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Sacred Heart University students reimagine U.S. Constitution at Hackathon

Angus Hendricks grew up in Australia, where people are forced to vote - and coercion is the function of government according to him.

“I think forcing people to do stuff is more or less the government's job,” Hendricks said.

Hendricks is one of four students at Sacred Heart University who participated in the school’s first annual Constitutional Hackathon, held on Constitution Day Monday. The event comes afterdiscussions over the continued viability of the current Constitution, which ramped up especially within the last five years in the wake of former President Donald Trump’s election in 2016.

Hendricks said his suggestion to compel all citizens to vote in each election would have potentially minimized the chances of controversial candidates winning elections in low-turnout primaries, as seen recently in Derby and in Bridgeport. Gino DiGiovanni recently won the GOP mayoral primary in Derby, even after it was revealed he was at the U.S. Capitol on January 6, 2021 and is now facing federal trespassing charges. In Bridgeport, Mayor Joe Ganim’s campaign is facing accusations of electoral misconduct after video surfaced earlier in the week of a woman dropping repeatedly putting documents into an absentee ballot box outside of the Margaret E. Morton Government Center.

Hendricks proposed an amendment to the Constitution modeled after his native Australia.

“Everyone, everyone showed up to vote and that's the beauty,” he said. “ Every election, you should be showing up and fulfilling your civic duty.”

His peers are concerned with a range of issues in their proposed amendments, according to political science chair Steven Michels.

“It's not surprising, but maybe a little disappointing that the same things keep coming up over and over,” Michels said.

Michels said students tend to bring up abolishing the electoral college, campaign finance reform, and term limits. Students like Jacqueline Gonzalez said those solutions would better reflect day-to-day realities in the country.

“Term limits would be a way to implement a new revolving door of fresh ideas, fresh sentiments that would adequately reflect the changing American population,” Gonzalez said.

This isn’t the first time Michels has asked his students to voice their opinions on the Constitution. He’s asked them for ten years in class, but it’s the first time the school has held this hackathon event. Audience members participated and professors in the audience asked them to defend their positions.

According to Michels, the goal is to make political science majors think about the real world effects that politics and government structures have on people.

“That's one of the things we emphasize in our classes. It's not just the theoretical aspect of the government and politics in theory, but also the experience of citizens and the responsibility of citizens to do things,” Michels said.

Other students like Anna Macaulay, a political science major, said their personal beliefs influenced their stances. She proposed term limits for supreme court justices, especially after Roe v. Wade was ruled unconstitutional.

Exercises like these may just be theoretical but it also is a concrete expression of her rights as a citizen, according to her.

“In reality, it is the gatekeeper of our rights,” Macaulay said “And every single American should have the right to have an opinion about the Constitution.”

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