Faculty to examine voting rights in panel discussion

Roger Coda
Dr. Jessica Finkeldey, Senior Lecturer and Dr. Jennifer Hildebrand

Dr. Jessica Finkeldey (far left), Senior Lecturer Raymond Rushboldt and Dr. Jennifer Hildebrand.

Members from three academic departments – Sociocultural and Justice Sciences, History, and Politics and International Affairs – will discuss voting rights from their respective disciplines in a virtual panel discussion on Thursday, Nov. 11, at 1 p.m.

Department of Sociocultural and Justice Sciences Assistant Professor Jessica Finkeldey will give a presentation, “Voting Rights & the Criminal Justice System. Department of History Associate Professor Jennifer Hildebrand will discuss “Voting Rights: Identifying the Deep Roots of #BLM.” Department of Politics and International Affairs Senior Lecturer Raymond Rushboldt will examine “Current Voting Laws in the Context of Polarization and Political and Societal Change.”

In her remarks, Dr. Finkeldey will explore the ways in which voting rights are restricted for those who have had contact with the criminal justice system, including those currently and formerly incarcerated.

“For instance, over five million people in the United States are deprived of the right to vote due to a felony conviction. I will also describe how this disproportionately affects people of color,” Finkeldey said.

How activism by African Americans during Reconstruction helped push through the 15th Amendment to the Constitution, indicating that the right to vote should not be limited by race, will frame Dr. Hildebrand’s presentation. American society, though, found loopholes that circumvented that declaration, and so nearly 100 years later, the early stages of the Civil Rights Movement focused on two main issues: voting rights and desegregation, Hildebrand said.

Efforts by leaders like Fannie Lou Hamer as well as grassroots organizations like the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee put enough pressure on the federal government to produce the Voting Rights Act (VRA) of 1965. 

“While the VRA wasn't enough to fundamentally remake our society, it did provide voters dedicated to the rights of underrepresented groups with a tool that they could use in the fight for equality and equity,” Hildebrand said. The protections provided under the VRA have been restricted and whittled away, she noted.

“As #BlackLivesMatter activists reconceptualize the Black freedom struggle for the 21st century, how much of the focus should be on voting rights,” Hildebrand observed.

The struggle for voting rights in America is affected by the rules of elections and federalism, according to Mr. Rushboldt.  “As politics becomes increasingly polarized, voting laws are one of many different areas of dispute,” he commented. “Are we headed for even more fragmentation of ‘sorting’ and red and blue states?”  The legal aspects of voting will have long term consequences.

“Should the national government take the lead as it did in passing the Voting Rights Act and pass a version of the Freedom to Vote Act?” Rushboldt asks. “Or should states be given discretion in implementing voting laws?”

The panel discussion is co-sponsored by the American Democracy Project and the Diversity, Equity & Inclusion Council.

Those interested should register online in advance for the Zoom presentation. After registering, a confirmation email will be sent containing information about joining the meeting.

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