Voting rights activists Valencia Richardson (LAW ’20) and Maydee Martinez (COL ’18) accepted appointments Jan. 23 to join the inaugural Puffin Fellows program, a fellowship from the Andrew Goodman Foundation that focuses on expanding voting access.
The foundation was founded in 1966 by the parents of civil rights and voting rights activist Andrew Goodman, who was murdered by members of the Ku Klux Klan in 1964. The foundation emphasizes voter mobilization through initiatives such as its Vote Everywhere program and its newly announced fellowship program.
The Puffin Fellows program is a multiyear fellowship targeted at graduate students, fostering activism and increased civic engagement. The five fellows hail from across the country, all with their own individualized focus.
Each fellow has had previous experience with the Andrew Goodman Foundation before being appointed to the cohort of fellows. Although each fellow has his or her own project, the fellows are intended to work collaboratively.
“We get to check in on each other, we have biweekly calls, so we really play a role in each other’s projects as far as keeping each other accountable and giving advice,” Richardson said in an interview with The Hoya.
Richardson’s project focuses on increasing voting access for students through reform of voter ID laws. She previously interned with the Andrew Goodman Foundation during her entire undergraduate career at Louisiana State University.
“My passion is accessibility,” Richardson said. “Specifically, how do we make it easier for students to vote, and what things are blocking and making it harder for people to vote?”
Throughout her time with the foundation, Richardson has helped lobby for legislation in Louisiana that requires four-year colleges and universities to conform their student IDs to state regulations that would allow students to use their university-issued IDs as valid voter identification.
House Bill 940, the bill Richardson promoted, now mandates public universities to design student IDs suitable to be used as voter IDs, according to the Andrew Goodman Foundation. Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards (D) signed the bill into law in June 2016, and it is set to take full effect in January 2019.
Richardson said she is excited to expand her work to other states.
“The expansion of the work is so incredibly exciting,” Richardson said. “Using our experience and our resources to really just make huge changes to our communities. There are other states who are stricter than others regarding their ID policy for college students.”
Voting rights reforms are necessary to remedy the lower voter participation rates among college students, according to Richardson.
In the 2016 election, turnout among eligible voters between the ages of 18 and 35 was 49.4 percent, compared to 61.4 percent turnout for all voting-age adults.
“People in general not only underestimate our students, but they also don’t understand that students are interested in the issues that are facing them today,” Richardson said. “People largely underestimate the barriers by which they are blocked from being able to participate in our democracy. Instead of asking, ‘Why don’t students vote?’ We should all be reframing the question to: ‘Why can’t students vote?’ ”
A transfer student from Miami Dade College, Martinez is majoring in sociology with a minor in government. Martinez said she is committed to helping increase voter mobilization by working on projects she started as a leader in the Vote Everywhere intiative.
“By being part of the Puffin Fellows, I am continuing Andy’s legacy,” Martinez wrote in an email to The Hoya. “A lot of the work I did in my community prior coming to Georgetown was non-partisan work focused on getting my generation to take ownership of the world around them and make impactful change, starting at the local level.”
Martinez’s work emphasizes voter education and civic literacy. The program hopes to make voter education “accessible, fun and engaging,” according to Martinez.
“Voter education is the foundation of our democracy,” Martinez wrote. “How can we expect everyone to be registered and turnout for elections when the average person doesn’t fully understand how our government works, or the roles and responsibilities of our elected officials, especially on the local level?”
Martinez added she is “excited” about working with “such an incredible group of individuals that have already done amazing work in their communities.”
“I already consider them a family given the work and support we gave each other as ambassadors,” Martinez wrote.