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Constitutions, Constitutions, and Constitutions

June 11, 2015
Lisa Guerra, with short brown hair wearing a sleeveless dark blue blouse, smiles at camera
Lisa Guerra

By Lisa Guerra

Week two of my internship is about to be over. Constitutions, electoral laws, and inclusion are everything I do lately at the tiny cozy desk on K Street.

When I arrived at my internship at the International Foundations for Electoral Systems (IFES), I honestly did not know what to expect at all. I secretly hoped I would get a project of my own and work toward a big goal. Turned out I got my wish and more!

Inclusion and rights are two of my passions and it is interesting to find information from the laws written to determine who is capable (or not capable) to participate in the political process as a voter or a candidate.

Constitutions and electoral laws are two parts of a project I was assigned for the summer. This project is for ElectionAccess.org, a great resource IFES launched last month. ElectionAccess.org is a great website to research disability rights and political participation in different regions in the world. Anyone can use its resources to analyze different legislations from all over the world and compare.

In absorbing so much information from the constitutions and electoral laws of more than two hundred countries, questions formed for this curious person. Scanning through every single document of each country on the list, I find myself drawn into some countries’ highest law documents like Zimbabwe, Russia, and other countries.

In many cases, the crafting of a constitution determines the society of a nation. For example, the American constitution was born in the midst of war against the British who robbed them of their arms. The second amendment of the Bill of Rights was written to allow Americans to bear guns for protection. Today, Americans are debating about gun control and it is difficult to determine where the Constitution draws the line for gun control.

The structure, usage of specific or vague language, and how the constitution is implemented into the culture of the country fascinate me. I noticed if a country does not adhere to its constitution, the system would be more likely to be oppressive of its people and/or the minorities.

The U.S. Constitution is highly respected – and deeply embedded – in the American culture, where some people carry their copies in their pockets to exercise their rights if necessary. People with disabilities have the right to vote with accessibility laws protecting them. There were presidents, governors, and other politicians who had physical disabilities, and if they were discriminated against, it would be declared unconstitutional. However, there are a lot of room to improve for disability rights in the United States.

There are other countries with constitutions that mention disability and human rights. In different regions, there are different definitions of disability such as incapable, unfit, impairment, and unsound. In the U.S., we are in the process of reframing the perspective of having a disability and avoid using language that implies stigma and/or inequality. Various countries are accommodating to their citizens because of their adherence of their Constitution, but I wonder about the countries who are not able to follow their Constitution and provide accessibility due to limited resources, stigma, marginalization, or other reasons.

Reading constitutions and electoral laws all day for weeks might sound boring to many, but to me it’s fascinating and an opportunity to learn more. For a brief time, I considered constitutional law as a potential future endeavor in law school and I never thought of it until this project came up.

I am also learning about how non-governmental organizations (NGOs) like IFES are providing professional support and resources for democratic countries. There are a lot of different parts that makes IFES a successful NGO and I already had a taste of how NGOs approach its goals and objects with diplomacy with writing an article. It is great how IFES allows me flexibility to learn and write a small piece which helped me gain confidence with my own knowledge and experience.

This summer is going to be great and I am excited for the upcoming weeks at IFES.

Lisa Guerra is one of the participants in the 2015 USICD Youth in International Development and Foreign Affairs internship program.  She and other USICD program interns are writing a series of blog posts about their experiences with USICD’s internship program, to be posted at this blog.  USICD coordinates the internship program, which brings a cohort of students and recent graduates with disabilities to Washington, DC, each summer to complete internships at various international organizations in the Washington, DC, area.  Lisa Guerra is completing her internship at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES).  Learn more about the internship program at http://usicd.org/template/page.cfm?id=257.  Read Lisa Guerra’s, and the biographies of other interns in the summer 2015 program, at http://www.usicd.org/index.cfm/news_usicd-mitsubishi-interns-biographies.  The views and opinions expressed at this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of USICD.

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