Diversity and Community Engagement

The University of Mississippi

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UM Votes: Understanding Gerrymandering

Posted on: March 17th, 2021 by elpayseu

In this blog post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Katelyn Winstead explains gerrymandering and its effects on elections. She also shares the story of a UM alum who played a key role in addressing gerrymandering in Mississippi.


Gerrymandering: What is it and Why is it Harmful to Voters?

Following the 2020 Presidential election, the United States has stimulated tons of discussion across the nation about voting- whether the system is corrupt, whether people need easier access to voting, and everything in between. There is, however, one process that is invariably unfair, undemocratic, and hurts our voters across all states, counties, and jurisdictions: gerrymandering.

What is gerrymandering?

The definition of gerrymandering, according to the Oxford Dictionary, is “To manipulate the boundaries of an electoral constituency so as to favor one party or class.

The term gerrymandering gets its name from Elbridge Gerry, who was the governor of Massachusetts in 1812. While in office, Gerry signed a bill allowing his party to draw district lines that would favor them and weaken the Federalist party. Looking at the map, the district resembled the outline of a salamander; a Boston Editorial cartoonist drew it with a head and claws and termed it the “Gerrymander”.

Source: Hawaii Public Radio

The Effects of Gerrymandering in the United States

Although both parties tend to point fingers at each other, the truth of the matter is that both Democrats and Republicans are guilty of gerrymandering across the nation. Most political scientists concur that the most notable states that are politically slanted in the way their districts are drawn are: Texas, North Carolina, Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Maryland, Wisconsin, and California.

The effects of gerrymandering on voters’ rights are detrimental. The whole process seeks to silence the voices of party rivals and amplify those of supporters- something that is all too prevalent in politics and not only confuses voters, but also basically invalidates their vote. Gerrymandering essentially punishes voters for sticking to one party, and if they are not within the party that draws the districts, then they are unlikely to be acknowledged in the voting or political atmosphere.

The problem of gerrymandering has been brought to the Supreme Court’s attention plenty of times in the past century; however, besides cases of outright racial gerrymandering, the Justices have declined to rule decisions in cases pertaining to partisan gerrymandering. Justice John G. Roberts Jr. wrote the most recent majority opinion of the Court in 2019, stating that in order to rule partisan gerrymandering unconstitutional, the Court would require a limited and precise standard, which neither parties had demonstrated. Justice Roberts went on to say that Congress and the States hold the power to address partisan gerrymandering, but that it is out of the Court’s reach.

Many states have begun to address the issue of gerrymandering by appointing independent redistricting commissions, which use computer software to accurately define district lines without the burdens of political ideologies. In order to properly address the issue of gerrymandering, the use of independent redistricting commissions could be one of the strongest contenders.

Gerrymandering in Mississippi

In May of 2017, John Chappell, a then-sophomore student at the University of Mississippi, identified Senate District 22 on a map; District 22 was comprised of zigzagged lines, spanning 120 miles south from the Delta to the Jackson suburbs. Chappell began noting demographics of voters in this particular district and realized that there was something very wrong: the African American population was severely underrepresented relative to the immediate areas on the other side of the District 22 borderline. The zigzag lines were drawn to clearly favor the votes of white constituents within District 22.

John Chappell redistricting map

After two nights of research and redrawing lines, Chappell drew up his own map of Mississippi with fairly drawn districting lines and sent his findings to the Mississippi Center for Justice. Soon after, a lawsuit was sent to federal courts.

Judge Carlton Reeves ruled that Senate District 22 had violated the Voting Rights Act and the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld; lines were to be redrawn by April 3, 2019. The new districting plan would increase the African American voting age population in District 22 from 50.77% to 58.13%.

This story of the discovery of gerrymandering by a sophomore undergraduate student shows just how much the unfair and undemocratic practice can affect the political landscape of a state; John Chappell was well ahead of his time and an inspiration for those of us that dream of political and social justice. Although Mississippi was lucky to have John Chappell at just the right time, there must be actions that will address future attempts of gerrymandering. Employing an independent redistricting commission can ultimately lead to fairly drawn district lines in which every voters’ voice matters and is not silenced by unfair and undemocratic political rivalry.

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UM Votes: Exploring the History of Voting Suppression in MS

Posted on: March 2nd, 2021 by elpayseu

In this post, UM Voting Ambassador and Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow Caroline Leonard shares a brief history of voting suppression in Mississippi and explores civil rights around voting. 


The History of Voter Suppression in Mississippi 

Mississippi made headlines in 2020 for being one of the states with the strictest voting laws, both in light of the pandemic and for normal election standards. Despite record high turnout in the 2020 election, Mississippi still ranks low in terms of voter participation when compared with the rest of the country, due largely to limited access to absentee ballots, no early voting provisions, and strict voter identification laws. But what exactly led to these conditions? Voter suppression has a long and violent history in Mississippi, whose effects are still felt to this day. In order to understand the state of voting in Mississippi now, we need to look to the history behind it.

Landmark Legislation: Reconstruction and the 14th and 15th Amendments

Before the Civil War, Voting rights in Mississippi were limited to white men who owned property under the 1817 Constitution, and was amended under the 1832 Constitution to allow all white men over the age of 21 to vote. Following the end of the Civil War and the beginning of Reconstruction in 1865, Mississippi’s efforts to suppress suffrage for African Americans were mostly thwarted by direct federal intervention into the south, and the passage of the 14th Amendment (which gave citizenship status to all people born in the United States and declared that all people are equal under the law) and the 15th Amendment (which guaranteed that a person’s right to vote could not be denied based on race, color, or previous condition of servitude). These provisions were huge in Mississippi because they theoretically gave recently freed slaves, who made up a majority of the Mississippi population, the right to vote and and all other rights granted by citizenship. Additionally, these amendments and a new federal, congressional session reduced the ability of Mississippi’s new government to enforce the “Black Codes” they had created in 1865, and forced them to draft a new Constitution in 1868.

While black voters still faced violence and intimidation when attempting to vote, Reconstruction marked a period of record high turnout and representation for the African American community. Between 1867 and 1876, at least 226 African Americans held public offices, two African American Senators were elected (Hiram R. Revels and Blanche K. Bruce) and the first African American lieutenant governor Alexander K. Davis was elected. For a limited time, black Mississippians were able to engage in the government and shape political outcomes.

The Influx of Voter Suppression

However, the removal of Federal troops from the south heralded in a new era of violence and oppression towards the African American community. Mississippi created a Mississippi Plan which was a direct move to disenfranchise, terrorize, and suppress African Americans in all forms of public, economic, and civic life. It implemented poll taxes, literacy tests, and encouraged intimidation, violence, and agitation towards black voters and majority African American Republican gatherings, effectively eliminating an opposition to the all white Democratic control. It also sought to convert all white men to the Democratic Party, and to remove African American voters from any form of political party participation. These methods were adopted into surrounding states as well, and came to define the Jim Crow era voting policies across the south.

 The 1890 Mississippi Constitutional Convention only served to solidify these attempts at disenfranchisement, with the president of the convention explicitly saying that the goal of the convention was to disenfranchise black voters without violating the 15th amendment. Due to legislative barricades to voting and threats from communities, militia, and employers if you attempted to vote, African American registration dropped from 90% to below 6% in Mississippi between the end of Reconstruction and 1892.

The process of disenfranchisement was made easier with the addition of Separate but Equal policies throughout the country, which inevitably led to a large difference in available community resources and government funding. Furthermore, Mississippi passed legislation in 1902 that declared political primaries private, so they could segregate the event. This prohibited African American Mississippians from having access to selecting candidates for elections (at least in the Democratic Party), and removed their ability to effect change in local partisan elections. Simultaneously, this new primary system made it easier for white Mississippians to vote. In addition to legislative enforcement of disenfranchising laws, armed groups such as the Red Shirts, the Klu Klux Klan, and later the White Citizens Council who used economic and social ruthlessness, enforced segregation through violence and intimidation towards African Americans who attempted to vote. These combined efforts not only removed black Mississippians from being able to have power in school boards, public offices, and participation in juries (which were selected based on voter rolls); it installed immense fear among the population.

The passage of the 19th amendment in 1919 (which granted women the right to vote) did not ease voter disenfranchisement efforts. Many Mississippians were opposed to women getting the right to vote, and employed similar tactics to disenfranchise women as were applied to African American men. Furthermore, many white suffragettes actively advocated against including African Americans in the electorate, both to appeal to white legislators and due to their own racism. African American women were especially vulnerable, facing both racism and sexism at polling locations.

The Fight for the Right to Vote: Civil Rights Organization and the Freedom Summer

Attempts at voter registration were met with fierce opposition which only grew with the increasing attention to the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950’s and 1960’s. Visible acts of violence and threats to central figures like Medger Evers and Fannie Lou Hammer helped to catalyze protests and organization across Mississippi, an area many civil rights activists had considered too dangerous to enter.

In 1961 the Council of Federated Organizations (COFO) was created specifically to help voter registration efforts in Mississippi. COFO, led primarily by Bob Moses, encompassed and networked among many existing groups (such as the SNCC, CORE, NAACP, and SCLC) and was instrumental in organizing voter efforts in Mississippi. 

In response to efforts to block black Mississipians from participating in the election process and to protest the false idea that the Democratic Party had propagated that African Americans did not want to vote, COFO organized the Freedom Vote in 1963. The Freedom vote was organized on the principle of “parallel systems,” meaning organizers wanted to run a system that mirrored the one they were barred from in order to prove how the system was unfair. This vote demonstrated to residents of the state and to the broader country that black Mississipians wanted to vote, as nearly 80,000 Mississipians cast their ballots in this mock election. The organization and collaboration used to create the Freedom Vote led directly into the formation of the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP) and the Freedom Summer.

The MFDP was created to challenge the normal Democratic party in the state, and sought to be included in the National Democratic Convention as the only party elected with consent from African American Mississipians. Similar to the Freedom Vote, COFO organized meetings and events parallel to those held by the Democratic Party to campaign for and create a MFDP platform and delegation to send to the National Convention. The MFDP received overwhelming support from  across Mississippi and from other civil rights activists, however the Mississippi Democratic Party was given full seating while the MFDP was only given two of the needed 64 seats for their delegation. This was seen as a turning point for many activists, as it proved that the White House, represented by incumbent president Johnson, was not willing to provide support to Southern African Americans despite the well documented violence they received for trying to participate in elections.

Perhaps the most famous outcome of COFO was the Freedom Summer initiative in 1964, which brought hundreds of student volunteers from across the country to help register voters in Mississippi. The efforts of Freedom Summer volunteers were met with extreme violence and opposition from local governments. One of the most infamous crimes committed during this time was the murder of volunteers Andrew Goodman, James Chaney, and Michael Schwerner. Their murder and other acts of brutality brought attention to the dire conditions in Mississippi at the time. The Freedom Summer also introduced Freedom Schools across the state. These schools served to combat literacy tests by educating students about different parts of the state constitution, and to prepare them for the harassment they would face when attempting to vote.

Other Important Legislation: The Voting Rights Act and Beyond

The Freedom Summer had low effects on increasing voter registration, but they did have an overall positive impact on voting rights in Mississippi. They helped establish freedom schools that would continue to educate Mississippians, and they brought national attention to the extreme violence in the South. Later, after the violent protests in Alabama, President Johnson was pushed to pass the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (which banned segregation in public spaces), the 24th Amendment (which outlawed literacy tests and poll taxes), and the Voting Rights Act of 1965.

The Voting Rights Act of 1965 is one of the most important pieces of legislation in regards to expanding voter access and registration to disenfranchised groups. It reaffirmed that poll taxes and literacy tests were illegal, and it once again brought federal intervention into areas with historical precedents for voter suppression by establishing the need for clearance. With this new need for clearance, regions with histories of voter suppression would have to approve new legislation regarding election procedures with the Federal Government before installing them. This policy was so beneficial that the percent of registered black voters in the south increased from 43% in 1964 to 66% by the end of the 1960’s.

The Voting Rights Act would continue to be expanded, notably to include protections for people who do not speak English in 1975 to the benefit of Native American and Latinx communities. Furthermore, other legislation like the 26th amendment would enhance voting rights nationwide by granting all 18 year olds the right to vote, and activists continued to fight enduring issues in equality presented in gerrymandering and redlining. 

What does the Future Look Like

While Mississippi voting rights have come a long way since the detrimental Jim Crow Era, the state still has low voter turnout and high barriers of access. States have been increasing restrictive voting laws nationwide, due in part to the 2013 court case Shelby County vs. Holder which struck down the section of the Voting Rights Act that gave the federal government the authority to clear voter policy before states implemented it. In response to this court decision, many states immediately implemented new voter legislation. Mississippi was one of many states that passed stricter voter ID laws following the court decision.

The conversation around voting rights has shifted to a debate about election security versus open access to polling. The main concern, and often the reason for the increase in voting regulation, is potential voter fraud. A study done by Keith G. Bentele and Erin E. O’Brian shows that both political parties, Republicans and Democrats, have historically used voter suppression tactics to align their bases and to try and benefit from election availability. Furthermore, restrictive policies are more likely to be enacted in state governments as opposed to federal legislation (however it is important to note that the research in this article was done before the outcome of Shelby County vs. Holder) similar to how Jim Crow era voter suppression policies occurred on a state by state basis. Additionally, restrictive voter legislation (which occurred across the country in this study between 2006 and 2011) is more likely to be passed where there are increased reports of voter fraud, regardless of whether or not these claims are verified.

Mississippi in particular has limited and confusing absentee ballot policies, no early voting policies, and no online voter registration; all of which make voting more difficult. In the 2018 Statutory Report released by the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights cited that stricter ID policies could often be cost restrictive to citizens, and that limited access to early voting and absentee ballots could create longer lines on election days. This may become more perilous to Mississippi residents, as the report also shows that multiple polling locations have been shut down since Shelby County vs. Holder court case. Mississippi is not the only state where election laws have become stricter since 2013, however, Mississippi is one of a few states that was frequently observed by the federal government in regards to election laws and procedures. Another concern mentioned by the Commission’s report is the use of voter roll purges (which can often erroneously remove voters for from voter rolls for lack of activity or minor spelling errors), challenges to voters at the polls (which Mississippi does allow), and barriers to access for non-English speaking voters and voters with disabilities.

However, Mississippi has also continued to improve access to voting and just recently voted to overturn a Jim Crow era election law, marking one of the first times the state had removed a disenfranchising practice left from the 1890 Constitution without outside intervention. The legislation required a state official to receive both the majority vote and the majority of house districts in order to win. Due to the districting policies in the state, this legislation often worked to prohibit the minority political party (originally Republicans and now Democrats) from winning in elections. This law was challenged in the federal court system in 2019 with the prosecution claiming it was racially discriminatory and in violation of the Voting Rights Act. While this lawsuit failed, it was added to the 2020 ballot to remove the policy, and Mississippians widely voted in favor of removing the legislation.

Mississippi has a complicated history with voting access and disenfranchisement. While we should celebrate that voter participation was at an all time high this year and that Mississippi made history by voluntarily removing a Jim Crow era policy from the Constitution, it is still important to recognize the history of voter suppression in the state and to work to bolster civic engagement statewide. The mission of the Andrew Goodman Foundation is to advocate for fair, easy, and equitable elections and to honor the memory of Andrew Goodman, one of the volunteers who was murdered during the Freedom Summer of 1964. In order to do that, we must understand the history of voter suppression in Mississippi, and continue to monitor and fight laws that may impede the freedom for all people to vote. 


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Caroline Leonard

Caroline Leonard

Meet Caroline Leonard- Andrew Goodman Foundation Fellow

Posted on: February 26th, 2021 by crpauley

“Hi! My name is Caroline Leonard, and I am a freshman from Ocean Springs, Mississippi. I am majoring in Chemical Engineering and International Studies, and I am in the Arabic Flagship Program. While I don’t have any set plans for after graduation, I know I want to continue to work with the people around me to help foster an engaged and active community.

I am very excited to represent the Andrew Goodman Foundation on campus to work to help spread information about and to advocate for voting rights and access. Civic engagement and community engagement go hand in hand, and it is important to make sure everyone has access to the information and resources they need so they can vote. Voting is one of the most direct ways we can show our representatives what we want, so it is important for everyone to have access to the polls so they are being represented how they want to be and so that they can choose representatives who share their same passions.

Community engagement is important to me because it allows you to give back to your community by getting involved in things you care about. I think working in your community not only helps you connect to the people around you, but it allows you to grow by learning and experiencing new things, taking leadership roles, and fostering a sense of belonging. I have always loved working with people and learning about them while being involved in my community.

My favorite part of the LOU community is how friendly everyone is. While I have not been in Oxford for very long, I have met a lot of great people both on and off campus. No matter where you go or who you meet, someone will always say hi and tell you a little bit more about the area. Additionally, there are a lot of opportunities to work with people who have similar passions to you, whether it be environmental conservation, advocacy, or recreational events. Recently I learned about the South Campus Rail Trail near the South Campus Recreation center, and I am really excited to go explore the area.

If I had a superpower I would want to be able to speak every language. I love to travel and to learn about new places, and so much of a culture exists in its language. I would love to be able to talk to everyone around the world!”


If you are interested in getting in touch with Caroline about all things related to voting rights and access, civic engagement, or to hear more about The Andrew Goodman Foundation, email engaged@olemiss.edu.

UM’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture Addresses Voter Suppression

Posted on: November 11th, 2020 by elpayseu

In this post, Andrew Goodman Foundation Team Leader Jenna Santacroce recaps recent events offered this fall through the Center for the Study of Southern Culture addressing voter suppression and voting rights.

The 2020 Presidential election is one of the most monumental in history. The country, so clearly divided and polarized, is experiencing extreme pushback on both ends of the political spectrum. The University of Mississippi’s Center for the Study of Southern Culture (CSSC) hosted three virtual events which discussed the ways in which some American citizens cast their ballots without issue, while others are severely affected by “voter suppression.” Voter suppression is any effort to influence the outcome of an election by preventing eligible voters from registering to vote or casting their ballot. Voter suppression, which looks much different now than it does in history, is disguised as an attempt to mitigate “voter fraud,” or illegal interference with the election process by voter impersonation, duplicate voting, ineligible and false registrations, and more. Studies have proven voter fraud to be a rare occurrence, however, by claiming to prevent voter fraud, political leaders are able to establish standards and implement policies that prevent certain individuals from voting. The most affected group of individuals who face voter suppression are people of color. The elderly, students, and people with disabilities are also affected by voter suppression. 

Historian Carol Anderson, alongside other historian colleagues, discussed the history of voter suppression during the Speaker Sessions and Roundtable Discussions hosted by CSSC. They shared that while some groups are affected more than others, voter suppression at large does not follow one specific mode and does not have one specific target. Historically, voter suppression has included outright violence and aggression as well as systematic suppression through government policies. Often, these policies target the most vulnerable (such as the elderly and people with disabilities), or groups that have faced long standing social and political suppression, notably communities of color. Starting after the Reconstruction, southern states began to implicate policies to repress votes, justifying these policies were reasonable for protecting the election. Poll taxes and literacy tests were deemed necessary to fund elections and to provide for an educated electorate, however these laws intentionally overlooked the long standing effects of slavey and poverty, charging disproportionate amounts and ignoring the underfunding of African American schools throughout the south. 

Discriminatory policies escape scrutiny by appearing “universal,” ignoring how one policy will affect groups differently. The Voting Rights Act of 1965 helped to alleviate barriers to voting, especially in the south, by outlawing poll taxes and literacy tests and by monitoring areas known for voter suppression. However, voter suppression continues due to government loopholes and denial of responsibility. Voter suppression today takes on a familiar but different form.

The historians in these CSSC events explained how to identify voter suppression today as it is less blatant and much more covert. Limited access to polling locations is one of the most prominent modern tactics of voter suppression. In Georgia specifically, where CSSC speaker Carol Anderson is from, there are exceptionally long lines at voting stations. This year, the state of Georgia purchased new voting machines despite being advised not to by election officials. The machines were inefficient and created a lengthy voting process by requiring the voter to insert a piece of paper, taking the time to process the paper, then processing the citizens’ votes. Also, these new voting machines were large and only a limited amount were able to fit in voting locations, therefore, only a limited number of people were able to vote at once. The state of Georgia knowingly established a voting system that required voters to wait for hours in lines. People may leave these long lines and tell their friends, family, and communities, inadvertently discouraging them to vote. Carol Ansderson explains these long lines are not accidents and have happened repeatedly in history. These long lines are designed tactics of voter suppression.

New voter identification laws are a heavily debated form of voter suppression. Following the Supreme Court case of Shelby County vs. Holder in 2013, areas with a history of voter suppression are no longer required to receive federal approval for policy changes related to voter eligibility. Similar to using the justification of “universal application” from past policies, voter ID laws are subjective because they can often prioritize access to one type of ID over another, and do not take into account how difficult it may be to receive an identification card due to cost, time, or geographical location. Texas, for example, has allowed the use of firearm registration cards as acceptable voter ID, but has not allowed student ID. This is especially perilous in large states, where citizens may not have easy access to locations to receive adequate identification. The repeal of sections of the Voting Rights Act also led to voter roll purges across the country. Voter roll purges disproportionately target new voters and people of color, by targeting those without a history of repeated voting or by matching voter registration across states by name only, not incorporating any other identifying information. These voter roll purges also removed names if the information did not exactly match information in a state record book, so registrations with minor misspellings or different uses of hyphens were removed.

There is no clear path to remove discriminatory voting laws or practices. There have been calls to create an amendment to the Constitution that guarantees universal suffrage, however one has not been passed yet. The best thing we can do to eliminate voter fraud is to learn about voting rights, and to report states and voting sites that violate these rights. Grassroots organizations and civil rights groups continue to advocate for increased access to voting. The speakers at the Center for the Study of Southern Culture discussions are hopeful that with enough public pressure, we can work towards ensuring everyone has equal access to voting.


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