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Profile: Alexander Keyssar
Alexander Keyssar was a participant or observer in the following events:
Lawmakers in the British colonies of North America debate whether voting is a right or a privilege under the law. Voting, like many other civil rights, can be denied to convicted criminals under the ancient concept of “civil death” and the English legal concept of “attainder” (see 1607-1776). History and social policy professor Alexander Keyssar will later write that the various colonies have “no firm principles governing colonial voting rights, and suffrage [voting] laws accordingly were quite varied.… In practice, moreover, the enforcement of application of suffrage laws was uneven and dependent on local circumstances.” Many American colonists argue that voting is a privilege and not a right, and thusly can be granted or taken away by the government. Keyssar will write: “Yet there was a problem with this vision of suffrage as a right… there was no way to argue that voting was a right or a natural right without opening a Pandora’s box. If voting was a natural right, then everyone should possess it.” Eventually, the Founders define voting as a constitutional issue. Keyssar will write, “Implicit in this treatment was the notion that suffrage requirements ought to be durable and difficult to change.” [ProCon, 10/19/2010]
The US Constitution connects voting in national (federal) elections and state voting law. Under the old Articles of Confederation, ratified in 1777, states retained control over citizen voting rights, including the ability of a state government to take the right of voting away from a citizen under certain circumstances (see 1764 - 1776). History and social policy professor Alexander Keyssar will later write that “the Constitution of the United States forged a link between state suffrage rules and the right to vote in national elections: those who participated in elections for the ‘most numerous branch of the State Legislature‘… there was no formal debate about the possibility of a national standard more inclusive than the laws already prevailing in the states. Indeed, the records of the federal convention and state constitutional conventions suggest that most members of the new nation’s political leadership did not favor a more democratic franchise.” Ultimately, the right to vote is codified by a compromise between the various authors of the Constitution. The right of American citizenship, as controlled by the federal government, does not necessarily grant the right to vote, which is held primarily by the states. [ProCon, 10/19/2010]
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