On Wednesday,Oct.10,. Spencer Overton visited Shippensburg University’s Memorial Auditorium to discuss the importance and effects of new attempts at revising voting laws.
Overton received his undergraduate degree from Hampton University and graduated with Cum Laude honors from Harvard Law School. He was a member of Pres. Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign, serving on the transition team and as an insider in the justice department. He currently serves as a full-time professor at George Washington School of Law.
In an event co-hosted by SU’s Office of Social Equity and Black Heritage Committee, Overton spoke for just over an hour on what he describes as “indiscriminate perjuring by lawmakers” toward voters. He has worked for more than a decade on voters’ rights issues, with voter photo identification laws being the latest of his concerns.
Several state legislatures have tried to pass new voting laws; many of which require registered voters to show a photo I.D. at the polls in order to cast their ballot. Pennsylvania was one of the 17 states whose lawmakers passed a Voter I.D. bill into law; however, Pennsylvania is now also one of the six states that has delayed the enactment of these laws until after the 2012 election. This came as a result of Commonwealth Court Judge Robert Simpson’s injunction of the law in Pennsylvania, a decision made last month.
Overton began his discussion by using the example of a 59-year-old woman from Philadelphia who has voted in nearly every election since she was legally permitted. However, she has no form of valid photo I.D., and she has spent hundreds of dollars trying to receive a record of birth from her home state of Georgia. Had the Pennsylvania voter I.D. law stood to be effective for this November’s election, Lee would not be allowed to vote.
Overton used many more examples, making the claim that “beyond numbers, these
laws affect real people.” He described the history of voting rights in the U. S., and stated that he feels as though America is taking steps back to where it began in terms of voting eligibility. Overton repeated the term “disenfranchisement” throughout the evening to describe how he feels the new laws affect voters, claiming that some 750,000 Pennsylvanians lack a valid photo I.D., with just 10,000 actually getting the proper I.D. in hopes of voting next month.
Adding to this, Overton described how upset he was that $5 million was spent on outreach in Pennsylvania to get the word out about the new voting laws; now, said Overton, the money was wasted because these laws are not in effect for this election.
Overton listed many of his concerns with the future of the voting system in America in regard to voting rights, including the suggestion that history shows voter fraud is not common. He also showed his frustration toward “excusing thousands of legitimate votes” as a result of what he claims to be 11 percent of the American people lacking proper photo identification. Overton’s main argument came in the form of splitting voting issues into two broad categories: The first being that the U. S. is in the bottom 19 percent of all democracies in voter turnout, and the second being that there is “manipulation through partisans. Voters don’t often choose politicians,” Overton said. “Politicians choose voters and steal democracy.”
Along with the issues Overton discussed came some signs of hope toward a different future. Using technology, Overton said, can be an “empowering tool.” He urged the audience to “stay engaged if you already are. Get involved if you currently are not.”
Overton concluded his time on stage with a question-answer session in which he made his last plea to the audience to fight against the new voter I.D. laws. Students, argued Overton, have the ability to reason and study both sides of an argument, and it is up to them to “voice their approval or disapproval.” When asked who can fix the situation, Overton calmly finished his speech by saying, “A handful of people who step up to the plate to make things happen” can make a difference, no matter their political belief.
Overton also spoke in support of his book “Stealing Democracy: The New Politics of Voter Suppression,” published in 2007. More information on Overton can be found at www.spenceroverton.com.