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Obscuring Constitution Day By: Orit T. Sklar
FrontPageMagazine.com | Wednesday, October 08, 2008

For some alumni, a look at their alma mater’s leadership, accomplishments, and priorities can evoke a sense of pride and satisfaction – a crucial football victory, a high ranking in U.S. News & World Report, or a life-altering invention. But for an increasing number of alumni from universities around the country, there is a great deal of frustration and disappointment over the blatant shift from institutions of intellectual diversity towards bastions of liberal orthodoxy. Of all days to demonstrate this problematic trend in higher education, my alma mater – the Georgia Institute of Technology – chose Constitution Day. There are an infinite number of ways to celebrate Constitution Day, but Georgia Tech chose to obscure the intended purpose, and instead found a way to condemn our country and dishonor the Constitution.

By joint resolution, the United States Congress has designated September 17 as “Citizenship Day” and the week beginning September 17 and ending September 23 of each year as “Constitution Week.” Public Law 108-477 contained in the Consolidated Appropriations Act of 2005 states that “each educational institution that receives Federal funds for a fiscal year shall hold an educational program on the United States Constitution on September 17 of such year for the students served by the educational institution.”

Senator Robert Byrd, Democrat from West Virginia, championed this initiative recognizing that students were not grasping the content or the magnitude of this pivotal document. In an interview in May 2005, Sen. Byrd said, “I hope that schools will develop many different, creative ways to enable students to learn about one of our country’s most important historic documents. The Constitution protects their freedoms and will impact all facets of their lives.”

Therefore, universities across the country held events during Constitution Week ranging from debates on censorship to Constitutional trivia competitions to Supreme Court panel discussions. At a time when more universities have come under fire for implementing unconstitutional policies and violating the rights of students, isn’t it interesting to see what they will come up with for Constitution Week given free reign? As I was reading the flier with the list of events taking place at Georgia Tech, I was encouraged to see this introduction: “On September 17, 1787, the final draft of the U.S. Constitution was signed in Philadelphia. Georgia Tech commemorates this historic event with a week of presentations and discussion concerning one of our country’s most important founding documents.”

However, from the scheduled programming it was apparent that Georgia Tech and I have very different ideas about what “commemorate” means, because the lecture on Constitution Day, led by Assistant Professor William P. Winders from the School of History, Technology, and Society was titled, “Locked Out? How the United States Limits Voter Participation.

The majority of the lecture focused on the political institutions that have the ability to facilitate or hinder voting. From the very beginning, the personal registration system and voter ID laws were identified as being barriers to voter turnout. Not only were they portrayed as the biggest hindrances, but comparisons were made between their present use to keep people from the polls and the decline in voter turnout between 1896 and 1924, when literacy tests, poll taxes, and waiting periods were instituted. Never mind the fact that in each challenge brought forth, lower courts as well as the Supreme Court have upheld the constitutionality of voter ID (this was never mentioned).

Instead of applauding those who are working tirelessly to protect our elections and the value of the vote, opponents of “voter fraud” were vilified. According to Professor Winders, there are “a number of obstacles created” to prevent voter fraud that might not have been intended to discourage voter participation, but that this is the ultimate effect. And, apparently these same claims to reduce voter fraud to justify voter ID were made to in the past to justify those barriers.

“The claim that voter ID is a barrier to voting is nonsense; that is one of those claims that is constantly made. However, the actual evidence shows that is not true,” said Hans von Spakovsky, former Commissioner at the Federal Election Commission. In a May 2008 National Review Online article, “Disadvantaged Arguments: Voter-ID Facts,” Mr. Spakovsky corrects the myths perpetuated by voter ID critics. Contrary to what they would like you to believe, overall voter turnout increased in Georgia and Indiana – states with voter ID – and numerous social science studies conducted by universities proved that not only were blacks not discouraged from voting, but their turnout increased dramatically.

Another common theme throughout the lecture was the notion that if only the United States emulated other countries, we would all be better off. Since the country moved from a non-personal registration system, which is popular abroad, to a personal registration system, people complain that it is a job in and of itself to register people (how inconvenient and what nerve we have for expecting individual and civic responsibility). Countries with non-personal registration systems have higher voter turnout, which apparently indicates that the U.S. must be depressing the voter turnout with its system. In the professor’s opinion, the registration system is the most significant.

What is the alternative? One solution proposed was Election Day Registration (EDR). In 2004, six states (Idaho, Maine, Minnesota, New Hampshire, Wisconsin and Wyoming) had EDR. According to Professor Winders, voter turnout in these non-battleground states averaged fourteen points higher.

“Same day voter registration states have no way of preventing ineligible individuals like felons and noncitizens from voting,” remarked Spakovsky. In fact, in a report prepared by the Milwaukee Police Department numerous problems arose out of the 2004 election, most notable was the ease at which individuals who were not Wisconsin residents took advantage of their same day registration system to register and vote illegally in the election. In a legal memorandum for the Heritage Foundation titled, “The Threat of Non-Citizen Voting,” Mr. Spakovsky documents how noncitizens are able to evade our current system. According to Spakovsky, “Same day registration would make it even easier…that means that anyone could register and vote multiple times in different precincts in any same day registration state.”

Since the barriers to voting – registration system, numerous elections, voter ID, felon disenfranchisement, etc. – were identified, Professor Winders concluded the lecture by posing the following questions to the audience: “Whose voices are excluded from our democratic process? What does low voter turnout say about the “health” of our democracy? What does it say about the attitudes most people have toward the two major parties?”

During the subsequent question and answer period, Professor Winders was asked, “Who suffers and who gains from the creation of such barriers?” His response was to be expected: the system benefits white, rich men and hurts minorities, women, and people of low-income. And, when pressed as to which of the two major parties reap the rewards, he identified Republicans as the major benefactors since minorities and people of low income tend to vote for Democrats. He then made an attempt to backtrack and stated that at some level all politicians benefit from low voter turnout, and discussed an example of Illinois Democrats not wanting to increase voter turnout in order to preserve the status quo.

Ironically, the discussion which focused on the reasons for low voter turnout, mentioning statistics for those under the age of 30 as well, had itself a low turnout. The crowd amounting to approximately twenty-five people, very few of which were students, consisted of mostly faculty and staff. Why the low turnout here? Maybe it’s for the same reason that Americans aren’t going to the see the anti-American movies being produced by the Hollywood Leftist-elite; Americans aren’t going to support films that portray them as the three O’s: oppressive, occupying, and out-of-touch. Besides, students get enough of that in their classrooms.

The people who run Hollywood and the university campus are more representative of each other than they are of the American people. In the same way that Hollywood cannot stop whining about the 2000 Presidential election – HBO's “Recount,” about the contested 2000 Bush-Gore presidential election, received two Emmys Sunday night after receiving eleven Emmy nominations – neither can the university. Another one of Georgia Tech’s featured programs during Constitution Week was “CNN Election 2000,” an hour-long documentary which in reviews has been said to “revive some bitter emotions” and “infuriate everyone.”

Georgia Tech’s “Constitution Day” program was yet another example of how the university took an idea with a noble purpose and subverted it to advance their warped agenda. This disconnect is all too common at Georgia Tech and at universities across the country, and is evident in the policies and programs set forth by those in positions of authority and influence on campus. As responsible citizens who care deeply about the future of our country, it is our duty to hold institutions of higher education accountable for fulfilling their intended purpose – and not just on Constitution Day.

Orit Sklar is a graduate of the Georgia Institute of Technology, where she received her Bachelor of Science degree in Civil Engineering. Orit has been involved in the conservative movement and the quest for academic freedom both within and beyond Georgia Tech, and is currently co-plaintiff in a federal civil rights lawsuit challenging Georgia Tech’s unconstitutional policies.

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