2020 PEP Fellows Draft Key Section of Voting Rights Bill

Anna Klingensmith (T ’21) and Nadia Innab (T ’21), two 2020 Political Engagement Project (PEP) Fellows, wrote a section of a bill that will be presented to the General Assembly of North Carolina. The “Fix Our Democracy” Bill, sponsored by Senator Jeff Jackson and Representative Ashton Wheeler Clemmons, intends to remove barriers to voting access. While the entirety of the bill, which was filed on Tuesday, proposes a number of ways to do this, the section which Klingensmith and Innab drafted focuses on ensuring the use of voting places on college campuses with at least an enrollment of 4,500 students. If implemented, this policy would be a landmark change for voting accessibility on college campuses and may have major impacts on college students’ civic participation rates. Their idea for mandating polling places for college students attending public colleges and universities was based on research the two conducted in the spring of 2020 in the project-based Democracy Lab. Their research was guided and amplified by Melissa Price Kromm, Director of the non-profit organization North Carolina for Clean Elections.

As PEP Fellows, both Klingensmith and Innab received financial assistance for their Sanford summer internship and their Honors Thesis work. Innab, a Public Policy major with minors in Statistical Science and Gender, Sexuality, and Feminist Studies, received PEP support during the summer of 2020 to work with the North Carolina Sustainable Energy Association as a Communications Fellow in partnership with the Nicholas School for the Environment’s Stanback Fellowship. During this time Innab researched and wrote pieces about the clean energy industry in North Carolina, focusing on access to and diversity within clean energy. Klingensmith, a Public Policy and Asian and Middle Eastern Studies double major with a concentration in Arabic, received PEP support for summer to collect data for her senior thesis, “Women as Agents in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (P/CVE): A Comparison Between Europe and the Middle East and North Africa.” She also worked as a Research Assistant for the Nicholas School on a project entitled “Targeting of Infrastructure in the Middle East,” looking at the impact of conflict on environmental infrastructure in Israeli and Palestinian territories.

Although their PEP research has focused largely on the environment, their experience in the program has prepared them to engage in the sort of policy work that empowered them to write their section of the “Fix Our Democracy” bill. Throughout their work in the Political Engagement Project, PEP fellows have been prompted to think about what it means to engage in citizenship, and how to make policies work for people. Throughout the 2020 election cycle, the Hart Leadership Program, in collaboration with POLIS, led a number of initiatives designed to encourage students to vote, including the “Why Vote?” Video Challenge, the “Elections in a Pandemic” Bass Connections team, and the larger NC Campus Challenge. The Democracy Lab complements and extends the exciting work of the Policy Lab, under Professor Deondra Rose’s leadership, both of which create community-based opportunities to address pressing policy challenges across North Carolina.  Klingensmith’s and Innab’s bill section is one part of a larger nonpartisan democracy reform spearheaded by Melissa Price Kromm that seeks to make voting easier, more accessible, and more equitable for all citizens in North Carolina.

PEP is a joint endeavor between the Hart Leadership Program and POLIS and aims to support the political and leadership development of Sanford students. One of the program’s goals is to support women and underrepresented groups in political leadership, though the program is open to students of all identities. Eligible participants are public policy majors who apply during the fall of their junior year. Selected students will serve as PEP Fellows until their graduation from the Sanford School. Applications for the 2022 PEP cohort will open in Fall 2021.