Election Series Workshops

CAMD took the opportunity to hold space for students to discuss and deepen their understanding of the U.S. political process during a tumultuous election year

by Jose Peralta

In the run-up to the election, CAMD saw an opportunity to hold space for students to deepen their understanding of the U.S. political process and civic engagement through conversation. There is no denying that this was an unconventional election. The events and rhetoric surrounding this election season were, among other things, triggering election anxiety among our young people. As a team, we felt an urge to provide students with the language and knowledge to process the news and events on and after election night.

The first discussion, entitled “Issues of Interest: What’s on the Ballot?,” fell on the same night as the second presidential debate. After what the world witnessed in the first debate, both students and adults were eager to see what the final debate would bring. This activity allowed students to focus on three election issues or causes that were most important to them in this election. A few of the issues that resonated with participants included health care, the COVID-19 pandemic, climate change, racial equity, education, and wealth inequality. By also looking at sample ballots from their home state, participants were able to see which issues were up for a vote.

Though a vote carries a lot of power, when it comes to electing the U.S. president, the people are actually voting for a group of Electors chosen by the candidate’s political party. This system is known as the Electoral College [1], which became the main topic of the second discussion we called “Electoral College 101.” Students learned about how the Electoral College works and discussed reasons for keeping and abolishing our current system for choosing a U.S. president. Using polls data from fivethirtyeight.com, students were able to predict each state’s Electoral winners.

There is no doubt that the coronavirus pandemic brings a new set of challenges for voters across the country. However, that did not stop millions of Americans from participating in the democratic process more than ever. In the weeks leading up to the election, the number of absentee ballots requested and early votes cast surpassed the early turnout record set in 2016 [2]. With that in mind, we wondered how the surge in mail-ballots would impact when we found out who won the election.

For our final session this term, entitled “Place, Time, and Manner: The Impact of Convenience Voting on the 2020 Presidential Election,” students looked at polling and ballot request data to further explore the partisan effect of mail-in and in-person voting in 2020. As expected, the in-person vote favored Mr. Donald Trump and Republicans on election night. Mr. Trump’s numerical advantage in crucial battleground states dwindled over time once those same states started tabulating absentee ballots, which tend to favor Democrats [3, 4]. These are the delays we were expecting and preemptively preparing for with students, faculty, and staff. 

Our team is also developing one more program that would put voting rights and voter suppression at the center of the conversation. While 2020 is on track to becoming the highest voter turnout election in a century, it featured widespread disenfranchisement of people of color in crucial battleground states [5, 6, 7]. In this workshop, students will investigate voter suppression in the 2018 and 2020 elections.

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