2L Allison Tinsey sat down with election law expert Hank Chambers before the 2016 presidential election to discuss his perspectives on voting and the right to vote. The following are edited and condensed excerpts of their conversation:
Are you currently working on any research related to elections?
I just finished up an article on voter ID laws and how local poll workers interpret the law. I am also in the process of writing a piece on Shelby County v. Holder, a 2013 case that struck down the preclearance requirement of the Voting Rights Act that said some counties or states, mostly in the South, had to have laws relating to voting OK’d by [the Department of Justice] before enacting them. I’m also invited to talk with local organizations on voting rights. I recently spoke to the Virginia Asian Advisory Board and the Henrico Democrats.
What are voting rights? How are they different from the “right to vote,” and how do these concepts interact?
In theory, voting rights and the right to vote are one and the same, and they should be coexistent. Voting is treated more as a privilege where a person has to do things in order to exercise their right, like register to vote. When [Virginia] Gov. [Terry] McAuliffe restores a felon’s right to vote, that person still has to register so when they show up to the polls, their name is in the poll book. People don’t realize they have to do this in order to actually exercise their right.
As the election looms, how do you think voting rights are going to affect outcomes or voter turnout?
Voting is not just a fun thing to do; it’s civic engagement and a civic duty. I hear a lot of people who think their votes don’t count. There are no wasted votes. Think of it like being in a sports stadium: When one person yells, it doesn’t make much of an impact, but when everyone is yelling together, the noise is amplified. When everyone is voting, it runs up the total where margins really matter, and high turnout really means something. This doesn’t just apply to the top of the ticket; don’t forget that down-ballot races matter, too.
What is something you hope readers — like students, alumni, or community members — take away from our conversation on voting rights?
Voting rights have a broad impact not just on the outcomes of elections. If voting … means participating in a community, what message does it send that people are being excluded from participating? We need to consider who gets to be a part of these decisions and how they build a community.