Expert panel discusses voting rights and wrongs

Computer screen open to a Zoom event, featuring experts speaking on voting rights and wrongs.
The panel, made up of political experts, warned of potential voting apathy that could affect the approaching 2022 midterm elections at an event hosted by the Center for the Political Future on Zoom. (Jenna Peterson | Daily Trojan)

Prominent experts from around the country gathered on Zoom Tuesday for a panel discussion led by the Co-Directors of the Center for the Political Future about voting rights and the effect of state-by-state regulations on the election system.

The event, titled “Voting Rights and Voting Wrongs,” discussed questions such as “Why don’t we have higher voter participation?” and “Are we really at a point where we could lose the essential foundations of our democracy or the integrity of the voting system?”

The panel comprised of Linda Chavez, Chair of the Center for Equal Opportunity, Theodore Johnson, Fellows Program Director at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University, Ralph Neas, member of the Senior Council on Voting Rights at the Century Foundation and Pete Peterson, senior fellow at the Davenport Institute for Public Engagement and Civil Leadership. 

CPF Co-Directors Robert Shrum and Michael Murphy moderated the discussion. In an interview with the Daily Trojan, Shrum emphasized the importance of including differing political views when discussing voter rights, citing Democrat Ted Kennedy and Republican Bob Dole who worked together to extend the Voting Rights Act in 1982. 

“We’re trying to model and advance politics where we respect each other and we respect the truth, where even people who disagree with each other can have a civil discussion where we can look for solutions that a broad group of people can agree on,” Shrum said.

CPF hosts an orientation each semester where students and faculty propose topics that the center should cover. CPF Executive Director Kambiz Akhavan said voting rights were an overwhelming proposition. 

“[The] voting rights issue is something that seemed perfect for us to address prior to the midterm elections, and something that would have a very large audience interested in us exploring it,” said Akhavan in an interview with the Daily Trojan. 

Following former President Donald Trump’s lawsuits surrounding the validity of the 2020 election, a main topic of Tuesday’s conversation was voter fraud. At the beginning of the event, the panelists discussed the impact of absentee voting on voter fraud and the significance of the issue. Johnson said the issue of fraud itself is much less prominent than having inaccuracies within the election system. 

“I think there’s actually not that much real voter fraud that takes place, but there are problems with having a voter list that is legitimate, that does reflect people who have a right to vote within a state,” Johnson said. 

The panelists also debated the effect the increase in mail-in voting had on election fairness, with some arguing some polling stations do not have the capacity to efficiently count each mail-in ballot and others arguing it is one of the best ways to increase voter participation. 

“My issue is more around election administration and [whether] states [are] ready from an election administration standpoint to handle full automatic vote by mail,” said Peterson, who argued that mail-in ballots may not be efficient. 

Chavez, who lived in Colorado for many years where the state gives mail-in ballots to everyone registered to vote, said she views mail-in voting as essential to increasing voter turnout and is more concerned about other threats to fair elections.

“To me, the biggest threat coming from those state laws has less to do with access to the ballot box than it does with basically nullifying elections after votes are cast, and taking away, particularly in presidential elections, the right of the people to choose the President,” Chavez said. 

John Pandol, a 1982 graduate, began attending CPF virtual events when the coronavirus pandemic started. Pandeol said CPF’s emphasis on diverse political views inspired him to keep attending, as he usually only hears conservative views of the circles he is a part of in California. 

“I get to listen to the blue side of the state, which is something vital I’m normally not tapped into,” Pandol said. “So I get to hear directly from the other side.”

Akhavan attended the event and was pleased by the panelists’ transparency in their responses. The differing political beliefs added an opportunity for each viewer to draw their own conclusions about voting, he said. 

“We need to have more exploratory conversations with people who disagree with one another, so we can hear the very best arguments on all sides of these issues,” Akhavan said.