UA graduate awarded for dedication to voting rightsBy David Williams III | 01/28/2018 7:00pm
Dana Sweeney carried his passion for civic engagement and voting rights with him even after graduating from The University of Alabama.
Sweeney, who graduated in 2017, was chosen by the Andrew Goodman Foundation to enter the inaugural cohort of Puffin Fellows, a new program funded by The Puffin Foundation, which looks to focus on developing young leaders interested in civic engagement. Four other individuals from across the nation who all share the drive to make a difference in the world were chosen alongside Sweeney.
"The Puffin Foundation has been a key ally in our work,” said Sylvia Goodman, executive director of the Andrew Goodman Foundation. “With their assistance, we've expanded our signature Vote Everywhere program to 54 campuses in 23 states, and Washington D.C."
Sweeney said his interest in voting rights began during the 2014 midterm elections, when he tried to cast his vote via absentee ballot. However, because he had not paid to rent a mailbox in the campus mail center, his ballot was sent back to his home county. Frustrated, Sweeney reached out to the Andrew Goodman Foundation to make a change on campus.
After Sweeney and his fellow students helped bring the Vote Everywhere program to the University, he focused on making further policy changes within the University. He said that after pushing through a new policy, over 1,300 students took advantage of absentee ballot voting in the 2016 presidential election through the campus mail center. As a recent graduate, he looks to continue fighting for voting rights and use the tools provided through the fellowship to make the state of Alabama a better place.
“This fellowship represents an opportunity to grow, now that I am off campus, to also take my voting rights activism off campus as well,” he said.
Sweeney encourages current UA students to get involved with the Vote Everywhere program. He said that his work with the program helped prepare him for future projects and evolved into the passion he hopes to continue through Puffin Fellows.
Stephen Grover, a junior in the New College with an undecided major, and team leader for the UA Andrew Goodman Foundation chapter, said that they continue to work on expanding voter rights for students. Grover said the chapter has helped register over 2,500 voters in the past year and a half, done voter drives with the SGA lobby board and had events with both UA College Democrats and UA College Republicans.
“Every single tiny thing we can do, eventually will hopefully create a more fair democracy, especially in Alabama,” Grover said.
While Puffin Fellows is still in the early stages, Sweeney said that he hopes to build a program around voter rights reinstatement for those who were, or currently are, incarcerated in Alabama. This is important to him, as many people in the Alabama criminal justice system have the right to vote, but do not have access to ballots. Sweeney also said that the fellowship will help his development as an advocate for political equity in Alabama and across the deep south.
“Particularly in the deep south I think there needs to be some sort of awakening, about not only our long history of racist voter suppression, but also our present, and confronting that present reality of voter suppression,” Sweeney said.
“And I think that that’s something more people are sort of waking up to, but it’s something that I’m excited that I continue to get the chance to work on.”