Constitution Day at Valley College leads to discussion about the importance of keeping the faith in the American democratic process and how to vote in the age of pandemic.
By Solomon Smith, Political News Editor
Beginning with current politics relating to the safety of American democracy and ending with a primer on how to vote in a pandemic, speakers celebrated the Constitution by talking about one of its most powerful rights — voting.
The first virtually held Constitution Day for Valley College, Thursday Sept. 17, was presented by the Office of Student Life headed by Dean of Student Life Dr. M. Elizabeth Negrete and Raquel Sanchez, the Student Engagement Coordinator. They hosted the Zoom meeting for about 25 students and faculty attending as well as the guest speakers, the first of whom was Dr. Ron Lehavi, who holds a PhD. in political science from USC, and teaches at Valley, as well as Francis Polytechnic High School.
“This is not 1954, it is not 1965, it is 2020,” said Lehavi. “It is not about just history, it is a current event.”
Lehavi produced a powerpoint detailing the continuing history of disenfranchisement in the United States. He compared poll taxes of the pre-civil rights era to the modern case in Florida, which requires those convicted of felonies to pay fines before being allowed to vote. A 2018 ballot overwhelmingly gave the right to vote back to non-violent ex-felons, but Florida lawmakers overrode the vote with legislation. Florida is a battleground state held tenuously by Republicans. Votes from former felons could change that. With the election a little over a month away, he points out how many states appear to be working against making the voting process accessible.
The second half of the three-hour forum was about how to vote during the current pandemic, presented by Jerome Nolasco from the Los Angeles County Registrar's Office. Nolasco explained the new additions to the voting process and the lessons learned from the mid-term election. According to Nolasco, getting people to register to vote and preparing for the large number of mail in votes is key.
Ballot drop off boxes will help take pressure off of the mail system, which is expected to be overwhelmed. These boxes will be placed on sidewalks throughout Los Angeles near public areas, like libraries and parks. These will be large receptacles similar to mailboxes, which will be checked by officials from the registrar’s office. He assured listeners that the boxes are secure; they are heavy and designed to be tamper proof. Voters can also track their ballot after they send it off by subscribing to Where’s My Ballot at the lavote.net website. There will still be plenty of options for in-person voting, however.
Several stadiums are in the process of becoming public spaces for voting. They have large open areas that will accommodate social distancing and can be regulated. The newly built SoFi Stadium in Inglewood, the Staples Center and Dodger Stadium are a few open spaces that will be utilized for voting, according to Spectrum News 1. For those unable to go to an open-air voting center but concerned about safety, curbside voting will also be made available. Making people aware of the changes has always been a major issue, now made more difficult with the limits of social distancing.
“We really have no good game at the moment,” said Nolasco, “there are no public events, and of course with the pandemic we’ve had to make changes to make things safe.”
Voting centers will open in waves in preparation for early voting. The first centers will open on Oct. 24, the next group will open on Oct. 30. The state recommended the Registrar’s office open 500 voting locations, but Nolasco says they are aiming for 800. Provisions have also been made for homeless voters who do not have addresses. With the mass amount of information, many students still had questions and concerns. The registrar’s office is officially closed and access can be difficult, something that concerned some students.
“Who do I contact to make sure I am registered to vote?” asked Brendon Barret.
Nolasco assured Barret that although rare, if any mistakes are made, they can check their status online, and that they will also be mailing ballots as well.
“We’ve been given the opportunity to process sooner,” said Nolasco. “We’re going to work day and night to get things counted.”