Brandeis should be on the frontlines of the fight for voting rights in this country
Last semester I took “Fundamentals of Environmental Challenges” wth Prof. Perlman (ENVS), or more commonly known as “tree class.” I was taking it for my science requirement and had not taken a science class since my junior year of high school. Yet, we had two whole days where we talked about the U.S. budget. We had assignments where we were required to read the news to learn about the environment. When multiple times during the semester Congress was close to not raising the debt ceiling, Prof. Perlman would emphasize the stakes of what that would mean. There was no specific environmental component to discussing the debt ceiling — he just wanted us to be informed. As a politics major, I am used to professors talking about current events in my classes, but this was the first class in which a non-politics professor cared so much about keeping us politically informed. I was and still am in awe of Prof. Perlman and how much he cared.
We are currently in a national fight to keep our democracy. Multiple states have passed or are working bills through the legislature that would restrict the right to vote, as well as make voting more partisan. Between Jan. 1 and Dec. 31 of 2021, there were more than 440 bills introduced in 49 states that would add restrictions on voting. 19 states passed 34 bills that have varying degrees of restrictions. These include a new law in Georgia, S.B. 202 which, among other things, criminalizes passing out water to voters waiting in line as well as granting the board of elections new powers to remove professional election officials and seize control of election administration in specific jurisdictions. Similar laws have been passed in Florida and Texas, while other states such as Montana and Kansas have passed laws restricting early voting, taking away same-day registration, and adding or furthering voter ID requirements. Of course, these all could be negative in some way or another by new federal voting rights; however, the Senate has not been able to pass any voting rights bills.
Brandeis’s diversity statement begins with: “Established in 1948 as a model of ethnic and religious pluralism, Brandeis University considers social justice central to its mission…”, and a page on the University’s website entitled “Our Jewish Roots” states, “At its core, Brandeis is animated by a set of values that are rooted in Jewish history and experience …The third is the Jewish ideal of making the world a better place through one’s actions and talents.” If we are to take these statements seriously, we as Brandeis students cannot stay quiet on this issue. One biographer of Justice Brandeis, of which of course this school is named, has said that “Brandeis believed freedom of speech is inextricably linked to each citizen’s duty to participate in the democratic process — to debate the ideas of the day and make one’s voice known to policymakers, and to vote.” These are the reasons that we are uniquely qualified to raise this as an issue and do something about it.
While most of the bills that have been passed and are being seriously considered in the legislature are in Republican-led states, there have been bills introduced in almost every state, including Massachusetts. However, there have also been bills introduced in this year's legislative session that would expand the right to vote in the commonwealth. This week, the Massachusetts House passed a bill that would expand voting rights. The VOTES Act has already passed the Massachusetts Senate. Among other things, this bill would make permanent a lot of the expansion of voting rights that was passed specifically for the pandemic, including the expansion of early voting and mail voting. The Senate version also includes a provision for same-day voter registration, but the current House bill does not include that language. It is crucial that these expansions are codified, and it is important to recognize that while the country’s voting laws might look bleak, there are glimmers of hope. There is still work to be done to ensure that the VOTES Act is passed, with the expanded same-day voter registration, and to make sure it gets to Gov. Baker’s desk and is finally signed.
We have an obligation as students, as well as a University as a whole, to do everything we possibly can to ensure that American democracy continues to exist and continues to thrive. Here are some ways to start doing that. One: if you are 18 but have not yet registered to vote, or if you are under the age of 18 and have not pre-registered to vote, do that. It is such a simple process and the process can be completed online by going to this link: www.vote.org. You can also use this website if you want to check to see if you are registered or not. Two: talk about this with your friends, or for faculty, talk about it with your students. Take on the example of Prof. Perlman. This is an issue that is too important not to talk about, no matter if you are in a business class, a chemistry class, or an art history class. Three: Call your state's Senators, tell them how much this issue means to you, and make your voice heard. Four: find out what bills are being passed or discussed in your home states and get in touch with your state Senators or state Representatives because at this point, change might be more likely on the state level than on the federal level. All of us, as Brandeis students, have the ability and the right to meet with and share opinions with MA state legislators. For those of us who are registered with the Brandeis address or want to speak with those who represent the Brandeis community, Brandeis’s state Representative is John J. Lawn, Jr. (one of the co-sponsors of the VOTE Act) and the state Senator is Michael J. Barrett. Let's make our voices heard and make sure the VOTES Act gets to the Governor’s desk. Five: knowledge is the best way to fight hate. Learn more about this issue, read articles, and listen to podcasts. Six: donate to places like When We All Vote, a nonpartisan organization working to ensure that every citizen has the right to vote and is able to exercise that right. Finally, I call on the University administration and President Liebowitz to make protecting the right to vote in this country a priority for this campus, raise awareness, and get into this all-important fight for the fundamental future of this country. There is so much riding on keeping the right to vote easily accessible.