SBA hosts National Voter Registration Day panel

By Julia Guerrein, Editor-in-Chief

To celebrate National Voter Registration Day, the SBA facilitated a panel discussion about voting. The discussion spanned a wide variety of voting-related topics.

Throughout the week, SBA ran a social media challenge to raise awareness about voting. Participants entered into a raffle to win a Barrister’s Book Shop gift card or a VLS sweatshirt.

The evening started off with Dean and President Thomas McHenry, who briefly recognized the importance of voting in the U.S. and around the world.

Following McHenry, Jake van Wolverear, a Democracy and Youth Organizer for the Vermont Public Interest Research and Education Fund, which is a branch of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group (VPIRG), discussed how to get out the youth vote.

“I am working to increase youth voter turnout in this election,” said van Wolverear. He explained that in general, young people vote at a lower rate than older citizens. “That is really problematic, especially when there are issues like the climate crisis that will impact young people so much more than older Americans. We cannot just let that trend continue indefinitely.”

In order to combat low voter turnout among young people, VPIRG works on vote tripling. This method asks people to pledge to remind three friends to vote, which has proves to be more effective than just getting people to pledge personally to vote.

Gordon Merrick, a VLS alumnus, spoke about research he completed about voting and how elections can be more effective.

Merrick and a classmate researched “getting a government that better reflects the will of the public that participates in the system.” They concluded that the current system of semi-closed primaries does not give incentive for individuals to vote in a primary election.  Instead, a non-partisan blanket primary is more effective to incentivize voting. In this system, voters can vote for anyone, rather than just within their party.

Although this system incentivizes voting, it can result in two members of the same party running against each other in the general election and including candidates from only one party is not ideal for promoting democracy. To combat this problem, Merrick recommended expanding the general election to include the top 4 of 5 candidates, and then using a ranked choice voting system.

The next panelist was Jameson Davis, a 3L at VLS, who focused his talk on the history of voting rights for Black Americans.

Even though there was been progress through Constitutional Amendments and laws, Davis explained, “voter suppression against Black Americans continues to exist in many, many forms.” For example, poll taxes, literacy tests, fraud, intimidation, voter ID requirements, restrictions on voter registration, and destruction of the mail-in voting system have all suppressed, and continue to suppress, Black Americans’ right to vote.

Even after progress in the law, “many do not believe their vote counts. So I would like to sit here and tell you that it does. Not only does it count, but it matters, just like your lives do…” Davis said. “The change we seek and fight for lies…within the right to vote. Just as much as protesting, just as much as demanding that the systemic institution of racism be acknowledged and completely dismantled.”

Ron Hayduck, Professor of Political Science at San Francisco State University, discussed immigrant voting in the U.S. He explained that there are 23 million non-citizens in the U.S., and most are documented, who work in our society and contribute every day to our society. Hayduck explained that these contributions without voter rights runs counter to “no taxation without representation.”

“Why should officials pay attention to non-citizens if they can’t vote?” Hayduck asked. “It need not be this way. The U.S. Constitution does not preclude voting by non-citizens.” He further explained that non-citizen voting was extensively practiced in the US from the 1770s to 1926.

Madeline Motta with the League of Woman Voters discussed registering new voters, with a particular focus on registering inmates to vote. Currently, Vermont and Maine are the only two states that allow incarcerated citizens to vote. Prisoners are usually not able to register to vote online, so unless someone does a voter registration drive with them, they often are not registered to vote.

Motta explained that inmates can be discouraged about whether their vote matters. The League works to remind them that the government makes laws that directly affect the inmate’s quality of life in the institution and when they get out.

The keynote speaker was Vermont Secretary of State, Jim Condos, who is also Vermont’s chief election official. Condos explained that Vermont has automatic voter registration through driver’s license and online voter registration, which is cheaper than paper and more accurate.

Condos and his team are “always looking for ways to make things easier and more accessible.” To that end, they implemented a new voter system that is compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and have worked in new American communities to produce ballots translated into six different languages.

In light of COVID-19, Condos and his team are even more committed to protecting everyone’s right to vote and their health.

“No voter should have to choose between their health and their constitutional right to vote,” said Condos. He explained that mail-in ballots are safe and effective, despite efforts across the country to undermine mail-in voting.

Here is more information on voting in Vermont.

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