By Jax DiEugenio
As politicians across the country stride toward the finish line of this unprecedented 2020 election season, the College held its first virtual politics forum on Sept. 17.
The forum aimed to educate students, staff, and a broad academic community on the true importance and potential violations of voters’ rights in the nation’s current and past societies.
In a discussion titled, “Two Steps Forward, One Step Back; The Incremental Advancement of and Persistent Threats to Voting Rights in the United States”, Dr. Tao Dumas, an assistant professor of Political Science at the College, examined the institutional exclusion of various social groups in regards to voting while stressing the importance of a vote in this current political environment.
In referencing past Supreme Court rulings and State Legislature initiatives, Dumas took an analytical approach to the constitutional hurdles of voting laws and how those hurdles have been perpetuated by certain states in order to adhere to partisan agendas.
To convey a deeper understanding of voters’ rights in the U.S., Dumas clarified, “Citizenship and voting are not synonymous under the US constitution.” In examining preconceived notions such as these, Dumas aims to display the true extent of our voting rights.
She explained that while the Constitution has been amended to expand voting in the 14th, 15th, 19th and 24th Amendments, the true power in the efficacy of a vote lies in the hands of the state legislatures. According to Dumas, “state legislatures control the times, places, and methods of voting.”
In addition to conveying the origins of voting rights in the Constitution, Dumas also described several instances of modern-day voter suppression. Reflecting on two major Supreme Court cases, Dumas said, “The combined effect of Crawford v Marion County and Shelby County v. Holder, is that a lot of states are now able to enact these restrictive voting ID laws that wouldn’t have if Shelby County hadn’t happened a few years later.”
Providing further evidence of modern-day voter suppression, Dumas mentioned an impending case regarding the voting rights of ex-felons in the state of Florida, in which a 2018 amendment granted voting rights to any felon upon completion of their sentence, with the exception of crimes involving murder or rape.
“After the expansion of rights to vote, the Florida legislature changed the definition of what it meant to finish a sentence to include anyone who still owed the state fines or fees,” Dumas said.
According to Dumas, “The numbers range from 775,000 to 1.4 million people in Florida who might lose their right to vote behind having to pay these fees.”
“This is also really important in a state like Florida, where elections are decided by a few thousand votes,” Dumas said.
Dumas also stated, “It’s also really important because we know that mass incarceration has disproportionately impacted people of color.”
Reflecting on the imperative nature of voting in this upcoming presidential election, Dumas gave different examples of ways students and faculty at the College can get involved to ensure a greater voter turnout.
The examples included working polling locations during the election, supporting social justice organizations, and donating to groups that are working to combat voter suppression.
“We need to combat the broad base disillusionment with voting…we know that voter fraud is mostly a myth, as it was in Indiana in 2008,” Dumas said. “The biggest thing that people who want to manipulate elections are doing, and are able to do, is to manipulate voters.”