Constitution Day at The W

Every year, The W’s Constitution Day is planned by the Department of History, Political Science, and Geography (HPG). In recent years, Drs. Kristi DiClemente and Chanley Rainey revamped the programming, moving events outside, adding interactive activities like trivia challenges and patriotic photo booths, and emphasizing voter registration and education. This year, however, with many students living off campus and in-person activities constrained by public health precautions, they had to reimagine the event yet again.

In keeping with past years’ combination of voter mobilization efforts and a festival-like atmosphere, there will be Constitution-themed trivia contests and a voter registration drive. Beginning Sept. 17, this webpage will also be updated with how-to videos, guides, and links to external resources designed to ensure students understand the processes and know the deadlines involved in voting.

With all of these opportunities to get involved, W students are sure to have fun, learn more about their rights, and be prepared for the November election. The pandemic may have changed the format of this year’s celebrations, but there’s still plenty to get excited about.

A woman in american flag glasses

Constitutional Trivia Contest

Beginning on Monday, September 7, the “Countdown to Constitution Day” will begin on the MUW-History, Political Science, and Geography Facebook page. Each day, students can check in to learn about one of the ten amendments in the Bill of Rights through short student videos, infographics, and memes. They can also learn about voter registration and absentee voting processes. On September 17, Constitution Day, the focus will be on all of the Voting Rights Amendments, and several rounds of trivia questions based on the US Constitution and voting processes. The first W student to comment with the correct answer will win a prize: $10 gift cards during the first three rounds and a $20 gift card in the final round.

Voter Registration Drive

To encourage voter registration, a registration drive will also be held. Throughout the Countdown—from Sept. 7 to Sept. 17—students will be able to find registration forms around campus that they can fill out and slip beneath Dr. Rainey’s office door in Painter Hall (room 202). The department will mail the registration forms for students. Students can also show their voter pride and encourage others to register by taking a selfie with their form (making sure to cover sensitive information) and posting it with the hashtag #TheWVotes. Those who’ve already registered can get in on the fun too: they are asked to post selfies with their voter registration card and #TheWVotes.

Voter Education

This page will be updated regularly throughout the Fall 2020 semester with helpful information and resources to help campus and community members prepare for elections. Check back often!

Nonpartisan Voter Guide: Special Election Edition

Students in Campaigns & Elections are working with Dr. Chanley Rainey to create The W's third Nonpartisan Voter Guide, which will cover general elections at the state and local level for residents of Lowndes County. However, a special election is happening ahead of the November elections, so they've created the Special Election Edition to help voters prepare for that race too.

On Tuesday, September 22, voters in portions of Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha counties will vote to fill District 37's seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives (the lower chamber of the state legislature). Check out the state's district map to determine whether you live in the district or not. If you do, read the voter guide so you know where each of the three candidates stand. Since this is a special election, it's nonpartisan under MS law, which means you won't have party labels on the ballot to guide you!


Why Constitution Day Matters

In a democratic country like ours, the constitution is the foundational contract binding all members of the society together. By virtue of living in the country, we’ve all given our consent to the “terms and conditions,” so we should all know what is (and isn’t) in the agreement; luckily for us, the US Constitution is one of the shortest in the world, and it’s probably more straightforward than most of the terms of service agreements Americans sign each year.

If you’re an existing or aspiring citizen of the US, it’s important to understand the basic rules of the game that we’ve agreed to follow in our political struggles. Every society experiences disagreements and conflict as its people work out how best to use its resources for common purposes, and world history is replete with examples of political confrontations that turned violent. In comparison with other countries, the US Constitution has done a fairly good job of keeping our national struggles from boiling over into physical confrontations, but only because enough of us have continued to follow the rules and to update them in an orderly way when we find them lacking. If we want the Constitution to keep us from flipping the board over when we’re losing a round in the game of politics, we all need to know what the rules are and understand how to change them if we think they’re no longer fair and useful.

Reading and re-reading our Constitution is also an important exercise in reflective citizenship. Beyond establishing the basic rules by which political disagreements will be resolved, the Constitution asserts our highest beliefs and values as a nation. In this sense, it is an aspirational statement of who we want to be as a people, and we should refresh our memories periodically to check our behavior against the common expectations we’ve set for ourselves. In fact, the French revolutionaries probably put it best in the Preamble to their Declaration of the Rights of Man and of the Citizen, which was also signed in 1789:

This declaration, being constantly before all members of the social body, shall remind them continually of their rights and duties . . . [and] the acts of the legislative power, as well as those of the executive power, may be compared at any moment with the objects and purposes of all political institutions . . . [as established in this declaration].

Reading the Constitution is an opportunity to reflect on who we are as a country. It remains the basic contract binding all who reside within the country. The contract establishes the shared values that are to guide our development into a ‘more perfect union,’ as well as the rules of the game by which we all agree to reach collective decisions in spite of our differences. Without agreement on those, there isn’t anything to hold us together; we can renegotiate the contract, but we can’t get along without one. The Constitution also provides an important opportunity to remind ourselves of the ideals upon which our polity is based and to take stock of the ways in which we are falling short of our aspirations.

Students in Campaigns & Elections are working under the direction of Dr. Chanley Rainey to create the W's third Nonpartisan Voter Guide, which will cover state and local general elections. However, they've also released the Special Election Edition to help you prepare for the special election happening Tuesday, September 22. This election is for District 37's seat in the Mississippi House of Representatives - the lower chamber of the state legislature. District 37 covers portions of Clay, Lowndes, and Oktibbeha county (see district maps).

On August 18, 2020 the country marked the 100th anniversary of the ratification of the 19th amendment, which stated that the right to vote “shall not be denied or abridged by the United States or by any State on account of sex.” Although this amendment opened access to voting rights for women without reference to race, it did not mean that all women immediately go the right to vote, especially in the South. African American women, like African American men, continued to face barriers due to state laws aimed at denying them access to registration and voting without explicitly mentioning race. Jim Crow restrictions to voting continued until the Voting Rights Act of 1965 outlawed just this kind of discrimination.