Experts from institutions including George Washington University and Cornell will discuss the 2020 Election, with questions about mail-in ballots, court challenges, battleground states, and more.
Journalists and editors are invited to attend this live virtual event and ask questions either on camera or we can relay your questions to the panelists. Register to attend and receive the on-demand recording after the session is concluded.
- Paul Schiff Berman - Walter S. Cox Professor of Law at The George Washington University Law School.
- Dr. Joshua Bolton - Assistant Professor / Department of Communication at Salisbury University.
- Dr. Casey Burgat - Legislative Affairs Program Director, Assistant Professor at Graduate School of Political Management, George Washington University.
- Alexandra E. Cirone Ph.D - Assistant Professor at Cornell University.
- Maneesh Arora Ph.D - Assistant Professor of Political Science at Wellesley College.
When: Monday, November 2nd, 2PM-3PM EDT
Where: Newswise Live Zoom Room
This live event will also be recorded and transcribed for use by media and communicators after it is concluded. All registered participants will receive a copy of the transcript, so even if you can't make this event, we recommend you register.
Thom: Hello and welcome to this Newswise live event, we have an expert panel to talk about the 2020 US elections. I’d like to go ahead and start off with introductions of our panellists. First, we have Paul Berman, he is the Walter S. Cox Professor of Law at the George Washington University Law School. Thank you for joining us professor and we also have Dr. Joshua Bolton, he's the Assistant professor in the Department of Communication at Salisbury University, welcome Dr. Bolton. We also have Dr. Casey Burgat, he is Legislative Affairs Program Director and Assistant professor at the George Washington University Law School and we have Dr. Alexandra Cirone, she’s an Assistant professor at Cornell University, welcome Dr. Cirone and last but not least we have Dr. Maneesh Arora, he's an assistant professor of Political Science at Wellesley College. Thank you, all panellists, for joining. I want to start out with a question for Professor Berman, you clerked for the late justice Ginsberg and I want to get your thoughts about some relevant topics to that and your expertise on the Supreme Court. The unprecedented confirmation of justice Barrett so close to an election and done in such quick order and some of the recent years overt politicisation of the Supreme Court in deciding several voting issue cases, especially several right in this current election season. Does that call the courts legitimacy into question and what kind of concerns are there amongst the public and legislative leaders about the current health of the Supreme Court's reputation?
Professor Berman: I think there’s a tremendous danger to the Supreme Courts legitimacy over time. Justice Ginsberg’s final wish, final statement to the public that it was her further wish that her replacement not be named until after this election and I really think that was not a partisan wish, that was an institutional wish because she thought it would be much better for the Supreme Court's long term legitimacy to not have an appointment rushed through in the middle of the election cycle the way it was and have the Republicans try to pack the court prior to this election and so I think it is problematic, I think that Justice Barret at least had an opportunity to say that she would recuse herself at least from the election related litigation, she didn’t do that. I think that’s problematic. Really when we look back, the US Supreme Court getting in the 2000 election was tremendously damaging to the Supreme Court's legitimacy, obviously prior to that time there were confirmation battles and there were political calculations and so forth, but prior to 2000 people did not routinely refer to judges as either Democratic judges or Republican judges and that’s a real problem for the world – and for respect for the Supreme Court and after all the Supreme Court only worked to the extent that the American people are willing to follow what the Supreme Court says, it’s just nine people – it’s not like they have an army or police force, so their legitimacy depends on our willingness to see what they do as lawful and legitimate and so I think the more they get involved in the election, the worse it is for the Supreme Court and in most cases, the Supreme Court, including the Bush versus Gore in 2000, the Supreme Court doesn’t need to get involved, because these are really mostly matters of state law and how the state system, the legislature, the courts various administrative actors, boards of elections, secretaries of state and so forth, interpret state law and interpret their own state constitutions. And so for the most part it shouldn’t require the US Supreme Court to get involved, unless it looks like the state is preventing somebody from voting, but right now the Supreme Court is mostly getting involved to make it harder for people to vote, which is exactly the opposite of what you would think the Supreme Court should be getting involved in.
Thom: Dr. Bolton, we’ve heard professor Berman there outline some of the ways that the Supreme Court is involved in some of these late stage controversies about voting, all of this is sort of anticipating the fact that there is a good chance because of the volume of mail in ballots that we’re not going to know definitive vote totals on election night, what do you see and expect to see from the presidential campaigns as they communicate about this. The vote tally’s on election night, potentially taking days to really get full and complete numbers, what are your thoughts about how the campaigns will put out messages about this?
Dr. Bolton: Well I think we’re seeing both campaigns already start to begin to message that way, we see the Biden campaign talking about – we have to wait till every vote is counted, the importance of counting every vote, whereas on the Trump side they're already weakening the legitimacy of any sort of vote tally that comes out after election night, so you're seeing a competing narrative of the importance of counting every vote and then on the other side hearing that every vote that comes in late might not be a legitimate vote, so they're kind of both competing at the frame of these 96 million votes that have already been cast prior to tomorrow, whether they should be counted or whether they're legitimate even.
Thom: And that’s pretty unprecedented to even doubt the legitimacy of mail-in-ballots, especially I've seen issues about military overseas sending in their ballots, as long as its post marked by a certain date, even if its received two or three days after the election, those are supposed to be counted right?
Dr. Bolton: Absolutely, traditionally speaking the late arriving ballots are generally overseas military ballots, so the GOP is usually very much in favour of counting those ballots because they usually slant very much in their favour, this is the first time we’re really seeing the GOP saying these mail – in – ballots need to be postmarked by this date and/or received even by this date to be counted and so the narrative is really a shift from the traditional sense of what we think of when we think of mail-in-ballots.
Professor Berman: If I could just jump in, as a matter of law, there is no magic to election day specifically, no state has ever certified their election results on election day itself. Sometimes the AP calls the election, sometimes networks call the election, but the state certification always happens substantially later, usually a week or two at least later and so the idea that they would still be counting tallying and certifying a few days after the election, is totally routine and is done always and there's nothing the remotest bit illegitimate about it.
Thom: Wonderful point professor Berman and that helps me Segway perfectly to my next question for Dr. Burgat – you tracked a lot of the congressional races, its not unprecedented in any way for congressional elections to come down to single digit votes, I recall even in the last mid term there was a tie vote for a congressional seat in Virginia that wasn’t settled until a week or more after the elections. So, as you watch those kind of state by state races so closely, you're familiar with what some of that counting procedure is in some different states, so how do you explain that, how could you reassure people that this is pretty standard policy.
Dr. Burgat: I’ll just say that this is really standard policy, I mean in a year and time of just unbelievable uncertainty, this is about how it goes. We’ve added in a pandemic and a huge increase in mail – in turnout, especially in states that aren’t used to having mail – in turnouts, but this is the big beautiful mess of federalism right, where you have one country, but you have 51 basically different elections with different deadlines, with different formats and different histories of doing all these things, but the point of their panelists are correct – 1] we never – calling an election or projecting an election is definitely not the same as certifying an election and I think both parties are – actually one party is doing a really good job in making sure that that’s being well known and the other one is saying that or at least calling into confusion on purpose for political reasons of making that uncertainty part of their processes come election night, but we never know the result of individual states at a most certain level, the election being called by the secretaries of state on any election night and this has dragged on in congressional races throughout history for weeks, even months because then you get even to a third removal from the process where you have the bodies themselves seating their own members and the electoral college meeting officially within the house, so a lot going on but rest assured this is exactly what’s supposed to happen even if there is a lot of confusion around the processes right now.
Thom: Dr. Arora I wonder if you could help us elucidate some of the psychology of this, there's been speculation that some corners are putting out this kind of messaging as a way to suppress the vote by making people feel disenfranchised or feel that it’s already suspicious and rigged and in the year where the pandemic is forcing the need for more safe voting options, like the early voting and the mail- in voting, where are you seeing problems in particular with this in some of the states that have put into effect more restrictive policies and what do you feel like the effect is on the psychology of the voters?
Dr. Arora: Yeah that’s a great question because we are seeing that a lot of voters have less confidence in the elections this year and less confidence that their vote will be counted and there are people who are saying that they're not voting by mail because of these calls that voting by mail will be fraudulent, but we’re also seeing a flipside that I think is getting less attention, so particularly among black voters, older black voters – we’re actually seeing a mobilizing effect where they're seeing voting rates being attacked in a similar way that they were during the civil rights era and people are actually turning out and being mobilized by that so for example in Georgia we’re seeing huge turnout among older black voters who are saying that they're coming out specifically because of those attacks on voting rights, and then in terms of where we’re seeing this, there is – and professor Berman, others can speak to this probably better than I can, but there's over 300 lawsuits in 44 different states that are focused on voting rights right now. They're trying to throw out ballots in Texas, they're rolling back early voting, closing polling places, just making it that much more difficult particularly during a pandemic, to safely cast a ballot. And so, something that we’ll have to really be focused on, after the election is over, and hopefully whether at the national level or at the state level, trying to fill in some of those gaps.
Thom: Dr. Cirone a lot of this really comes in the category of misinformation and clearly for certain purposes by some groups more than others, what do you feel like the public needs to understand the most about this very likely scenario that the complete election results will not be able to even be projected with confidence on election night due to the length of time it will take to count all these mail in ballots and how do you think the communications needs to go from the campaigns about it?
Dr. Cirone: Sure, so particularly in the next couple of days and even a week after the elections, citizens are going to see a flood of disinformation, particularly on social media sites and what we’re worried about and what voters should look out for are fake news about the election and the electoral process themselves, so this is either lies about the voting process or how to vote, fake news about militia activity or danger at the polling sites and in fact we’ve actually seen local election boards be really overwhelmed by misinformation and then by voters calling them trying to correct this misinformation and this type of disinformation is a form of voter suppression, so its designed to keep voters away from the polls. Now you're know voters can do a lot of things to fact check themselves and check with their local election boards, but in terms of what the main stream media can be doing, is that -truth is often the best way to fight fake news and so the narrative should be that the fundamental facts bout this election, which is voter fraud is exceptionally rare, so claims about widespread voter fraud in the US are false, whether its absentee or not. Absentee voting is normal, and an important part of free and fair elections, and the pandemic has understandably increased the number of absentee ballots, and like other panelists have said, we will not know the result on election day and the official result wont come till days after, it never comes until days after, but this is normal, because in a democracy its important to collect and count every valid vote and this takes time and no candidate or politician from either side should suggest otherwise or should try to interfere with citizens right to vote, so this pro-democracy, this is normal – that should be the narrative, because all fake news surrounding the election is going to try to suggest the opposite to undermine the integrity of the election, to facilitate voter suppression and then to try to advantage one side in making baseless claims later. So, every mainstream media outlet should stay the course and emphasis the truth opposed to getting distracted by speculation, particularly on social media.
Thom: Dr. Burgat is there something you’d like to add to that?
Dr. Burgat: Yeah I would just like to say with the recent reporting with [inaudible 15:20] and president Trump, all of that is absolutely correct and then they can go one step further in the nightmare scenario that a candidate declares victory, right – that they can not only push back and say that that’s not true, they can refuse to project or play the acceptance speech, if it were portrayed as an acceptant speech, so they're going to have that second degree effect of pushing back against any false claims that the elections have been won or called for them, which is tough to do and obviously something we haven’t fought in our past but its going to be incumbent upon them if that ever happens.
Dr. Berman: I would suggest that somebody raises that the media should keep focusing on how many votes haven’t been counted, they tend to talk about the 12 precincts in, or 12% of the precincts or 50% of the precincts, but they instead emphasize how many votes or what percentage of the vote out there hasn’t been counted yet because the precinct numbers are not necessarily the full numbers, and so to the extent that you can keep emphasizing that because until you count all the votes, we don’t actually have a result and so anything that pushes the cut off of the count, is problematic.
Thom: I've heard some outlets pledging to do just those very things that Dr. Burgat and professor Berman have mentioned as far as disclosure about how many votes remain to be counted as well as not wanting to take any live feed of either candidate claiming a premature victory. Lets hope that that is consistent in the media throughout this experience. Dr. Cirone you mentioned social media being a big factor in what I was just asking you about. I want to bring up a case for example from just this past weekend where a deceptively edited video got over a million views on twitter before twitter took any action, two-part question – how is this impacting voters and what needs to be done to fight it?
Dr. Cirone: Okay so that’s a great question and I'm going to start my response by saying that its really important to recognize that social media platforms, this is Facebook, twitter, this is YouTube, are primarily social networking sites. They are not set up to be a news outlet and as a result these sites have a very large problem with fake news. First of all, people should not rely on these sites as their primary source of news. Individuals should bookmark mainstream media outlets with good journalism and ethical practices and go to those sites for their news.
Now, it is true that some of the social media platforms have been ramping up their efforts to fight fake news in anticipation of the elections. Some of these things are good things, so they're trying to delete fake accounts and posts, they're now providing more information to users through flags and info buttons and marking if you see a news story that is suspicious, but a recent Washington Post investigation two days ago, yesterday – shows that Facebook is not really policing repeat offenders and in particular there's evidence that they don’t want to peer partisan and so they're letting right wing fake news sources go unchecked and that’s really concerning. So, for the long term there's a lot to do in terms of regulating social media platforms, having social media platforms, government and third-party organizations work together to stop the flow of fake news, to stop recommendation algorithms which can radicalize. Other countries in Europe for example Germany has had a lot of success in implementing stricter laws to fine platforms that don’t try to take care of these problems, but so that being said, there's not much we can do about that right now, so voters in addition to not necessarily getting their news off of social media, or if they’re going to follow social media, they need to kind of adopt good internet habits, which is reading before they share posts, even if the post is worrisome or its scary or its anxiety provoking or its accusing voter fraud or electoral sabotage, read before they share and fact check. So, something seems suspicious or something seems unusual, make sure to fact check before they share and then also users especially in the next two days, try not to shake breaking news, and if you do and it turns out to be fake, delete the post. Because what we’ve seen from academic research and recent anecdotes is that a first post goes viral and the correction does not. And misinformation, so even speculation about what’s going on, can sometimes be as problematic as disinformation or fake news, so users can really do their best to try not to engage with idol speculation over the next couple of days because that could be potentially damaging.
Thom: I want to dig into one aspect of this further and then get Dr. Arora and Dr. Bolton to also weigh in on this, you mentioned that you’d recommend not using social media platforms as a primary source of news, that checking it with other sources before sharing is a good practice. What do you make of the phenomena that some people seem to gravitate towards those social media pages and feeds because they believe that the main stream media is deliberately covering up something or not covering something that they see on their social media feed that they feel must be true because it fits their narrative or whatever other reason, that’s kind of a plus for them, its not a downside to them, so what do you make of that and what can we do about it?
Dr. Cirone: Well so I think when we think of how fake news effects the everyday citizen, we’re really thinking about the everyday citizen. There are people in the US and abroad who are part of very specific niche communities who believe in conspiracy theories and obviously a lot of the fake news had fueled this fire. Now its very difficult to get conspiracy theorists to believe the truth, we know that, and so whether our efforts should be targeting these extreme communities to change their mind, versus just to slow down the fake news – I'm not sure that is where our effort should be, instead we should focus on the average every day citizen in improving digital literacy. So digital literacy is especially important for generations who maybe are new to social media or didn’t grow up with the internet, there are a lot of resources, in particular Stanford History Education Group have really done a great job to make teaching resources free and available online to teach students and others about sponsored content fake news, in any case I'm not sure we’re ever going to convince the conspiracy theorists but what we can do is we can try and make sure that every day people don’t accidentally fall for seemingly plausible fake news.
Thom: Dr. Arora, this phenomena of people gravitating towards the news that kind of fits their narrative and confirming biases, dismissive of fact checks or dismissive of main stream reporting when they get challenged on that. That seems to be something that’s motivating certain parts of the voting public, what are your thoughts about that as well what other factors are really driving engagement in this years election and those psychological factors?
Dr. Arora: Yeah a lot of this gets back to political psychology and thinking about things like motivated reasoning, so we tend to live in our own partisan bubbles and we gravitate towards information that fits with our own view of the world and we reject information that does not fit that view, and so even looking at a lot of lab experiments that have been conducted, we present facts and figures that are counter to someone’s own personal view, those facts and figures tend to be rejected and actually strengthens their views of something that may be untrue or may be a conspiracy theory. And so that shows just how difficult it is to pierce that partisan bubble, and this kind of makes sense – we’re comfortable in our view of the world and we don’t want that view to be challenged.
Thom: Dr. Bolton, what are your thoughts about the misinformation in social media and maybe any ways that we can pierce that partisan bubble that Dr. Arora referred to?
Dr. Bolton: Well I think both Dr. Cirone and Dr. Arora touched on this, but as you're navigating your own social media environment, if you see things that automatically say – that seems possible to me, you probably need to investigate that a little bit more because it fits that preconceived notion of what the world should be – you're very easily going to accept it, but if you look into more research you realize that maybe that’s not so true, we do have those defenses up that say – I don’t want to accept this. I don’t want to believe that what my preconceived notion is, is wrong. We as people generally hate being told we’re wrong and so we seek out things that tell us we’re right and that’s how these conspiracy theories gain traction and keep going, because somebody goes – that makes sense to me, I'm going to believe it, I'm going to pass it on and then my friends go – I trust their opinion, I don’t have an opinion but I trust theirs and so it keeps on going and gets perpetuated.
Thom: Dr. Burgat as we see the flood of social media misinformation really geared mostly towards the presidential elections, something else very important happening is a few dozen senate seats up for the vote as well – that has a big impact on the states that each campaign is selecting at the battlegrounds. What are your thoughts on the battleground map and whether either party is really playing defense on the base or trying to expand or flip a state that went another direction in the past – what are your thoughts about that for tomorrow?
Dr. Burgat: Yeah in terms of the battleground this is not breaking news but Republicans are facing a different map than Democrats are facing, in terms of advantages here and in the senate specifically, just by virtue of numbers they have 23 candidates up, versus the 12 that Democrats do, so this was going to be a hard cycle for them anyway and that’s being exacerbated by a historically unpopular president, a pandemic – economic and social unrest, so if you were to tick off some of the worst features in terms of going into an election, with a strong message, those are some of the worst things that you could have on the top of your ticket to drag you down. To answer your question about the battleground state and what we can see from those campaigns is – we’ve seen president Trump go to states over the last couple of weeks where in the last couple of weeks of your campaign the most valuable commodity you have is your time, and he’s been spending time in states that even two months ago, should have been and historically have been safe as can be, we’re talking Iowa, Tennessee, Kentucky even Oklahoma, these are like he’s reaffirming his base, rather than trying to expand, and on the Democratic side, Vice President Biden is looking to flip states obviously cause he has to, to win the electoral majority, but in states that president Trump shouldn’t be vulnerable and at least historically – the Georgia’s, North South Carolina, Iowa now, Kansas is tricking, Montana has a senate race that is now moving into toss up category, so an easier map, a more advantageous map just by the numbers for Democrats and then factor in a pandemic and an unpopular president, this might be a tidal wave of conditions to defend your majority.
Thom: You mentioned some of those states have some interesting senate battles on top of the possibility of flipping in terms of the electoral college. South Carolina, Georgia, Arizona being another one, Iowa – all places where Republicans are defending – what’s the likelihood that the senate does flip? What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Burgat: If I were a betting man and I am – then I will say the senate flip 50 -51, maybe 52 for Democrats, so just the sheer number of volume that they have to defend in states like Montana, Iowa, Kansas, Arizona, Maine, Georgia with two on the docket there that are likely to go off into the special run off elections come January, so there's just too much to defend out there and an unpopular president who hasn’t been able to stay on message and plus they're in a tough spot anyway – with that unpopular president they've had to walk an extremely fine line of not making his base mad, so supporting him just enough, but still maintaining some semblance of independence to say that I'm able to not be an abetting Trump supporter in a high turnout election with economic conditions the way they are, bad -bad way to defend your seat and so we’re likely to see the three flips assuming that the Alabama race with Doug Jones is going to be a loss for Democrats, they need to pick up four and I bet that they do a minimum of four, my guess, my bet is 51 – 52
Thom: Okay very interesting. Professor Berman, coming back to the Supreme Courts involvement in potential cases about cut off of mail-in ballots or counting the vote if it drags on and one side is trying to claim victory. What are some of the recent cases that you can give us a broad brush understanding of what’s at stake in places like Pennsylvania and Wisconsin and others and what other ones maybe have we not heard about that might be ruled on after election day?
Dr. Berman: Well I think first we have to start with the background, which is – this is a Supreme Court that is already really at the precipice of democratic illegitimacy. So I mentioned we’re kind of pushed by Republicans to pack the court in the last two nominations, both of Justice Gorsuch and Justice Barret – this is the first time in American history that a majority of the Supreme Court justices have been appointed by presidents who were not elected with a majority of the American people and they have been confirmed by senators who also do not represent a majority of the American people, because for example the current Republican majority represents fewer votes than the Democratic minority because of the way our senate is allocated with each state getting two, even though some states have far more people, and so that already puts the Supreme Court in a very uneasy position and so as I said I think the court would do well to stay out of this election to the extent that they can, nevertheless they have already entered on a number of occasions and some of the justices have indicated that they want to – for example look at Pennsylvania going forward and the decision of that states Supreme Court to allow votes that are post marked by election date to count even if they're received after election day and so we may see those kinds of cases come forward, there was another one in Texas that was mentioned earlier having to do with preventing people who’ve already voted through drive through voting in Houston area, to discount all of their votes. That would be a very extreme thing, I'm not sure if the federal courts would go that far but given the intense partisanship, I would say all bets are off. After the election we will have specific contestation about how the votes are counted, whether votes are specifically just allowed because of technicalities, signatures that don’t match, the envelopes aren’t sealed properly, the ballot is filled out in a way that is a little bit confusing and so forth, again – these should usually be dealt with under state law for how you determine the intent of the voter, but it may be that the federal courts wont enter into it, and then the final real nightmare scenario is if for example this election is close and it comes down to a single state, lets say Pennsylvania since that would be the most likely, you have in Pennsylvania a situation where the legislature is controlled by Republicans, the governor is a Democrat and if you have a situation where Trump is ahead after the in person voting on election day, the in person votes are counted but then slowly all the other votes get counted and Biden goes ahead, you could have a situation where the legislature says – well we think all of these other votes are illegitimate so we are going to affirm that the electors who go to the electoral college are this slate, the Trump slate – whereas the governor may take the final election tally as certified by the secretary of state and say that Biden electors should go forward to the electoral college, and you could have a contest about who’s electors count and maybe all of Pennsylvania’s vote get disallowed and then maybe neither candidate gets 270 votes and then it gets thrown to the house of representatives and the house of representatives votes not on a pro representative basis but on a per state delegation basis and at any stage you could imagine the courts being asked to weigh in as to how to interpret the state election laws, the federal election laws, the elections clause of the first article one of the constitution and the 12th amendment which has to do with the electoral college and so there's a possibility for judges to get involved, I would just continue to assert my sense that if the Supreme Court wants to maintain its legitimacy, it should do everything it can to stay out of it, because of when the Supreme Court historically has gotten involved in highly partisan issues, that it has to resolve on an extremely expedited basis, it has made mistakes, it has made legal errors, it has cost institutional legitimacy and it has hurt American Democracy. So, I think the courts should step back and let the state system work the way its supposed to work to the extent possible.
Thom: Its interesting that you mentioned the failure to reach 270 and going to the house for the state by state vote, fans of the show Weep may recall what a circus that could look like. We have a question from Bruce at Forward Kentucky, I’d like to invite you Bruce to go ahead and ask this question.
I’ll go ahead and ask it for him – there's been talk by some in labour about a general strike if president Trump tries to “steal” the election, do any of you on the panel have info insights about that as a possibility?
I want to ask – if there’s no takers on that question – Dr. Cirone –
Dr. Cirone: Yeah so, I don’t know any specific intel about planned strikes but I will say that its entirely possible, you might see strikes and you also might see peaceful protests in the case that there is an egregious challenge to the electoral result, right. And we see this in other struggling democracies, we don’t always see this – not encountered here, but that’s entirely possible and it’s one of the tools that citizens have because President Trump couldn’t “steal” the election alone, he has to be enabled, by his party, by political leaps, by folks in the administration and peaceful protest strikes are signals that this is unacceptable. So you very well might see them and I’ll emphasise that the peaceful part of the protest really is where we see good action and good movement, at least from a political science researcher, but a lot of these – you're going to see this putting pressure on local and state officials, because again exploiting the fact that we’re a federal system, this is not – you might see national protests but really to put pressure on elites to not let someone claim an election they did not win, peaceful protests and strikes are one option in a struggling democracy.
Dr. Berman: Yeah and if I told you that a president who was looking like he might lose, tried to shut down the vote counting and then tried to rely on a Supreme Court packed with people he himself had appointed to that court and had asked them to rule in his favour and they did rule in his favour, that would be the kind of thing that we would look at other countries and say – oh my gosh! Democracy is dead, people need to take to the streets. That’s the Belarus story.
Thom: What you described Professor Berman is not all that different than what happened in 2000 in Florida.
Dr. Berman: Yeah that’s true, it’s not that different than what happened in 2000 in Florida and I think part of the reason that didn’t happen, although there were lots of people angry about the Supreme Court entering, is that Algore decided not to push it and he conceded for the sake of the democracy and for the sake of the ongoing peaceful transition of power.
Also that election was incredibly close right, so we’re talking about 400-500 votes. If it looks like Biden has the popular vote by many millions, let’s say 6% or even more, given the polls, on a national basis, I think its very unlikely that you would see Biden concede that quickly and so I think you could see more mass mobilisation.
Thom: Dr. Burgat I want to ask you about some of that state bureaucracy – for lack of a better word, that is involved in that counting and certification process that Dr. Cirone and Professor Berman were referring to, that there need to be a lot of people in on it if one candidate or other tried to declare victory and halt the count. So what are the protections within that process that a lot of the public may not fully understand. Is it possible that a public relations game played out in the media could really influence the outcome and the end of counting votes or do the state board of elections and all those other public servants who are often ardently non-partisan, do they have enough power to push back and say no – we’re going to finish count.
Dr. Burgat: So a lot there and I will start by saying it depends on which state you're looking at and we’re starting to learn this more and more as we watch these election results come in, so we are becoming knowledgeable about which states will count their votes immediately, which states have to wait to open their ballots that they received over the past month or so, so all of these states are different and even within those states there are differences between localities and municipalities, which goes to your point about the question of – this would have to be a vast conspiracy got it to be election fraud, to be perpetrated to the degree that election results are actually changed. So I don’t think that’s the point of anyone’s saying that it is. The point is to talk about this, selling discomfort or selling distrust or illegitimacy to protract this election, a way of saving face politically, to give more reasons in court, to effectively fight, to throw out ballots, so it’s not necessarily to change vote counts in terms of fraud, but its to change the conversation to sow distrust and illegitimacy and then potentially use that public pressure, that outward facing pressure to put pressure on these local bureaucrats, these local volunteers basically to make a decision they otherwise wouldn’t. I for one trust a lot of these procedures, if for no other reason that there are so many of them and you can only go by the book in so many instances, there’s no one to come in, with guns and other things to make them change their processes but boy is the public relations thing, the message strong – especially when its coming from the leader. One of the candidates on the ballot sowing distrust in all of this stuff, this is unprecedented territory for us in terms of it being so public and who its coming from, but I trust the processes, given that there are so many different ones and these people are trained for all of these reasons and then at some point you're going to have to rely on actors to do their job, not in illegal way and not in coordination with nefarious actors across so many different platforms that it would take to steal this outcome.
Thom: Dr. Bolton we heard Dr. Burgat refer to some of the campaign rhetoric about the potential of the election being rigged, to many that might not be a surprise, that coming from President Trump in his re-election, as that was a lot of what he was doing in the closing days of the 2016 election. I wonder what you think about other aspects of this year’s campaign that have been traditional but also unprecedented in having the pandemic force certain kinds of activities, Vice President Biden incorporating social distancing at his events, people attending rallies in cars – you hear horns honking in the background rather than large crowds packed into an arena. What are your thoughts about some of these things that have stuck with those norms, but other things that have had to be unique and maybe strategically different under the pandemic conditions?
Dr. Bolton: Well throughout the entire elections there have been a lot of things that have been impacted by Covid-19 and the pandemic that’s come with it. We can start back at the nominating convention being one of the big moments in the campaign that was altered dramatically because traditionally we have the streamers, the balloons, the pageantry around those, this time around though it was obviously much more low key, everything was much more staged and almost – even interactions where they had – like Joe Biden talking to a line of voters or Donald Trump having some supporter come out, like that couple from St. Louis who was waving guns in their front lawn, coming out and speaking there – so those are very different things than what normally happens at a convention, but then you have the Trump convention ending with him giving a speech on the white house lawn, so using the white house as a campaign backdrop, which ahs never been done before, there’s arguments that – Professor Berman might be able to speak to – of violating the Hatch Act in that aspect where we’ve seen other campaign events being held in question of that same act. Going forward from there we have what we’ve talked about , the Supreme Court's nomination close to the elections, Joe Biden for the longest time wasn’t going out campaigning at all, he was just putting out television ads, doing things very locally, and now as you come into crunch time, he has been going out, especially hitting at those swing states that might go either way, one thing too that’s really ramped up – especially, for some reason – and I get Wisconsin being a very important state, but there’s usually a lot of fund raisers involving celebrities and Wisconsin Democrats, so there was a reunion of princess bride, parks and recreation, there was a couple of others too that – and they were all fund raisers for Wisconsin Democrats and those wouldn’t be done in the normal election because they're not going to set up a stage production of a reading of The Princess Bride at some theatre in Wisconsin that can draw 1500 -2000 people. So, that’s something the pandemic has opened up for us and I wouldn’t be surprised if those types of things didn’t continue on in future elections.
Thom: I would love to see a cast reading of The Princess Bride become a new annual tradition for us in America, I think that would really unify the country.
Dr. Arora I want to ask you about a topic that I think we’re going to hear a lot about in the coming couple of days, especially if the vote in Florida is close. Latinx people voting for Biden or Trump, there seems to be a lot of talk about real diversity in this voting bloc, that its maybe composed of many different voting blocks, not a monolith, what are your thoughts about that? Help us to understand what we may see in coming days about the Latino vote.
Dr. Arora: Yeah so, the first thing I would like to say – and I appreciate that you addressed this – is that no racial group should be referred to as a monolith and there’s always going to be a diversity of opinions and a diversity of voting decisions among any different racial group. If we looked at Latino’s particularly, one – we do see a trend towards the democratic party and support for the democratic party in recent elections, but within that, we do see pretty important differences by national origin group. So for example – among Cuban Americans you see much more support for the Republican party in general and for Trump in particular than you see among other Latino’s. so, just to throw one number out there, approval for Trump is a little over 50%, about 52% among Cuban Americans. If we looked at that same number among non-Cuban Latino’s, it’s about 26% - so we see this huge discrepancy depending on national origin group. And this comes down to experiences in Cuba, this comes down to views on communism and it also has to do with foreign policy, so for example Cuban Americans have high approval of Trumps handling of Cuba and his more hard lined policy while they were more opposed to Obama’s relationship with Cuba.
The other factor that I want to talk about is something that we call linked faith in political science. So Linked Faith is the idea that an individual sees their faith as linked to that of the larger group. So, Latino’s who see their faith as being shared by the larger Latino population, are much more likely to support Biden and to oppose Trump, largely due to a lot of the rhetorical and policy attacks on the Latino population that we’ve seen by Trump and under the Trump administration. So of course there is going to be large discrepancies but they're understandable based on some of these factors like national origin and levels of linked faith.
Thom: I want to dig further into this a little bit, with questions about these different voting blocks and all attempts to pass out the different LatinX communities for example, how much do you see in the big picture that race and issues of race and ethnicity being a motivating factor or do you feel like something else is – maybe the pandemic, is pushing harder on these people compared to those other kinds of concerns?
Dr. Arora: So in recent years we’ve seen racial attitude be among the primary predictors of voter choice and voter turnout in elections. So in 2016 racial attitudes and then also attitudes towards immigrants and immigration, attitudes and feelings about Muslims, these were highly salient attitudes, that were also strongly predictive of whether people were going to vote and who they were going to vote for and over the last several years, as you’ve seen again policies and rhetorical attacks on minority groups, from Trump and Republicans, as well as the corresponding Black Lives Matter movement and the huge protest that took place in 2020, all of this serves to heighten the role that racial attitudes play in voters decision making process. However we do need to then talk about the pandemic here, and these things are partly intertwined in the sense that, particularly black and Latino Americans have been most effected by the pandemic, both in a public health sense and in an economic sense. And so we’re seeing concerns about the pandemic play an increasingly large role and one of the reasons why I think a lot of this polling data is pointing towards a Biden victory. With over 200,000 Americans dead due to the Covid-19 virus, millions more infected and due to kind of effects on the economy and peoples financial status, just thinking about voter psychology, concerns about the pandemic are largely central to voters decisions. Again, one number I’ll throw out there is – polling from Latino decisions is showing that nationally among Latino’s the pandemic has actually taken its place as the primary factor that they see as affecting their communities, more so than traditional issues like jobs, the economy, healthcare or immigration issues and so we’re seeing that among Americans in general, but among racial and ethnic minorities in particular, we’re seeing that the pandemic is playing an increasingly large role in determining both turnout rates and voting decisions.
Thom: Professor Berman, In the event that – as some on the panel have predicted, there’s a possibility of a Biden win and a senate flip, what are some reforms that you think might be in play, both for the senate for things like voting rights, and maybe even to the Supreme Court itself?
Professor Berman: Well I think that there’s a large number of reforms that are necessary to make our democracy more vibrant and to make our institutions of government more responsive to the actual wishes of the American people. So, I mentioned earlier that the senate because both states that have huge populations and very small populations get two senators, that skews the representation in the senate and that’s going to increasingly be the case as residential segregation continues. The newest demographics that I have seen suggest that within 10-15 years we might have a situation where 85% of the American public live in only 15 states and if that’s true, you could end up with 35 states, 70 members of the senate, so 7/10th of the senate being elected by only 15% of the population. Democracy really can't work under those circumstances and the Supreme Court too - we see the result of that – in what I said earlier about the fact that we now have a court that’s really wildly out of step with the American popular consensus and again, we need counter majority in judges to protect people who are not able to get power in the political system, but we don’t need a counter majority in judges who are reflecting those who have an outsized role in the political system as compared to their actual political support. That’s exactly the opposite of why you need judges.
In terms of reforms I think adding states would help, so if you added some urban and more diverse states – most obviously would be the district of Columbia and Puerto Rico, that would begin to right the balance, because it would create four more senators, I should note that even that wouldn’t even come close to fully righting the balance between urban and rural, but at least it would be a start. I think both the federal judiciary in general and the Supreme Court in particular, should have more members, so as to counteract the court packing that the Republicans have done over the last few years and better reflect the general American popular consensus. A lot of this could be done through just regular statutory votes, assuming the senate got rid of the filibuster – something’s however that I think our democracy needs like term limits for the Supreme Court justices, mike replier – a constitutional amendment to do that, although there are some suggestions for how we could create a cycling of justices off of the main Supreme Court but allow them to continue to be judgers, so that would allow them to stay in their lifetime tenured positions, but change the cases that they get to hear, and possibly that could be done without a constitutional amendment, our constitution is notoriously difficult to amend and so I'm sure that Democrats will be looking for as many different possible democracy reforms that could be made, that don’t require a constitutional amendment.
Thom: We have a follow up from Bruce at Forward Kentucky asking about the 28th amendment project and if anyone on the panel is familiar with that effort to draft a further amendment to the constitution. Has anyone got any thoughts about that – fi there’s not we’ll go ahead and move on.
Dr. Cirone: Sorry, I actually do work on lotteries in legislative bodies and this type of citizens assembly and what’s interesting about these types of initiatives, so this is deliberative democracy and direct democracy, which is trying to get everyday citizens, members of the public more involved in the policy making process, so again as a representative democracy we the citizens delegate this type of policy development, drafting, discussion to our elected representatives or legislators, but the good thing about citizens assembly is that – what we know from academic research is that they make citizens more informed, citizens participate in these kind of – think local, townhalls, randomly selected group of people or volunteers depending on the setup, that spend a weekend trying to hammer out policy decisions, come out with a policy report or recommendation. These individuals tend to be more informed after the process, they're more active in local policy making, they feel more attached to the decisions that are going on, so yeah citizens assemblies I think are a great way forward, particularly at the local level where these citizens can be more informed and we might want to implement these at higher levels. But it is worth noting that things like constitutional amendments, things like massive changes to our national level institutions, those are always still going to have to go through parties and candidates and negotiation and coalition building in the various organs and the senate and the house, and so while citizens assemblies can be helpful in advocating in grass roots, we still can't get away from the fact that major decisions need to be taken at the national level which have politicians driven by a variety of incentives.
Professor Berman: I should add that we have also another big set of reforms which just has to do with voting rights and all of the mechanisms of democracy that have shown their cracks and creaks during this election, are supposedly going to be addressed in a house bill that has already been drafted that was passed by the house and that was blocked in the Republican senate, but I suspect would be one of the first orders of business in a new democratically controlled setup. So we may see reforms to the national voting process in general so that we have fewer of the problems that we’ve been facing over the last few months.
Thom: Dr. Bolton, as we’re in the final hours of the campaigning, which presidential candidate do you feel has the best closing message and why?
Dr. Bolton: A good closing argument for a presidential candidate is the argument that gets voters to show up and vote for them. Because 96 million voters have already cast a ballot, we’ve kind of been in the closing argument phase for a while now and as we kind of approach election day tomorrow, they're both still trying to make their closing case of why you should show up and vote, but if we really want to get down to what that argument really is – on the Trump side the argument is twofold – he seems almost at rallies to be incredulous to the fact that he has to even show up at some of these places. He’s talking about – I shouldn’t need to be here, if this was a normal election I wouldn’t be here today, id be somewhere else and then he kind of calls in the illegitimacy of the election being a part of his closing argument.
The Biden on the other hand, a very traditional closing argument of his vision for America, the importance of showing up and voting. So if I'm forced to pick on, I'm going to pick the one that’s actually trying to encourage voters to show up rather than saying – this election might be fraudulently stolen from us.
Thom: Dr. Cirone last question to you – as the dust settles, do you see a path forward for more unity and centrism or further partisan bubbles and extreme division?
Dr. Cirone: That’s a good question and I'm a scholar of comparative politics, that’s a sub field that I trained in and what we know from current events is that its clear that the Republican party has shifted dramatically to the right and as long – to the extent that they're now pursuing policies of active voter suppression, and as long as voters reward the party by voting them into office, after they commit these acts, this pattern will continue. There's no reason for them to change. But I do think it’s important to realise that President Trump is maybe a symptom of larger issues facing society, so if he does leave office, these problems will continue -and often its almost easier to blame things like fake news or foreign interference instead of facing the reality that they're of systemic problems in American society that have not been addressed, that these types of populous candidates and parties exploit and at the end of the day, political identities are driving behaviour and attitudes in a way that we’ve really not seen before. When partisanship is linked with social identities, so what religion you are, or what geographical region you live in, what class and particularly in America- what race you are, if your party affiliation is your social identity then it makes disagreement really tough, because its personal, and this plus increasing polarisation, I mean we’re in a two party system so the structural institutions help make that happen, but this make bipartisan discussion and compromise difficult. So this doesn’t mean that there is not a way forward but its less to do with individual leaders necessarily, even though damage has been done, but more about-facing structural inequalities in society and then having mainstream parties pay attention to those and react to voters.
Thom: I want to open it to all the other panellists and then we’re close it out, go ahead Professor Berman.
Professor Berman: Yeah, I think there’s also a broader sociological context here which is that we have a situation where a dominant social group, ethnic group, whites and white males in particular are losing their dominance, and it’s not clear that they will be a prominent majority of the population able to assert their will and if you look at the younger generations. They're far more diverse than any generations in American history, far more progressive than any generation in American history and so you have this sense that a power structure that once existed is crumbling, and its actually true, it is crumbling and so at moments like that I guess it’s not surprising that that group will try to hold on and walk in its power and claw to keep its power for as long as it possibly can, but I do think its possible that we will see a change as the group of 19 – 30 year olds and even more the group that’s 12 to 19 now, but will be voting in greater and greater numbers – I think we’ll get a fundamental shift of our politics. That doesn’t necessarily mean less polarisation, but I think we’re not going to be locked in exactly this paradigm for that much longer.
Thom: Gen Z will save us. Doctor Burgat do you have something to add?
Dr. Burgat: Yeah I was going to add into all this – mostly by saying all of this is inextricably linked right – the voter suppression, the candidate that Trump is, the long term trends of polarisation and so when we talk about this I can't agree more with the fact that Trump is a consequence, not a cause of this and the reality is at least for the next few congresses at least, Trump is and will stay – the number of folks on his party that have retired willingly or unwillingly because they were going to lose their seat, or in fact lost their seat to being primary by more extreme candidates means by fact that the ones that are there governing are the more extreme versions of that party, and we need to increase the participation rates, increase the knowledge the civic engagement of all these folks and I'm very dependent on the Gen Z here because they, not like my generation or even the one before us, are looking at government as the only thing that can bring us the institutional change we need – or before you were able to take a step back and move away from politics – in that its corrupt, I want to volunteer but I don’t necessarily want to spend my energies in government, that’s kind of transitioned into Gen Z because they are recognising that this is institutional stuff and this takes to have generational change – think about the Park Lane students right, they're going towards the government rather than running away from government which is a really positive tale. The one thing I will caution against is that when you have someone like Trump and someone that is so easily – the focus of an entire party, its easier to be against that, its easier to draw that contrast with that. What we will have to grapple with in an increasingly diverse society as professor Berman talks about, and an increasingly diverse electorate is that there is polarisation and there is division in these parties where right now they're able to be yes or no very easily especially when it comes to a binary choice in election time, but when you talk about things like climate change, immigration, gun policies, all of these factors, there’s a reason they haven’t been solved and that’s because there's more division within parties than we ever care to admit and that hasn’t been able to be adjudicated because we don’t vote on anything anymore, there hasn’t been this process to legislate through amendment we’re in right now, that’s why we have these problems cycle after cycle, year after year, even generation after generation.
Dr. Bolton: So as we come here, we’ve talked about how we move forward and I think there’s a lot of Democrats that are waiting for if Trump loses, we can take this big sigh of relief and it will all be over, but as Dr. Burgat just talked about, it won't really be over, it will just be a change in condition. This lightening rod of attention will be gone, but we’ll be four years away from the potential of somebody that is just as extreme in viewpoint, but maybe has more finesse and isn't as loud and isn't as polarising about the way they present themselves, and so its going to be interesting to see how the parties kind of mobilise voters in four years where the candidate may not be this boisterous lightening rod that Trump is, where it’s the wolf in sheep’s clothing possibly, for lack of a better metaphor –
Thom: I feel like its worth pointing out that twelve years ago Mitch McConnell the senate majority leader said that his number one priority was to make Obama a one term president. They were meeting and having strategy sessions literary on inauguration day and the tea party was born out of that resistance before a single policy had been enacted, I feel like we’re likely to see something similar in 2 or 3 months. Dr. Arora, last closing thoughts are yours.
Dr. Arora: So, I think there are myriads of reasons to think that this divisiveness, partisan ranker, all of this will continue, and I think it was very well summarised by the other panellists. One additional thing that I want to talk about - about this fits with Dr. Cirone’s comment on deliberative democracy, is that we have academic research that demonstrates that when meaningful conversations can actually take place, we can see changes in even deeply engrained attitudes like racism, transphobia, homophobia. So when we can actually have those discussions and particularly when members of the affected communities are involved in those meaningful conversations, we can actually come to a more united and less divisive place and so I think we should all be looking for those opportunities in trying to – in a more formal way create those opportunities, so that we can have those meaningful conversations that can hopefully lead to somewhere of a reduction in prejudice and in divisiveness.
Thom: I’ll hold out some optimism for that too Dr. Arora, I found this conversation to be both sobering and inspiring, thank you all of our panellists for joining, Dr. Arora, Dr. Burgat, Dr. Bolton, Dr. Cirone and professor Berman – for all of you on the call, as media we will share the recording and the transcript, as well as the contact information for the PIO’s so that you can follow up with any of todays panellists with additional questions or requests for interview and with that I will go ahead and say – good luck, stay safe and stay healthy, and if you haven’t voted – go out and vote. Thank you very much everyone, have a great rest of the day.