By Amanda Litvinov / photos by Scott Buschman
Mr. Brown’s eighth-graders at Bret Harte Middle School in Oakland, Calif., already know what it means to engage actively in our democracy.
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They’ve written letters to elected officials about the need for gun control laws, more education funding to reduce class sizes and new job training programs for people in communities like theirs. Some have had the opportunity to meet assembly members in Sacramento; others were part of the group Mr. Brown took to Washington, D.C., for an educational spring break trip.
But Keith Brown, who teaches English and American History and has 16 years of experience, is concerned about how his students might be affected by recent threats to voting rights, including hyper-restrictive voter ID laws and the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision to strike down a critical piece of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
That’s why he’s supporting ColorOfChange.org’s effort to pass a constitutional amendment that specifies that all American citizens have the right to vote.
“As a teacher I feel it’s important that our students will be able to participate fully in our democracy and have a role in making decisions. They should be encouraged to participate, not witnessing attacks on voters’ rights,” said Brown.
“If we’re looking at some of the voter ID laws, for example, a lot of Americans don’t have the required identification, including older African-Americans and other seniors who don’t have access to get an ID. We need to ensure that elections are free, fair and accessible for all voters.”
A constitutional amendment would offer protections against efforts like these to disenfranchise voters by allowing the federal government to set national minimum election standards.
“Most people are surprised to learn that there is no provision in the Constitution or federal law that affirmatively guarantees all citizens the freedom to vote, said ColorOfChange.org Executive Director Rashad Robinson in a statement responding to the Supreme Court’s decision to repeal the portion of the Voting Rights Act that required preclearance of changes to voting laws in locales with a history of racial discrimination.
“Now is the time for more comprehensive measures to solve the problems with our election infrastructure so that these conservative attacks on our freedom to vote stop.”
Too many Californians seem to take voting rights for granted, said Keith Brown. “But issues do exist here, especially for recent immigrants and some who have been previously incarcerated,” he said.
He sees the constitutional amendment as the best path to establishing a baseline of voting rights standards that every state would have to meet, so that segments of the population couldn’t be disenfranchised by future coordinated attacks on voter freedom.
“Our students’ right to vote is at stake, and we need to instill in our students the sense of fairness and equity and that participation in our democratic society is part of being a productive citizen,” said Brown.
“And that starts with ensuring they will all have the right to vote.”