NU student think tank takes on voting issues

Amanda Laabs

Taking a unique approach to affect change in local government, the student members of the Roosevelt Institution’s Center on Poverty and Urban Issues will seek to bring attention to issues of voter inequality this year. After researching and writing pieces of public policy, the Center’s members will present to local and state legislators at the end of the school year.

“Voting is a fundamental issue in a democracy, and there are still a lot of inequalities that exist in it,” said Communication senior Matthew Fischler, policy director for the Roosevelt Institution. “In addition, redistricting will occur in 2010, and we want to bring attention to communities that are disenfranchised.”

The Center on Poverty and Urban Issues is part of the Roosevelt Institution, a student branch of a national think tank. Each year, the Center’s co-policy directors choose a different issue of political importance to research and then develop ways to improve or alleviate the issue through policy writing.

This year, the members will be writing two specific pieces of legislation, both of which will be drafted by the end of Fall Quarter after intensive research and grassroots cooperation with Evanston and Chicago advocacy groups, Fischler said. After meeting with local legislators and rewriting during Winter Quarter, the policies will be finalized by spring, he said.

“Our policies will be aimed at defining voting problems that are unique to urban centers and Chicago, and figuring out how to alleviate them,” said Daniel Hessel, co-policy director of the Center on Poverty and Urban Issues.

Hessel will be writing the first policy, which will focus on the “improper implementation” of the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, which sought to ensure easier access to voter registration through the creation of public assistance agencies.

“After huge successes in 1995 (and) 1996, the agencies began to fail,” the Weinberg senior said. “My policy will focus on identifying why, and getting the agencies back up to the level they were at in ’95-’96.”

The second policy will focus on the allocation of voting equipment on voting day and will be written by all 25 Center members.

“Our ultimate goal would be for anybody in Cook County to be able to walk into a polling place and not have to wait in line for equipment,” Medill freshman and Center member Zachary Glasser said. “Voting needs to be an easier process.”

Though it is only Glasser’s first year in NU’s chapter of the Roosevelt Institution, he said he thinks the more formal approach to policy writing has the potential to make an impact.

“It’s more than just putting an idea out there,” he said. “Because it’s more formal, it’ll stick better and has a chance to evolve.”

Hessel also said he thinks using policy-writing to affect change has multiple benefits, even if the policy isn’t passed at the end of the year.

“Just by presenting our work to legislators, we’re bringing our issues to the forefront of the debate and to their attention,” he said. “Even if it doesn’t get passed or even onto the table, there are several other successes that we win.”

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