Kurt Zellers, House Speaker, flunks Voting Rights 101

Categories: Politics
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Kurt Zellers gets voting rights wrong.
Republicans are trying to rebrand themselves as "constitutional conservatives" these days, as if they are the only true adherents to our nation's founding principles and documents.

So it was a little jarring yesterday to hear Republican House Speaker Kurt Zellers say on a radio show hosted by a Republican strategist that voting is "a privilege, it's not a right."

Zellers was talking to Jack Tomczak on 95.9 FM's "Late Debate" about a bill that would require voters to show proof of identification at the polls.

"When you go to even a Burger King or a McDonald's and use your debit card, they'll ask you to see your ID [to be] sure it's you. Should we have to do that when we vote, something that is one of the most sacred--I think it's a privilege, it's not a right. Everybody doesn't get it, because if you go to jail or if you commit some heinous crime your rights are taken away. This is a privilege."

The Speaker of the House seemed to have forgotten:

15th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of race, color, or previous condition of servitude.

19th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.

24th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States to vote in any primary or other election for President or Vice President, for electors for President or Vice President, or for Senator or Representative in Congress, shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or any State by reason of failure to pay poll tax or other tax.

26th Amendment: The right of citizens of the United States, who are eighteen years of age or older, to vote shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of age.

Voting Rights Act of 1964:

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President Lyndon Johnson signs the Voting Rights Act.
No voting qualification or prerequisite to voting, or standard, practice, or procedure shall be imposed or applied by any State or political subdivision to deny or abridge the right of any citizen of the United States to vote on account of race or color.

Democrats, who accuse Republicans of wanting to suppress voter turnout through the photo ID bill, pounced. Here's DFL Rep. Ryan Winkler:

This right to choose our government is the founding principle of America. These comments by Speaker Zellers reveal a lack of seriousness about protecting one of our basic constitutional rights. Perhaps this explains why Speaker Zellers is so willing to pass a photo ID requirement that makes voting more difficult for Minnesotans despite our long tradition of civic participation and election integrity."

Zellers's remarks were posted on the Star Tribune's website, and he quickly offered a mea culpa, first to the Strib and later to the AP, MPR, and other news outlets.

"I fully understand it's a right we all have. I probably should have said it a little bit better at that late hour at night."

Yes, he should have.

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