On Tuesday Sept. 17 institutions throughout the United States celebrated Constitution Day in honor of the anniversary of the signing of the U.S. Constitution in Philadelphia in 1787. In May 2005, interstate governments passed a law mandating that all publicly-funded educational institutions must provide some sort of programming relation to the history of the U.S. Constitution on Constitution Day.
Associate Provost David Gordon was in charge of organizing the Constitution Day event at Geneseo, which consisted of a Geneseo Opportunities for Leadership Development workshop called “Democracy at Risk in America.”
This workshop was part of a social justice series and included a panel of speakers from the Geneseo faculty. The panel consisted of associate professor of history Cathy Adams, associate professor of history Justin Behrend, professor and Chair of Political Science and International Relations Jeff Koch and lecturer and coordinator of international relations Jeremy Grace.
The topic at hand was the Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the provision of the 1965 Voting Rights Act saying that states could not change their election laws without advance federal approval, as well as the ramifications of the ruling.
The panel began with Adams stating that historically there has never been a “federally protected right to vote.” He went on to explain how most expansions of the voting “franchise,” or body of voters, were motivated if not by economics, then by party politics. Adams, however, along with the other three panelists, said that she believes that the vote of the American citizen should be protected and that she finds newly trending voter ID laws to be restrictive.
Adams, having lived in Georgia relatively recently, said how she, as an African-American, had “felt the deterring effects” of voting laws such as the aforementioned voter ID law.
Adams, however, was not the only panelist whose perspective came from personal experience. Grace, having designed democratization and elections programs with the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe and International Organization for Migration in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Kosovo and East Timor, said that under international law, the U.S. is obligated to protect the voting rights of all American citizens.
One example of such international law, according to Grace, would be the United States’ ratification of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, which, unlike our legal system, focuses just as much on legislation that is “purposely designed to limiting the franchise” for minorities as on legislation that only has “the effect” of doing so.
The questions in the audience, though mainly from faculty, focused on the ramifications of voting restrictions, including difficult registration processes and voter ID laws on students.