(i) Regardless of whether it will affect the outcome of a given election, all votes must be counted for the sake of truth, history, and respect for the voter.
(ii) Voters will be given a unique ballot stub that can be tied to their specific ballot, but not to them personally. Official results must include a list of how each uniquely-identified ballot was recorded as voting, offered both electronically and in hard copy if requested. To ensure the accuracy and integrity of this record, accessing it will only require specifying where you voted, so that everyone who voted in that place can scan the numbers for theirs without having to input it in a way that could be used to identify them. This record will be generated dynamically as votes are counted, and also be published in its final form upon certification.
(iii) Ballot stubs must contain clear and prominent information on whom to contact if a voter is unable to find their ballot in the list, or if the votes of that ballot were recorded improperly. If a voter's ballot was not recorded at all and cannot be found, they can use the stub to allow them to fill out another ballot after the final day of voting but before certification occurs. If a voter's ballot was recorded improperly, officials will attempt to find the ballot and verify its contents. If the ballot still disagrees with how the voter claims they voted, they have the option of appearing in person to sign a sworn affidavit that the ballot is in error, have it discounted, and fill out a new one. The voter will have the same rights and access with these second ballots as with the first, and a second challenge would trigger immediate federal inquiry into the case.
(iv) Two methods will assure the integrity of the stub-verification process: First, stub IDs must indicate which specific polling place was used, and should include a time-stamp indicating the hour in which the vote was cast. Secondly, officials must maintain a list of registered voters who have voted, where they voted, and in what hour they voted. This maintains the secret ballot - the time stamp is on the stub, but not on the ballot itself if no one attempts to challenge it - but also permits officials to verify that a person holding a given stub is very likely the one who got it, rather than picking up someone else's discarded stub. It is still not impossible for someone to pick up another's stub and find one for the right time to double-vote, but they would look pretty suspicious sifting through the garbage around the polling station.
(v) All legitimate absentee ballots with a postmark on or before the final day of voting must be counted. If an absentee ballot is rejected due to the signature on the envelope apparently not matching the one on file, the voter must be notified immediately by phone, mail, and in person - until they are reached or the process exhausted - and told their options. They have the right to appear in person at the facility where their ballot is being processed and sign an affidavit affirming that it is indeed their signature, of it is not, sign an affidavit to that effect authorizing it to be discarded and cast another ballot. If they are physically unable to appear due to documented special circumstances, the ballot in question can be physically delivered by a secure government courier to their registered address of residence at an appointed time where they can verify it or discard it and cast a new ballot.
(vi) To ensure the integrity of the electoral process, the federal government will conduct an Official Exit Poll over the entire course of voting, covering all the races being decided, using transparent, peer-reviewed standards offered for public comment no less than three months before the commencement of voting. The sample must be sufficiently large to ensure a margin of error no greater than +/- 1%.
(vii) Should statistically significant deviations occur in the final reported results vs. the Official Exit Poll, a federal inquiry occurs and all voters will be requested to verify their votes via the stub process identified above and report anything amiss. If nothing untoward is discovered sufficient to invalidate the discrepancy, certification will proceed and an inquiry will determine what factors caused the Official Exit Poll to err. These findings will then be worked into the next election's exit poll. If significant problems are uncovered, a hand recount will occur including any new and provisional ballots.
(viii) If a voter is thought to be ineligible or fails to provide sufficient documentation to prove their identity but insists on their identity and eligibility - and a supervisor concurs with the judgment of a poll worker that they not be allowed to cast a regular ballot - they will be promptly given a provisional ballot to be accompanied by a sworn affidavit that they are eligible and are who they say they are, accompanied by whatever supporting information they can provide.
(ix) Provisional ballots shall not be invalidated unless the information provided in the accompanying affidavit proves false, the person proves to be ineligible, or the provided information is inadequate, and in any case the reason must be certified by a judge.
(xi) Every piece of physical hardware directly involved in voting and vote counting must be universally standardized nationwide, and adopted in an open and transparent process at least 1 year in advance of the commencement of voting, with 1 year of requests for proposals and public comment preceding the final decision. Once adopted, standards will be maintained for 10 years before the next set of standards will be implemented.
(xii) At no point in the voting or vote-counting process will software be involved. All mechanisms must either be mechanical or embedded and unchangeable without significant physical alterations.
(xiii) The federal government will regulate and closely monitor the production of all voting and vote counting hardware, and will own that hardware as public property once delivered by the manufacturers. The design and operation of all such hardware will be public information.
(xiv) State and federal officials will both certify that every machine in the process reflects the published standards on every day in which voting and vote counting occurs, conducting thorough tests on each day. The machines will not leave custody of these officials once delivered to polling stations, nor will anyone else be permitted access to their inner workings outside their presence. All repairs must be announced in advance in detail, monitored, and recorded as they occur, and unscheduled repairs must be followed by rigorous testing before the machines reenter service.
(xv) Ballots will be printed by the federal government using the same security technology and machinery as the US Mint uses to print currency, and no private entity will be permitted to control the supply of ballots or be given inside knowledge that could permit them to subvert their integrity.
6. Election procedures shall be designed to facilitate democracy, not sabotage it.
(i) Elections may not be run in a way that allows a minority of voters at any point in the process to determine the final outcome. This means that "open primaries" where the top two vote-getters regardless of party go on to monopolize the general election ballot may not occur. [Explanation: While this system can theoretically open up general elections to multi-party politics, in practice it can also allow one party to control the entire ballot and deny freedom of choice to general election voters. For instance, if Republicans run two candidates who each get 20%, but Democrats run four candidates who each get 15%, you would have 40% of the vote going to Republicans and 60% to Democrats, but the end result would be two Republicans on the GE ballot and thus a Republican virtually guaranteed to win the office since write-in campaigns are rarely successful.]
(ii) Runoff votes will be held in any general election where no candidate receives a majority of votes. This will permit multi-party and independent politics without spoilers, allowing the voices of all to be heard.
(iii) All races on a ballot shall contain an option for "None of the Above." If "None of the Above" wins a majority on the first ballot, the current slate of nominees is disqualified and a new election must be held within four months of the original with different candidates. If "None of the Above" wins second place, the final ballot will be between the frontrunner and "None of the Above."
(iv) The electoral college is hereby abolished. [The existence of the Senate is more than enough protection for small states.]
7. Elections may not be bought by any means, nor shall wealth be an unfair advantage.
(i) Campaigns for elective office on all levels shall be fully federally funded, requiring only a certain threshold of signatures be met to qualify. All financial campaign contributing is prohibited. Self-funding is permitted, but if a candidate chooses to self-fund a campaign and their spending exceeds the federal allocation to their eligible opponents, that allocation will increase to match for each opponent. Minimum funding levels shall be appropriate to consistently reach the relevant voting population, communicate with them, and counter opponent arguments.
(ii) Campaign funding will be augmented with free and equal airtime on all monopolized mediums - radio, television, and cable - in the same batch of time slots.
(iii) Corporations are profit-making mechanisms, and have no rights apart from those of their individual owners, investors, and employees. Therefore, a corporation may not participate in American politics in any way, shape, or form as a collective entity. It may not transfer funds, devote company resources, or do anything as a business for the purposes of influencing an election or deceiving the public on a question before the voters, nor may the power and influence of a company or its management be wielded over employees to cajole or compel them into voting or speaking a certain way on behalf of a political agenda.
8. Free and objective flow of information, and fair airing of political viewpoints in major media shall be guaranteed.
(i) Financial ownership of media sources shall not be permitted to influence elections through skewed coverage, deception, or propaganda. All major media with an audience greater than a certain threshold and/or controlled by monopoly or oligopoly conglomerates must adhere to a doctrine of fairness and objective fact in political coverage promoted as having journalistic authority.
(ii) Financial monopolization of major media markets will not be tolerated. No single corporation or individual shall own a controlling interest in more than 1% of the radio stations, television stations, cable networks, cable providers, or newspapers in the United States of America, nor in more than 5% of those in a single state or in any market greater than 1% of the nation's population. Those who do shall be broken up by antitrust regulators, and any merger or other arrangement will blocked that could conceivably give a single interest or small group of interests undue power over media content.
9. Electoral crimes and penalties.
(i) Deliberately tampering with or being complicit in tampering with any part of the voting process from registration to certification by an elections official in order to advantage or disadvantage one candidate over another, or one group of voters over another, shall be a federal felony entailing removal from office, forfeiture of pension and benefits, permanent disqualification from holding future offices on any level, and 20 years to life in prison. Such actions by a private citizen shall entail 10 to 20 years imprisonment.
(ii) A political or law enforcement official who deliberately interferes with the practical ability of voters to exercise their rights by manipulating voting hours, the number or quality of machines and ballots received by certain locations, intimidating voters, or by selectively introducing other impediments in order to influence the outcome of an election, is guilty of the same federal felony identified above, and subject to the same penalties - 20 years to life in prison, permanent disqualification, forfeiture of pension and benefits.
(iii) Malfeasance, negligence, or criminal incompetence on the part of an elections official in carrying out their responsibility to ensure a free, fair, equal, and accurate election shall be a federal felony entailing permanent disqualification from future office on any level, and up to 5 years imprisonment.
(iv) Anyone who deliberately obstructs legitimate voting, attempts to make it more difficult for certain groups of voters to reach the polls, or engages in organized misinformation of voters about the voting process, is guilty of a felony, permanently disqualified from performing any official capacity, and subject to 1 to 2 years in prison. It must be shown that their actions were consistent, selective, and showed intent to improperly advantage or disadvantage one candidate over another, or one group of voters over another.
(v) Employers or supervisors may not offer "guidance" on upcoming elections to subordinates during business hours, at mandatory functions, on official letterhead, or in any way that implies the possibility of financial reward or penalty for voting a certain way, nor may they retaliate in any way if subordinates express disagreement with these opinions. Nor may they compel employees to attend political events or in any way associate the company with such events. Tax-exempt religious organizations are also prohibited from offering such "guidance" to their followers. Credible and significant evidence of this law being violated will trigger an IRS audit, criminal investigations of voter intimidation, and prosecution for tax evasion in the case of religious leaders that have been using their organizations for politics.
(vi) Deliberate employer retaliation for exercising any of the rights identified in this amendment shall qualify as felony voter intimidation and entail 1 to 5 years imprisonment, as well as permanent disqualification from serving as a corporate officer of a business chartered in the United States or that does business with the United States.
(vii) Any corporation found guilty of engaging in a pattern of attempting to influence the outcome of an election in any way beyond the personal actions of its individual employees will have its corporate charter revoked, assets seized, and culpable management permanently disqualified from serving as corporate officers in any US-chartered company or that does business in the US.
(viii) An employer or supervisor may not request that employees prove how they voted, nor many person request such information for the purpose of coercing a person into voting a certain way. Doing so is felony voter intimidation.
(ix) Filing false affidavits or providing false information on official documents in an electoral matter is prosecutable both as perjury and as election fraud.
(x) Outright lies in mass-media political ads or large-scale news coverage shall be prosecuted as fraud. Juries in these cases may find the prosecution guilty of the crime if they deem the case totally unjustified.
(xi) A mass-media organization repeatedly engaging in political propaganda under the guise of news, journalism, or public information is cause for revocation of FCC license, corporate charter, and seizure and auction of assets.
(xii) Convictions of the above crimes cannot be pardoned by political officeholders, nor can they be tried or heard on appeal before judges appointed by officeholders electorally advantaged by the alleged crime in question.
I'd say that about covers it. We get this into the Constitution and we've got ourselves a kick-ass democracy.