It wasn’t hard to predict that voting would be a topical subject to explore in an election year. With questions and uncertainty swirling as Nov. 3 approaches, however, topical will be an understatement when “Voting in America,” The Riley Institute and the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute (OLLI) at Furman University’s annual StraightTalk lecture series begins Sept. 1.
“We knew a year ago that we wanted to do this topic,” Jill Fuson ’84, director of the institute’s Center for Critical Issues, said. “But we had no idea just how timely it would turn out to be and that there would even be controversy around voting and the election process.”
With President Donald Trump seeking to cast doubt on the legitimacy of voting by mail and refusing to commit to accepting the result of the 2020 election if he loses as the COVID-19 pandemic continues to disrupt daily life – all on the heels of Russian interference in the 2016 election – American democracy could be on the verge of facing one of the biggest tests in its history. That is the focus of the third and final session of the series: “Democracy at Risk: Safeguarding Votes, Voters, and Election Integrity,” scheduled for Sept. 15.
“A lot of the issues the third week really are driven by the decreasing confidence in the democratic institutions among the public, and as the public loses faith in what makes things work, then we really are at risk,” Fuson said. “If the public feels that voting by mail is going to be fraught with fraud or completely miscounted or their vote is never going to get there, you can see why there could be a lot of controversy over the outcome of the election.”
Session 3 will be moderated by Furman Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs Teresa Cosby, who specializes in constitutional law and racial and ethnic politics. The rest of the panel will include Robert Costa, moderator and managing editor for Washington Week on PBS and national political reporter for The Washington Post; Ned Foley, director of the election law program and Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law at Ohio State University; David Levine, elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy; and Michael McRobbie, Indiana University president and co-chair of Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy, a 2018 consensus study report of The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine.
StraightTalk 2020, presented in partnership South Carolina ETV, kicks off with “Lurching Forward: 244 Years of Fighting for the Right to Vote,” followed by “The Dark Arts of Politics: When Politicians Choose the Voters” on Sept. 8.
Session 1 will explore the history of voting on the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which guaranteed the right to vote for women (though Black women still faced considerable obstacles). Session 2 explores the ongoing battles over of gerrymandering, voter and election fraud, and voter suppression.
Veteran broadcast journalist Beryl Dakers of ETV will moderate the first “Voting in America” panel that includes Michael Waldman, president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU Law; Chryl Laird, assistant professor of government at Bowdoin College; and Kelly Dittmar, associate professor of political science at Rutgers University. NPR national political correspondent Don Gonyea will moderate a Session 2 panel consisting of Allison Riggs, interim director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, S.C. Representative Gary Clary (R-Pickens), and S.C. Representative Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg).
Fuson said she is also coordinating with Furman Associate Professor of Politics and International Affairs David Fleming, the faculty founder and leader of the DinsVote student voting initiative on campus to increase student participation in the StraightTalk series as well as the overall political process.
“We’re working with him to be sure that there’s crossover there encouraging students to vote,” she said, noting the registration link through Eventbrite contains a voter registration link as well. “We absolutely would love for this to be an opportunity for students to be engaged in their civic responsibility … and hope this will help further that voting interest among the community and the students here.”
Fleming notes the final installment of the StraightTalk series segues nicely into National Voter Registration Day a week later, on Sept. 22.
“Obviously, the topic that they have this year is great for DinsVote,” Fleming said.
All three StraightTalk sessions run from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. and will be presented virtually via Zoom. Click here to register.