Voting is a way of life for most people. Regaining the right to vote poses no easy task for convicted felons who have served time in prison.
Benjamin Hermerding aims to turn that around.
A political science major at the University of Mary Washington, Hermerding interns with the Commonwealth’s Restoration of Rights Department that restores voting rights to convicted felons who have served their prison time. Within the past few years, the Richmond Secretary of the Commonwealth’s Office division has granted them more rights than in any other time in Virginia’s history, according to Hermerding.
“I think the most rewarding thing, and what drives me, is that voting is such an important part of our democracy,” said Hermerding, who has been interested in political science since he was a child.
“What we’re doing is giving that right back to people who have done wrong and have done that time. Knowing I can give that back is rewarding.”
Hermerding heard about the internship from his professor and supervisor at the Center for Leadership and Media Studies, Stephen Farnsworth .
Farnsworth and Hermerding have collaborated on several projects, included a survey they created in the fall of 2014 that was featured in The Washington Post and the Daily Kos.
Hermerding’s drive still surprises Farnsworth, even after working with him the past three years.
“Ben has really taken advantage of his opportunities,” said Farnsworth, who has taught at UMW for 15 years. “He has been very thoughtful about what he wants to do. He’s also very energetic.”
Farnsworth added, “There isn’t much he hasn’t done.”
Hermerding is making the most of his last semester at UMW. In the span of one week, Hermerding organized the Virginia Young Democrats conference for college students across the state and hosted UMW’s fifth annual Arab Culture Night.
Hermerding’s ability to connect with people and bring them together has served him well across the country and across the globe. He spent six months in Jordan, Israel, in the spring and summer of 2014. The first three months were part of UMW’s Study Abroad program. The remaining 3 months he spent volunteering with Family Kitchen, an organization that provides food to residents who live on the outskirts of cities, residents that other organizations overlook.
Whether it’s at UMW, Richmond, his hometown in Minnesota, or on another continent, Hermerding plans to make an impact, not only for himself, but for those around him.
“At the end of the day, when I lay my head on the pillow I want to know I have made a difference. I did something that made a change in a community,” said Hermerding. “I’m not living an unfulfilled life.”