The power to vote

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Sponsored by the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, several expert panelists from political science, law, Asian, indigenous, LGBTQ and Latina studies gathered for a virtual discussion on “Race, Ethnicity, Gender and the 2020 Elections,” at 7 p.m. on Oct. 28.  

Doug Spencer, a professor at the UConn School of Law and Department of Public Policy, said voter turnout can often show how satisfied people are with the current government and whether or not voters are suppressed. He explained the current records of high voter turnout show that people are demanding change.  

“This is on people’s minds and it’s not just about White people finally coming to grips with systemic racism or racist immigration policies or multiculturalism,” Spencer said. “I think minority communities themselves are mobilizing to effect change, calls for reform to police, reform to healthcare, reform in criminal justice in a way we haven’t seen in quite some time; it’s a social movement.” 

Janene Yazzie, activist and co-founder of  Sixth World Solutions, a business that works with Navajo communities to develop programs and policies to promote sustainability and self-governance, stated that elections have always had problems, whether they are from language, ballot issues or representation. She also stated that the current administration has reversed a lot of progress that was made in the past,and emphasized the importance of providing the younger generation with political education. 

“Participation in this particular election is not rooted in the hope in voting for equity or racial justice, it’s rooted in the strategy against fascism against white supremacy culture, a hetero-normative culture, or it’s creating that clear allegiance to those values,”

Janene Yazzie, Activist and Co-founder of Sixth World Solutions

“Participation in this particular election is not rooted in the hope in voting for equity or racial justice, it’s rooted in the strategy against fascism against white supremacy culture, a hetero-normative culture, or it’s creating that clear allegiance to those values,” Yazzie said.  

Glenn Magpantay, executive director at the National Queer Asian Pacific Islander Alliance Chair and a part of the LGBT Committee of the Asian American Bar Association of New York, also related the topic to the Asian community, which sometimes faces a language barrier and the lack of translators makes it difficult for accurate voting. He gave an example of the 2000 election: translators in Chinatown mixed up the word for Democrat and Republican on the ballot, which caused serious issues.  

“I think it is so pernicious that campaigns use voter turnout data to decide who to reach out to, who to mobilize, who to contact, who to pitch their message to based on the people they think are gonna turn out to vote,” Debo Adegbile, who specializes in political science, elections and business, said.  

“In order to figure who is going to turn out to vote they go look at the voter lists in the states, and so people who are mobilized this year to vote and actually cast a ballot, but then for some reason their ballot [is] not counted. Either their mail-in vote comes after election day in a state that’s not going to count it or weird questions about their signature [arise],” Magpantay said. “Those people will not have shown to vote even though they did.” 

Many of the panelists, like Charles Venator-Santiago, associate professor for Latina studies, emphasized the importance of voting for local representatives too, as they have the most impact on local communities. While it takes a lot longer for change to happen on the federal level, he agreed with other panelists that education in politics is important.  

“That’s a role universities can play in lifting voices, and I hope that it continues not just in presidential years but every election year, because there is no more powerful tool than consistently coming out to the polls so that you need to be factored into the political dialogue on a going-forward basis, and so that your interest or interests that policymakers need to consider going forward [are known],” Adegbile added. 

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