Story by Bryanna Weinstein
Photo courtesy of MTSU News
On Monday, November 4, MTSU continued its Fall Honors Lecture series with a lecture led by Michael Burns, national director of the Campus Vote Project.
Students listened in as Burns discussed student citizens and their voting rights from a national perspective. As the national director of the Campus Vote Project, it’d be an understatement to say he’s an expert on the topic.
Burns gave students a brief description of his work with Campus Vote. Since 2012, they have worked to reduce the barriers to student voting. Voter registration is a huge barrier for new younger citizens and is regularly cited as a major reason for not voting.
He then posed a question to the audience, “Does the United States have universal suffrage? If so, has this always been the case?”
While most of the students remained quiet, the answer to both of those questions was yes. Before the 19th Amendment and other laws passed, many people were denied the right to vote based on gender, race, and even social class.
Changes began occurring after the passing of the 19th Amendment. Burns mentioned organized groups, such as the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), who inspired younger generations organizing for their right to vote in the 1960s.
“They were basically the heart of the push for civil and voting rights,” said Burns.
Through sit-ins and Freedom rides, both risky activities at the time, their efforts were rewarded with the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
But despite securing those laws, students still could not vote. Burns mentions that many of these people who went out and helped people register in their communities could not register themselves to vote.
“This was before we had the 26th Amendment, so they couldn’t even vote, so they were doing these protests. They were trying to get other people register to vote and doing these voter registration drives, even when they didn’t even have political power themselves,” Burns explained.
Much of the push for the 26th Amendment came about during protests from college students during the Vietnam War. This amendment finally secured the right for 18 year olds to vote.
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