Tuesdays, September 1, 8, 15, 2020
Presented in partnership with Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) and South Carolina ETV
The history of voting in America makes plain that voting rules have always been entangled with broader issues of wealth, class and race, and political parties. At our country’s founding, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. 244 years later, we celebrate the centennial of the 19th Amendment, guaranteeing the right to vote for white women, and the sesquicentennial of the 15th Amendment, declaring that the right to vote cannot be denied because of a person’s “race, color, or previous condition of servitude.”
Despite these constitutional amendments, controversies over voting rights, voter fraud, and the value of an individual’s vote abound. While some fear voting by mail will lead to widespread voter fraud, others worry that without it, they will be forced to spend several hours waiting for the opportunity to cast a ballot, perhaps endangering their health due to COVID-19. Moreover, in 2021, new Congressional districts and local government districts will be redrawn based on the information gained from the 2020 census. In most states, including South Carolina, those who are in places of political power get to choose whose votes count the most.
This year’s presidential election is happening not only during a pandemic, but also during a time of declining trust in our democratic institutions. Fears are real among voters who don’t want to risk their health by going to the polls, and a greater number of mail-in votes will undoubtedly slow the timeline for determining the winner. In addition, our election infrastructure needs updating to protect against its demonstrated vulnerabilities; it’s uncertain how well it can handle the anticipated large voter turnout in November. If the election is close, or if it takes weeks or even months to determine the outcome, how much impact will the ongoing incendiary rhetoric about stolen elections, fraud, and Russian interference have on Americans who don’t trust the process?
We examined the history of voting in America and the struggle for enfranchisement among the poor, women, Black Americans, and Native Americans (Sept. 1), the ongoing struggle against Gerrymandering, voter and election fraud, and voter suppression (Sept. 8), and how we can safeguard the integrity of our election infrastructure and process (Sept. 15). Ultimately, as we face these challenges, we ask ourselves, “Will our 244-year-old experiment in democracy succeed?”
Session 1 | Lurching Forward: 244 Years of Fighting for the Right to Vote
The United States has a long history of limiting who gets to vote: at its founding, only white men who owned property were allowed to vote. Throughout our history, the battle for voting rights has been hard fought as marginalized groups have sought to have a voice. What have been the turning points throughout our voting history, and how do these experiences from the past shape voting behaviors today?
- Beryl Dakers, veteran broadcast journalist who is leading South Carolina ETV’s recognition of the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment
- Michael Waldman, president, Brennan Center for Justice, and author, The Fight to Vote
- Chryl Laird, PhD, assistant professor of government, Bowdoin College, and co-author, Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior
- Kelly Dittmar, PhD, associate professor of political science, Rutgers University-Camden, and director of research, Center for American Women and Politics at the Eagleton Institute of Politics
Session 2 | The Dark Arts of Politics: When Politicians Choose the Voters
Gerrymandering, voter and election fraud, voter suppression, and voting rights are inevitably partisan topics. In general, the party in power wants to stay in power, and politicians are not always ethical in how they seek to achieve this goal. Moreover, 2020 is not only a presidential election year but also a census year, the outcome of which will determine people’s representation in Congress for the next decade. As we approach the upcoming election and think about future elections, what is fair in regards to redistricting, making voting accessible, and rooting out election fraud?
- Don Gonyea, NPR national political correspondent with a ground-level view of American elections
- Allison Riggs, interim director of Southern Coalition for Social Justice and chief counsel, voting rights program
- S.C. Representative Gary Clary (R-Pickens)
- S.C. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg)
- Reps. Clary and Cobb-Hunter both support establishing an independent redistricting commission in South Carolina.
Session 3 | Democracy at Risk: Safeguarding Votes, Voters, and Election Integrity
Commemorating Constitution Day 2020
As we move toward the 2020 presidential election, many Americans are worried about fraud with mail-in voting, while others are fearful they will have to wait for hours to be able to vote. Some are concerned about the vulnerabilities that exist in our election infrastructure and how the system might be compromised in the upcoming election. Moreover, given Americans’ declining trust in democratic institutions, how will the losing party respond if the outcome of the election is close? What does the Constitution really say about how we choose our president?
- Teresa Nesbitt Cosby, associate professor of politics and international affairs, specializing in constitutional law and racial and ethnic politics, Furman University
- Robert Costa, moderator and managing editor, Washington Week on PBS, and national political reporter, The Washington Post
- Ned Foley, director of the election law program and Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law, The Ohio State University, and author, Presidential Elections and Majority Rule and Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States
- David Levine, elections integrity fellow, Alliance for Securing Democracy, The German Marshall Fund of the United States
- Michael McRobbie, PhD, president, Indiana University, and co-chair, Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy, a 2018 consensus study report of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, Medicine