Last Thursday, the College’s Law Society, in conjunction with the College Democrats and Minority Coalition, hosted a series of events to celebrate National Law Day. The events focused on the role of voting rights in American democracy.
President Eisenhower created the first Law Day in 1958 to promote the “ideals of equality and justice” in the United States. Eisenhower hoped that, on this day, Americans would reflect on the historical and modern role of law in the United States.
“We had two different parts to Law Day,” Mary Dato ’17, events director for the Law Society, said. Early in the week, Law Society members attended fifth grade classes at Williamstown Elementary School to “teach a lesson about voting rights,” Dato said. On Thursday, the Society hosted a panel about voting rights in Griffin, which featured Professor Alex Keyssar from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, Professor Emeritus Alex Willingham, a member of the College’s political science department and Hannah Fried ’04, deputy director for voter protection on the Democratic National Committee. The panelists responded to prepared questions about voting rights in America.
“I spent a number of years working on the history of voting rights in the United States,” Keyssar said. “And this is a long history of struggle. It’s not just a history of games, and it’s not just a history of progress either.” Keyssar explained that there have been cases in the history of the United States in which individuals have lost their right to vote.
This history, in Fried’s opinion, emphasizes the necessity of the Voting Rights Act. Fried explained that she has become acutely aware of the delicacy of voting rights throughout her time working on political campaigns. In response to one question about whether or not the Voting Rights Act is “outdated,” Fried said, “Anybody who has that opinion has not spent time in Florida or Ohio. The view is that we have moved past these [Voting Rights] issues, which is a convenient view to take. But that’s not exactly what the data support.” Fried added that, for the states that disagree with the Voting Rights Act, there is an option to bail out. “It’s important to recognize the flexibility of this law,” Fried said. “You can bail out, but you have to show us that you don’t need this law to administer fair voting procedures.”
“There’s no way we are going to get a good, comfortable and fair voting procedure without the Voting Rights Act,” Willingham said.
The panelists all recognized the importance of generating a public discussion about the nature of voting rights in America.