Nichols College News

Harvard Professor Sheds Light on Voting Rights in the U.S. Constitution


Back row: Matthew Savard; Mario Turner, Dr. Alexander Keyssar, Danny Tamayo; Stephen Smedberg, Nichols Professor Michael O. Lajoie (Graduate & Professional Studies)




On September 15th, Constitution Day speaker Dr. Alexander Keyssar surprised Nichols College students and faculty when he pointed out that the U.S. Constitution does not guarantee a citizen’s right to vote. In recognition of the 150th Anniversary of the Civil War, Keyssar highlighted Amendments before and after the Reconstruction Era. The event was sponsored by the Fischer Institute.

Keyssar, a Matthew W. Stirling Jr. Professor of History and Social Policy at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, stated that the early writers of the Constitution decided to leave the issue of suffrage to the states. Amendments have been passed to lift some of the artificial barriers to voting, such as poll taxes and literacy requirements, but Keyssar believes that new efforts are needed to guarantee one person — one vote in the U.S.

As an historian by training, Keyssar has specialized in the excavation of issues that have contemporary policy implications. His 1986 book, OUT OF WORK: The First Century of Unemployment in Massachusetts, was awarded three scholarly prizes. His 2000 book: THE RIGHT TO VOTE: The Contested History of Democracy in the United States, was named “The Best Book in U.S. History” by both the American Historical Association and the Historical Society.

Dr. Keyssar is coauthor of THE WAY OF THE SHIP: America’s Maritime History Reenvisioned, 1699-2000 and INVENTING AMERICA, a text integrating the history of technology and science into the mainstream of American History. In addition, he is coeditor of a series on Comparative and International Working-Class History. In 2004-5, Dr. Keyssar chaired the Social Science Research Council’s National Research Commission on Voting and Elections, and writes frequently for the popular press about American politics and history. Professor Keyssar’s current research interests include election reform, the history of democracies, and the history of poverty.