Hello! My name is Kirsten Widner, and I am an attorney and PhD candidate in political science at Emory University. I study representation in the policymaking process. My research is driven by a desire to understand how we make public policy for people who lack traditional political power. The seeds of this interest were sown in my work as a lawyer and policy advocate for children in the child welfare and juvenile justice systems.
My dissertation examines the role nonprofit advocacy organizations play in providing political representation for people without the right to vote. For this project, I conducted an original survey of over 600 nonprofit advocacy organizations and in-depth interviews with over 50 of the respondents. I find that the multiple levels of political disadvantage facing the groups that currently lack the right to vote in the United States – children, non-citizens, and people disenfranchised due to felony convictions or mental incapacity – lead the organizations that represent them to emphasize different funding sources and advocacy techniques than organizations representing other groups.
Other projects examine how increasing diversity in state legislatures affects attention to policy issues affecting the most marginalized groups and the role of the courts in protecting the interests of the politically disadvantaged.