Archive for September, 2013

Voting Issues

BURLINGTON, N.C. – On Monday, Sept 30, the U.S. Department of Justice filed a lawsuit against North Carolina, stating that its new package of voting laws was “highly restrictive.”

The suit is geared toward four pieces of Bill 589, passed in August – including the requirement of photo ID, cuts to early voting, elimination of same-day registration in the early voting period, and the exclusion of counting provisional ballots by voters who voted in the wrong prescient. The lawsuit would also seek to place North Carolina back on a federal “pre-clearance” list.

But North Carolina is not the only state the Justice Department filed against. In August, it sued Texas because of the state’s new laws surrounding redistricting and its photo ID provisions.

State with Voter ID RequirementsSo when did all of this disagreement over voting laws begin? Possibly in June, when the majority-Republican Supreme Court voted to remove a provision in the Voting Right’s Act that required eight states to get permission before changing election procedures – North Carolina and Texas were on that list.

While some support the DOJ’s suit against North Carolina and other states, Director of the Elon Poll, Dr. Kenneth Fernandez, said the new changes are just a result of a power shift.

“For the first time you have a Republican governor and Republican-controlled legislature, and not just a small majority, but a super majority, in both houses,” Fernandez said. “That’s when republicans said, ‘We can do a lot of things that we’ve wanted to do for a very long time, but we haven’t been in power.’”

In fact, according to the most recent Elon Poll, most voters supported the new photo ID laws because it doesn’t seem like much of a burden. But does requiring a picture ID at the voting booth actually prevent voter fraud like legislators said it will? Most say no. In a report, it turns out that voter fraud is actually very low during elections.

“Who’s going to do that,” Fernandez said. “You’d have to know Kenneth Fernandez is registered at this precinct and he hasn’t voted yet, and I’m going to go and vote for him and vote for my candidate, well that would be easily caught.”

He said it’s not really the voter ID laws that will have the most impact on turnout, it’ll be the provisions that reduced early voting and same day-registration.

George McCueAccording to George McCue from the North Carolina Board of Elections, the early voting period will be reduced from almost two-and-a-half weeks, to only one-and-a-half weeks. But the number of hours will stay the same – voter locations will stay open for longer, just for fewer days.

Although there will be cuts to the early voting period, Director of the Alamance County Board of Elections Kathy Holland said people should not worry.

“Our hope is to be as proactive as we possibly can to make sure our voters know what’s going to be required of them,” Holland Kathy Holland, Director of Alamance County Board of Educationsaid.

She said that shortening the early voting period may be inconvenient now, but people will just have to be patient with the new changes.

“Anytime you have changes and you’re going through the process with as many people we’re involved with,” Holland said, “there’s going to be complications.”

“I think this is one of the best things that has actually happened about voting rights in NC,” Fernandez said. “It makes us think about things, it makes us appreciate, it makes us fight for our right to vote, and that’s good for politics.”

Five major points you need to know about for the new NC voter laws

  1. Voter ID
  2. Early Voting Cuts
  3. No more Same Day Registration during Early Voting
  4. Tying dates of Primaries to SCDirector of Elon Poll, Kenneth Fernandez
  5. Changes to voting Machines

NC Voter Stats


Abridged interview with Director of Elon Poll, Kenneth Fernandez


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When Elon University Professor Sirena Hargrove-Leak got her Ph.D. in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina in 2003, she didn’t know that she would become a sort of poster-child for women’s success in STEM careers.

Nonetheless, she did make her mark by becoming the first black-female to get an advance degree in chemical engineering from the University of South Carolina.

While this is certainly a milestone worth celebrating, the number of women in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math, or STEM, fields is still very low.

In 2009, the U.S. Department of Commerce reported the number of women in STEM careers, areas that are projected to have major growth, was only 24 percent.

But Hargrove-Leak thinks that even with that low number, there has been small progress in involving young women in STEM classes in schools.

“I remember teaching my first introduction to engineering class at Elon and I only had one female student,” she said.

Last spring, when Hargrove-Leak taught a freshman engineering class, there were eight females in the class.

“It’s interesting because here, it’s completely against the Elon ratio in the engineering classes,” Hargrove-Leak said. “Here, there are more males than females.”

And it’s true across the nation. Surveys from the Higher Education Research Institute found that number of freshman males planning to declare a major in a STEM field was 29 percent. For their female peers, the number was almost half that, at 19 percent.

But for Junior Danielle Cooke, who is majoring in biomedical engineering, the male to female ratio in the engineering school doesn’t bother her anymore.

“At first, I was super intimidated because I expected it to be all girls,” Cooke said. “But in my engineering classes, I’ve had the same group of guys for the three years, so we all know each other.”

While she is the only girl, or the minority, in most of her classes, Cooke said she’s never felt pressure to go out of her way to prove herself because she’s a girl. In fact, Cooke thinks being a woman in this field is actually advantageous.

“I think women offer a different perspective, and that makes the work environment a better place,” she said.

And senior Bio-Statistics major Kimi Peterson said that it makes sense for women to be in STEM classes because they’ve already got the skills.

“Girls are suited to work in science fields, because the field requires people who are organized and more prepared,” Peterson said. “Women usually have those traits.”

According to an article Paul Blundin from EduGuide, girl’s brains tend to be wired to do many things differently from boys when it comes to drawing conclusions, being productive, even handling boredom.

But if girls tend to have traits that would help them be successful in STEM careers, then why aren’t there more females in those fields?

Some argue that it just comes down to lower interests when girls are starting to decide on their fields of study in college.

And Professor of Statistics at Elon Ayesha Delpish says that that’s OK.

“I am a big proponent of women doing whatever they want to do,” Delpish said. “I think that women should do whatever they want to. What I am against is the saying that ‘Oh, you’re a girl and you can’t do that.’”

Initially, Delpish said she was not interested in math and hadn’t thought of a career in math.

“My interest growing up was English,” she said. “English anything. I never paid attention to math, until I didn’t do well on a quiz in math and my teacher said, ‘That’s OK, don’t worry. You have English.’”

It wasn’t until Delpish’s teacher brushed off her low score that she felt challenged to prove that she could be good at math.

“He said it was OK that I didn’t do well, and I wasn’t OK with that, ” she said.

While Delpish felt the push to succeed from that encounter with her teacher, for some girls, the subtle discouragement is often enough to change girls minds from pursuing STEM careers.

Hargrove-Leak thinks this is where being pro-active can be most effective.

“We have to make sure we’re getting the message out [that girls are good at math] as often and as early as possible,” she said. “Most of the work has to be done well before they get to the university.”

That’s why Hargrove-Leak said she includes a service-learning component in her class where her Elon students go to local elementary schools to perform hands-on projects with the kids.

In this setting, where kids perform small experiments and design challenges, Hargrove-Leak said that there are just as many girls in these classes as boys.

And that is true for most classrooms in the country, even well into high school.

65 percent of boys took Algebra 1 in their ninth or tenth grade year. http://infogr.am/4b6e0c524b8a-0024

65 percent of boys took Algebra 1 in their ninth or tenth grade year.

A study by the Civil Rights Data Collection showed that in 2012, the number of boys and girls taking Algebra 1 courses in ninth and tenth grade in high school was about equal – 65 and 64 percent, respectively.

But that number eventually drops off once students step onto campus.

In order to offer solutions to the gap between males and females in STEM fields, strides have been taken to close the numbers.

In May 2013, the White House announced a fiver-year STEM Education Strategic Plan, which would make STEM classes a priority in education and address how to get more women involved in STEM careers.

But even with this assistance, Hargrove-Leak said it is going to take more effort to get women involved in STEM and that’s where she said mentors could help.

“Women understand that there are so few of us,” she said. “They understand that it takes a certain personality and a certain drive. So that’s where mentors and role models in the field can help.”

Hargrove-Leak said if there were more women succeeding in these fields, they would serve as an inspiration to young girls that having a career in STEM is worth it. She points to herself as an example.

“Look at me,” she said. “I did it, so why can’t these ladies?”

Ultimately, there is no right way to increase the number of women interested in STEM, but with small steps, it could propel women into success in the future.

Social Conversations about STEM statistics:

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