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Panelist Dissect Voter Suppression at Law Event

States around the country are suppressing minority votes to advantage white conservative candidates, Dean of Boston College Law School Vincent Rougeau said during a virtual panel on Thursday.

“States around the country are working overtime to make voting difficult or impossible in many ways that are designed to suppress voting among people of color, poor and working-class people, and young people, just to name a few groups,” Rougeau said. 

BC Law hosted a webinar on Thursday entitled “Racial Justice & Democracy” where panelists discussed issues of voter discrimination. Jordan Wilson, BC Law ’22, moderated the panel.

The discussion invited panelists Melissa Nobles, Kenan Sahin dean of the MIT School of Humanities, Arts, and Social Sciences; Rahsaan Hall, director of the racial justice program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts; and William Galvin, Massachusetts secretary of state, to provide their insight. 

The first question asked the panelists how they felt about some Americans, often those who have traditionally had guaranteed voting rights, only wanting certain ‘informed’ groups to vote. 

Hall said that this framing is highly troublesome and racist. 

“The substantive issue of whether or not someone is entitled to vote or qualified to vote is highly problematic, and we should shun any notion or concept of that,” Hall said. “Who are the people who are most likely to be disenfranchised by that type of mindset? It’s going to be people of color, particularly Black and native folks, immigrant populations, and overwhelmingly, people who are poor.” 

Wilson also asked how the panelists view the relationship between capitalism and democracy. Nobles weighed in, saying there is evident tension on display. 

“I want to call attention to the ways in which democracy tries to potentially work against the excesses of the role of money in politics,” said Nobles. 

According to Nobles, the Democratic Party should prioritize making the vote accessible to everyone.

“It’s important,” she said. “You can’t be a full participating member of a political community without the right to vote.” 

The final question was what policy changes panelists thought would advance racial justice, equity, and democracy in Massachusetts. Hall promoted implementing same-day registration and expanding mail-in voting. 

“Removing as many barriers as possible to participate in our political system is what is going to be key,” he said. “Same-day registration [and] mail-in voting eliminates the barrier to people who want to participate in the electoral process.”

Galvin said that there is still a long way to go before achieving fair voter-registration practices. 

“[N]ow the challenge is not so much to address the political issues that were raised by Trump people, but to make sure that bureaucracy does it’s best to count communities accurately,” he said.

Nobles said that events and trends of the past 20 years have made Americans question how the United States’ democracy works.

“The only game in town is democracy, and for much of our country’s history it seems that we understood that was the game. And the 21st century is making us wonder, is that so?” Nobles said.

Featured Image by Nicole Vagra / For the Heights

March 21, 2021
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