arrowSection 1.1 - Registration Rules

arrowSection 1.2 - Felon Disenfranchisement

Print Page

This first Part of the e-Book concerns the rules that determine who is eligible to vote. Although the term "universal suffrage" is often used to describe modern democracy in America, thereby implying that every U.S. citizen is entitled to become a voter, the reality is not quite so simple. In addition to the basic age requirement that citizens must be at least 18 years old to vote, there is a requirement of basic mental competency. Although this competency requirement is usually self-enforcing with respect to citizens who are tragically born with severe mental disabilities, as these citizens almost never attempt to register to vote, the situation becomes more complicated with respect to senior citizens who develop severe dementia. Because the development of dementia is gradual, the point at which an individual no longer has the capacity to exercise the franchise becomes unclear, and any effort by the government to question an elderly citizen's competency obviously raises serious and sensitive questions. Conversely, insofar as a spouse or other individual comes to control the vote of a citizen suffering from Alzheimer's disease or another form of dementia, issues of double voting arise that implicate the basic democratic principle of one-person-one-vote. As the baby-boom generation ages, with the American electorate becoming proportionately older, and as the prevalence of at-home voting increases, the possibility that this form of voting fraud requires attention becomes more likely. At this point, however, this particular concern remains largely theoretical, something simply to watch for in the future.

Instead, of significant concern right now is the rule in many states that a citizen must not be a convicted felon in order to be eligible to vote. That topic is covered in Section 1.2 of this Part. Basic rules for registering to vote, including residency requirements, are covered in Section 1.1, which also encompasses issues concerning the maintenance of voter registration rolls and the improper "purging" of voters from these rolls.