Campus Spotlight: Voting Rights Advocate Speaks at CalU
Contributed by Mel Blumberg, ADP Campus Coordinator, California University of Pennsylvania
Cal U marked primary election day with a talk by a voting rights advocate who has received national honors for her work.
Jennifer Brunner, who served as secretary of state for Ohio from 2007-2011, spoke to students, faculty and a few community members April 24 in Eberly Hall.
A 2008 winner of the John F. Kennedy Profiles in Courage Award, she was recognized for her “dauntless commitment to the enfranchisement of every Ohio voter,” said Caroline Kenney, daughter of the late president.
As secretary of state Brunner addressed voting irregularities in Ohio. During the 2008 primary she ordered that paper ballots be provided to voters who requested them.
After problems were found with the state’s new electronic voting systems, she called for them to be replaced with paper ballots and optical scan technology before the November 2008 election, and she supported Department of Justice efforts to offer a bilingual ballot in a county that was home to thousands of eligible voters with limited proficiency in English.
“Democracy is fragile, and the right to vote is at its core,” Brunner said. “You cannot put a price on a vote.”
Brunner has served as a judge, and she now is an attorney in private practice. She addressed questions about voter fraud by noting that it is a felony.
“In general, Republicans think that Democrats want to allow ineligible people to vote, and Democrats think that Republicans want to suppress the vote,” she said. “In either case, that’s voter fraud — but it’s a crime that seldom actually happens.”
Last year, legislatures in 34 states debated voter identification legislation, she said, describing the bills as “solutions in search of a problem.”
Pennsylvania recently signed into law a provision requiring every voter to show photo ID at the polls.
Such measures make voting more difficult, especially for people living in poverty, who may not have a valid driver’s license and who may find it difficult to gather the required documents, she explained.
People who depend on public assistance, food stamps, public transportation and programs such as Head Start should vote if they hope to keep supporters of those programs in office, she added.
“I have told many people in poverty that they have an even greater stake in an election, especially local and statewide elections, because they rely on the system to help them get a better start in life.”
Voters from all background must go to the polls, she added. “We want that diversity reflected in our public officials.”
Brunner’s talk was organized by the American Democracy Project at Cal U. The election day lineup also included two panel presentations in Duda Hall.
“New Barriers to the Ballot” featured a roundtable talk with Dr. Michael Slaven, Dr. Craig Smith and Dr. Kwame Botwe-Asamoah, all of the Department of History and Political Science, and student Courtney Cochran, who recently completed a research project on the new voter identification law.
“Leadership and Politics” included panelists Dr. Michael Hummel, director of the Linda and Harry Serene Leadership Institute at Cal U; Washington County Commissioner Lawrence Maggi, a member of the University’s Council of Trustees; and the Hon. Janet Moschetta Bell, a Washington County judge.
Program organizer Dr. Melanie Blumberg noted that Brunner required around-the-clock police protection during the heat of her voting rights campaign.
“Jennifer is a woman of courage and a true role model,” Blumberg said.