Junior Sarah Wishingrad applies her passion for voting rights in D.C.

Sarah Wishingrad
Sarah Wishingrad

SARAH WISHINGRAD has always been interested in politics and law, so when the 2016 U.S. presidential election approached, she knew she wanted to be in the heart of the political hustle and bustle.

Passionate about voting rights, Wishingrad has spent this fall quarter in Washington, D.C., helping field hundreds of calls and emails from voters asking for help with their voter registration.

Wishingrad, a junior majoring in history and minoring in political science, did the work as part of her internship at the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, a nationwide nonprofit that fights racial discrimination in voting, education, housing, lending, employment and public policy. Wishingrad did the internship through the Bing Stanford in Washington program.

October was especially busy, she said, and requests piled in from voters across the country from different states, each with unique voter registration deadlines. On average, Wishingrad said she would answer between 40 and 50 requests daily left via email or voicemail.

“There have been a few moments when there’d be a ton of emails or voicemails we would have to get back to,” Wishingrad said. “It can be a little bit overwhelming knowing that if we don’t get back to them, they might not be able to vote. It feels like a lot of responsibility.”

Wishingrad said she became interested in voting rights after taking a class her sophomore year on Martin Luther King Jr. and following news on voter suppression laws in the United States.

“If we can’t make sure that everyone has an equal voice in our democracy, then all other aspects in our government will suffer,” she said. “We have to make sure people vote.”

She said she especially followed reactions to the Supreme Court’s Shelby County v. Holder opinion in 2013. The court’s decision struck down parts of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, allowing some states to change election laws without advance federal approval.

“The court decision is damaging in a sense that it limits the power of the federal government to protect voting rights and prevent states or local officials from suppressing the vote or targeting particular voters,” Wishingrad said. “A lot of work has fallen onto nonprofits and other organizations.”

As one of several interns in a team made up of about 30 full-time employees and many more volunteers focused just on the voting rights project, Wishingrad has been getting a practical look at the extent of variation among state laws.

During her internship at the Lawyers’ Committee, Wishingrad also helped coordinate volunteers and did research on court cases. She accompanied lawyers presenting oral arguments about the legality of a law in Kansas’ state government, which required a proof of citizenship in order to register to vote.

The internship solidified Wishingrad’s interest in advocacy and politics.

“It’s definitely made me more interested in going to law school and getting to use those tools to be a lawyer and be able to help people to advance equality,” Wishingrad said.