Voting law panel convenes at WCU

On Sept. 17, Western Carolina University hosted a panel discussion titled “Changes to North Carolina Voting Laws: Improving or Impairing Elections?”

Dr. Todd Collins, professor of political science, hosted the event, while the panelists included Kory Swanson, executive vice president of the John Locke Foundation; Zeb Smathers, a member of the Democracy North Carolina board of directors; and Chris Cooper, head of the WCU political science and public affairs department.

Over 100 people packed into Room 130 in the Bardo Arts Center to hear the panelists discuss and explain the new voting law changes in North Carolina.

Changes highlighted at the event included the elimination of pre-registration for 16- and 17-year-olds, elimination of same-day registration, the elimination of straight ticket voting and, most notoriously, the institution of a photo ID requirement to vote.

Collins opened the forum by discussing the importance of the U.S. Constitution.

“In my role as Director of the Public Policy Institute, advisor to the Pre-Law Club on campus and an instructor of constitutional law, I often organize events and activities that raise awareness and celebrate the Constitution,” said Collins of the panel.

Collins also said that panel discussions like this one are just one way to recognize the significance of the Constitution.

“My hope in putting this together was to bring in outside speakers that are both supportive of the election changes and that are more critical,” said Collins.

Cooper took a neutral stance on the voting law changes, displaying facts through graphs and statistics. Cooper made it clear that the new voting law changes in North Carolina do not make North Carolina a radical state but actually put it in line with most other states. The only radical thing about the changes is the rate at which they have taken place.

Cooper also made the point that despite the voter ID law, there have not been many cases of voter fraud in North Carolina in the research he found.

Copper said that the point of these panels is “to make people aware of the voting changes in North Carolina and to provide an open forum to civilly discuss these changes.”

Kory Swanson of the John Locke Foundation highlighted the changes in the N.C. voting laws and took a more conservative view, while Smathers, a lawyer and Appalachian State University graduate, stressed that the large amount of money in political campaigns today is outrageous and also that, as not much voter fraud has been proven, the voter ID law is another way of restricting voting for the American citizens.

After the panel members finished, a question and answer session took place, where many people seemed to rally for the voter ID laws, while some college students had questions on the fact that you cannot use a student ID for voting, a point brought up by Smathers.

Cooper acknowledged that the panel members are “all extremely intelligent and accomplished individuals” and that he expected to learn from each one of them.

The members of the audience also learned a good deal about their state’s voting laws, the reasons behind them and the effects we should expect to see in the future.

Collins said, “. . .the changes to the N.C. election laws have been such a controversial topic,” and therefore it is important to have discussions like this.