Students and faculty discuss voting laws

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Students and faculty came together Oct. 19 in the Grande Commons to discuss voting laws and their protection or suppression of voters during UVUSA’s “Pizza and Politics” forum.

Voting laws encompass laws that require people to show ID at the polling place, meet various conditions to register to vote, and place certain restrictions on voter eligibility. (These laws mainly pertain to felons and whether or not they can vote after they are convicted.)

“It’s something we don’t always think about,” Karen Magaña, Student Body President of UVU, said regarding the forum’s topic.

Since the 2010 election, 10 states have tightened voter registration and voting laws. Moreover, nine states have adopted even stricter laws pertaining to voting since the most recent election in 2020. States like Texas have drafted laws that have gutted the vote by mail system, which is claimed to make fraud harder, while critics say these laws are designed to make it harder to vote.

Officials on both sides of the aisle have argued for and against these laws, debating whether they are designed to suppress voters, or if they protect against voter fraud.

Attendees of the forum heard from three speakers that covered this topic at length, highlighting issues that incorporated race, ethics, and a variety of other issues. The speakers sought to contextualize and question the motives and intentions behind adopting voter laws, which became a theme with each speech.

Dr. David Knowlton, a professor of anthropology at UVU, was the first of the three speakers. He noted that documentation and citizenship is a relatively recent concept, and how these laws have been used to stop people of color from voting throughout the last century.

“We need to allow people of color to vote, to be citizens,” Knowlton said. 

The second speaker was Darlene McDonald, a member of the Democratic National Committee. She spoke about voter registration laws, and the impact they have on “simple things,” such as changing one’s name after marriage, and how even a minor name discrepancy between a driver’s license and a birth certificate can prevent one from voting.

“It’s all about voter suppression.” She added, “voting laws are meant to suppress the voting of people.”

McDonald argued against how some legislators frame the purpose of these laws as protection against voter fraud, she used anomalous examples to make this point. One example she stated was, “A woman in Georgia cast a ballot for her dead mother, and was sentenced to five years in prison.”

McDonald questioned, “The system works. Do we need to pass laws to fix a system that isn’t broken?” 

Dr. Lynn Egland, a professor of history and political science at UVU, and the final speaker, shared several sentiments expressed by McDonald. He talked about subversion of the voting system, trying to walk back the promises of it, and how we can address those problems.

“One problem is the attack on the system that has protected the United States from fraud,” England went on to say. “The thing that makes [the U.S.] different is our form of election, and we know we know there are peaceful transfers of power.”

England stressed the importance of participation among those in the audience. Saying that “your participation” is what keeps the system in check.

“You should be deeply concerned about the system we have, and you should participate in it,” England said.

Daniel Clothier, head parliamentarian of UVUSA, stressed that these events are to get students and staff participating in the political system. He said, “We host these events so people can attend and see it’s important to participate in the political system.”

Magaña confirmed this sentiment, adding, “It’s a place where we can bring these issues up and discuss them, and that is what we need.”