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Latest #GetWoke panel covers importance of voting

Image by Beloit College

Image by Beloit College

On Monday, Oct. 24, the Office of Academic Diversity and Inclusiveness (OADI) hosted Beloit College’s second #GetWoke panel of the semester. The session took place in the Richardson Auditorium at 7 p.m. and tackled the complicated nature of voting, particularly the controversial circumstances accompanying the 2016 election.

The panel consisted of history professor Dr. Beatrice McKenzie, Senior Director of the OADI Dr. Nicole Truesdell’03, Wisconsin State Assembly member Mark Spreitzer’09, and Campaign Legal Center Deputy of Director of Redistricting and Loyola University Chicago professor Ruth Greenwood. Inclusiveness Success Coordinator Paul Dionne served as moderator of the session.

Dionne started the discussion by asking the panelists what it means to vote. Greenwood, a native of Australia who recently moved to the U.S., had an interesting perspective on the subject because she is not yet a U.S. citizen and is therefore unable to vote. She strongly believes that each vote counts, and also thinks that is arguably more true this year than in any previous election. Greenwood noted the importance of votes in Wisconsin, where the race has been tight between Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton and her Republican counterpart Donald Trump.

McKenzie, as a historian, also had a strong take on the topic.

“Activists [throughout history] literally risked their lives to improve access to voting, and we’re doing a disservice to their legacies if we choose not to vote,” she said.

Spreitzer made an argument for voting regardless of whether or not a voter agrees with who is running. He encouraged those to show up and at least participate, as there are more races to vote for than just the presidential election. Spreitzer believes this to be especially true in this election, as many are not happy with either Clinton or Trump.

Truesdell thinks the meaning of voting is unique to each individual citizen. She believes it depends upon a person’s interpretation of what their rights as a citizen are, and what they believe their country should be. As an example, Truesdell said that while many citizens have been impacted positively during Barack Obama’s presidency, some of his policies have been nightmarish for other populations of people.

Another subject discussed was the issue of the two-party system, which has fallen out of favor for many voters over the years. If the voting process were ever to change, Greenwood suggested instant run-off voting, which is used for elections in Australia. As opposed to the two-party system, in which the Democrat and Republican parties’ nominees dominate the election, instant run-off voting allows voters to rank their favorite candidates, regardless of party.

This would give third-party candidates– such as Gary Johnson and Jill Stein in this election– much more meaningful votes, whereas they typically struggle to even remain relevant in the two-party system. Spreitzer pointed out that Trump likely would not have won the Republican primary under an instant run-off system, as most probably would not have ranked Trump as their first choice among Republican candidates.

Most of the panelists agreed that shifting to some form of multi-party system– meaning any process tailored to more than two parties– would be the best change the U.S. can make to its political structure and could restore some interest in voting. Spreitzer believes that instant run-off voting could be the best compromise, should the U.S. eventually make that change. Even in the case of instant run-off voting, it is possible that the two main parties would still dominate politics, and that is very possible given the followings those parties have gathered since they formed.

However, other parties that are usually suppressed by the juggernaut Democrat and Republican parties would finally receive more meaningful votes, as their votes would no longer be considered “throwaways”; this might allow these parties to garner more votes in general as well. One party that would certainly benefit from a system such as this would be the Libertarian party, which could potentially steal votes from both major parties. The Green Party and smaller socialist candidates are among other parties that could gain more attention under such a system. Some individual counties and cities in the U.S. already use an instant run-off structure, but no entire states have made the switch.

As she is not yet a U.S. citizen, Greenwood touched upon the topic of what those who cannot vote can do to still participate in the election fever. People who are not U.S. citizens can still join political organizations, which is one way to get involved. Greenwood also suggested that just because one cannot vote doesn’t mean that they cannot be outgoing regarding their political views; they can still attempt to have an impact on the views of those who are able to vote.

The session ended with an explanation of how students can vote on Election Day, which is Nov. 8.

The OADI started the #GetWoke series in the fall semester of 2015 and have had discussions on various subjects since. Using the #GetWoke series, the OADI hopes to contextualize national issues, conversations, and debates in a setting where the campus community can learn about and engage with the topics.

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