The Michael O. Leavitt Center had a packed room Wednesday, Sept. 22 for the Pizza and Politics forum discussing voting rights.
Carson Brown and Anya Hayes, both members of the executive-council for the Leavitt Center, presented students with information regarding the history of voting rights, and how voting rights are being affected today.
Students were first introduced to the history of voting rights, beginning in 1776, when only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. It was not until the 1965 Voting Rights Act was passed where racial discrimination in voting was prohibited.
Voting trends have shown throughout recent years that people of various ethnicities are participating more in elections. The 2020 Presidential Election was the most diverse election in history. 71 percent of voters were white, while the other 29 percent were of different ethnicities.
In order to vote in U.S. elections, a person must be a U.S. citizen, meet their state’s residency requirements, be 18 years of age, and be registered to vote.
Those who are not permitted to vote are non-citizens, some people with felony convictions, or some people who are mentally incapacitated. Additionally, U.S. citizens residing in U.S. territories are not permitted to vote in the general election, but are in the primary elections.
Issues like voting in U.S. territories, felons losing their right to vote, and mentally disabled people being deemed incompetent have been controversial. Brown asked the audience, “Are these requirements sufficient?”
Ashley Cannon and Abby Shelton, two Southern Utah University students both agreed that the voting restrictions put in place against citizens living in U.S. territories are unusual.
“I think it’s interesting because they can vote in the primaries but not the general election,” Cannon said.
Shelton thought the rules would make the most sense if they were reversed, saying, “I would think they would be allowed to vote in the general election, but not the primaries.”
In nine states, depending on their conviction, felons may lose their right to vote permanently. Hayes then asked the question, “To what degree should felons lose their right to vote, if any?”
Some students were not totally convinced that felons should lose their right to vote completely. “I find that the criminal justice policy is one that I can’t figure out,” Tom Cloward, an SUU student stated. “It would be good for people that are in the prison system to potentially be able to vote on how it works because they are there firsthand.”
Jayde Rose, a criminal justice major, feels passionate about this issue. “We’re supposed to be turning them into productive citizens that can be a part of our society,” she said. “The right to vote is a part of that, and being able to have that impact is a huge pathway for them to see their potential as a citizen.”
Laws in 39 states allow judges to revoke voting rights from those with some mental disorders.
Brown then asked the audience, “Are these voting requirements justified for mentally disabled individuals?”
Brook Shearer, an SUU freshman, claimed that the restrictions are not fair. “I work with mentally disabled individuals,” she said. “A big part of being American is having the right to vote. If they want to vote, they should be allowed to.”
SUU freshman Taylee Dunlap also disagreed with the restrictions put in place. “The laws are too overreaching, and I think there’s been a long history of neurodivergent people being infantilized.”
Some of the states with restrictions put in place still use language like “idiots” or “insane persons” in their statutes.
After the 2020 presidential election, the nationwide use of mail in ballots caused concern among citizens. Key states like Texas and Georgia implemented new voting laws to combat potential voter fraud and reinstate trust within the voting process.
Both states have made changes with absentee voting, early voting and vote counting. Gov. Greg Abbott of Texas just recently signed these voting restrictions into law on Sept. 7.
The students were then asked by Hayes, “What are the potential effects of these new voter laws in Georgia and Texas?”
“This has more to do with limiting who can vote versus partisan politics,” Jakob Gertler, a member of the Leavitt Center’s executive-council said. “As an effect of some of these laws, I feel like there are people who are going to want to vote, but are not able to vote as a result.”
Only 41 percent of voters were confident their votes would be conducted in a fair and equal way just weeks before the 2020 general election. The goal behind these new laws passed is to give faith back to the voting process.
The next Pizza and Politics event is next Wednesday, Sept. 29 at noon. The topic being discussed will be infrastructure in room ST. 112.
Story by: Lexi Hamel
Photo by: Morgan Crookston