The Right to Vote and the NIIC

Seth Dawson ’12

The National Immigration Integration Conference was a fantastic opportunity to think about my research within the national struggle for voting rights. I was able to sit in on the “Active Citizenship” track and hear the stories of voting rights activists from across the nation, describing their work to help whole communities exercise their rights. Each organizer, researcher and elected official had his or her own take on how best to encourage new citizens to head to the polls, but they all shared an infectious passion for civic participation. Everyone expressed their belief that voting is the quintessential American right, and that every citizen ought to exercise that right as soon and as often as possible.

Over the course of the conference, I noticed that the issue of representation was lingering in the background of all these discussions about voting. There seemed to be an unspoken consensus that at the end of the day, accurate representation is what really matters. After all, people don’t vote just for the heck of it; they vote in order to have their beliefs represented in government! Every voting rights panelist seemed to believe that the ultimate solution to under-representation is to get more members of the under-represented group to vote. While more people voting is definitely a good thing, I’m not convinced that getting more people to vote is a solution all on its own. Really addressing the problem of under-representation will involve re-writing election laws that are themselves barriers to effective representation. In Washington State, the law requires the vast majority of local jurisdictions to use electoral systems that have been shown to suppress minority representation, making it harder for even politically active minorities to elect officials who share their priorities. In order to make sure that the right to vote translates to actual representation, we can’t ignore when the law makes that translation more difficult.

Statutory barriers to representation were barely discussed at the conference, but that just made me realize that my research will be a truly valuable contribution to this field. If voting rights activists are going to talk about the representation gap, it is essential that this gap is well documented and well explained, especially on the local level. My project – written in collaboration with Lauren McCullough, Christine Keily, and the National Voting Rights Advocacy Initiative – will fill this gap in the research, providing concrete data that can be used to demonstrate why policy reforms are so essential to making sure that the promise of democracy is fulfilled.  

Twitter Digg Delicious Stumbleupon Technorati Facebook Email

Comments are closed.