Message from the Chancellor on Constitution Day

This Constitution Day, I am more grateful than ever for the freedoms and opportunities that American democracy provides. But I also feel an urgent need to speak out against recent attacks on one of the most fundamental rights of the American citizen—the right to vote. In recent years, we have witnessed attempts to erode America’s democracy, culminating in reckless and self-serving challenges to the 2020 presidential election. After certification of an election in which no significant fraud was proven, many states have nonetheless passed laws that restrict voter access, in the name of election security. According to the Brennan Center at New York University Law School, between January 1 and July 14, 2021, at least 18 states enacted 30 such laws.

These laws restrict access to voting through varying means. Last week, Texas passed a law that makes it more difficult to vote in multiple ways, for example, by banning drive though voting, 24-hour voting and unsolicited mail-in ballot applications. Many of these laws restrict voting access in ways that disproportionately affect voters of color, voters with the fewest resources, and in some cases, appear to target specific communities.

Georgia’s new voting law includes some of these measures, plus the famous provision making it illegal to provide food and water to voters waiting in line. It also includes structural changes that remove checks and balances, such as replacing the Secretary of State with a legislature-elected Chair on the State Election Board.

As I hear about these voting restrictions, I think about how Antioch’s community might be impacted by them. Antioch’s students and employees have full lives and multiple roles—juggling academics, internships, jobs, parenting, and other family obligations, volunteering, and so much more. The idea that our government would make it more difficult to vote, in the absence of a demonstrated reason, is repugnant to me. For this reason, I encourage all Antioch community members to be sure to register to vote well in advance of any election. Voter registration information can be found here. To find information on upcoming elections in your area, visit here and here.

Antioch’s founder, Horace Mann, once stated: “It is well to think well: it is divine to act well.” I consider it my duty, as the leader of a progressive national University, and as an attorney, to speak out on this issue and to inform our community of efforts to prevent the rollback of voting rights in our country. The federal For the People Act of 2021 (HB 1), recently passed by the House of Representatives, would establish clear national election regulations and would outlaw some state restrictions on voting rights. And the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act would re-establish a federal review process for state voting rights laws. Similar “preclearance” provisions in Section 4(b) and Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were nullified in 2013 by the U.S. Supreme Court as “no longer necessary.” (Shelby County v. Holder, 570 U.S. 529). The Shelby County decision has led to a flood of restrictive voting rights legislation.

Antioch is a university committed to diversity of viewpoints and the exchange of ideas. For this reason, Antioch will always stand for the ability of individuals to express their viewpoints in the most fundamental way possible in a democracy—through voting. On this 234th anniversary of the signing of the United States Constitution, I ask that you check your voter registration status and most important, be thankful for this country in which we live and learn together.