The Interdisciplinary Public Square, a group of students, faculty and staff on campus who tackle the issues of American democracy, hosted its fourth teach-in session Thursday to address the issue of declining voter turnout, drawing a crowd of more than 50.
The event featured three speakers who each tackled different aspects and issues of ongoing voter suppression. After the teach-in, students broke off and spoke with the main speakers and other guests. They had open discussions, raised questions and concerns, and registered to vote.
The first speaker was Assistant Professor of political science Jared Perkins who talked about voting and the law, and said that “voter suppression is a direct threat to our democracy.”
He took the audience back in time and told students that voting suppression is not a new thing because the American constitution was written by “a small group of white men and was written for a small group of white men,” which meant that only white men had the right to vote.
Perkins emphasized the significance of the Voting Rights Acts, which is a law mandating that the government could not bar people of color from voting, in changing the demographic of American voters.
However, Perkins said the Supreme Court of the United States have passed policies based on their “interpretation of the constitution and the Voting Rights Act.” In other words, Perkins said, they have suppressed the rights of minority groups to vote through implementing restrictions such as grandfather clauses, literacy tests and poll taxes.
“Elections are our only way to send a voice to our democracy, [and] they are our only way to keep our elected officials accountable,” Perkins said.
Jaysyn Green, a junior history major, spoke on declining voter turnout among African-Americans, and its decrease from 66.6 percent in 2012 to 59.6 percent in 2016. According to Green, millennials also showed a sharp decrease in the African-American turnout, going from 55 percent in 2012 to 50.6 percent in 2016.
Green emphasized to students that voting in the African-American community can make a huge impact on the turnout of the election. She told African-American students that staying silent is an “affirmation to neutrality, and this government has shown to be anything but neutral.”
Green also told her peers in the African-American community to be informed voters, especially as a “black millennial,” because “our voice has quite literally become our voice.”
“What is more important than voting is being a knowledgeable voter,” Green said. “If you don’t know the language of politics, feel free to ask.”
The League of Women Voters were one of the groups that participated at the event to voice support for increased voter participation.
“[We] are here because we want to make sure that everyone who is qualified to vote, votes,” said Janet Gallup, a member of the League of Women Voters. “We want a democracy that is run by a 90 percent participation in the electorate. [Women], are a group of people who notoriously undervote. So we want to be here to be a reminder to get young people to register and to vote.”
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