Thursday, October 22, 2020

Election 2020: 89 articles to teach you about how American elections really work

How did the U.S. political system get the way it did? jsmith/iStock/Getty Images Plus
Catesby Holmes, The Conversation; Jeff Inglis, The Conversation, and Naomi Schalit, The Conversation

Editors’ note: In a world transformed by a pandemic, few of the fundamentals in Americans’ lives – schools, jobs, even how to shop for groceries – have remained the same. The same is true with the election, where the most basic of the institution’s elements – how, where and when to vote, among them – have changed.

When The Conversation US’s politics editors met to figure out how to provide readers with coverage that would be useful and informative, the approach was clear: a civics lesson. Over the course of roughly 100 articles, our scholars have explained how the U.S. election system works, retold the history of how it got that way and examined what effects and significance those mechanisms have for the nation today.

Here, our team has collected all of these articles, divided thematically, from the very beginning of campaigning through what happens after Election Day itself.

A candidate elbow-bumping a voter in a restaurant
Eugene DePasquale, left, Democratic candidate in Pennsylvania’s 10th Congressional District, in Harrisburg, Penn., Sept. 19, shows that even the traditional handshake with voters has changed in pandemic-era campaigns. Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images


Basic elements of political campaigning

Campaigning in a pandemic

Campaign tactics

A graphic showing text notifications.
Campaigns send lots of texts. Jake Olimb/DigitalVision Vectors via Getty Images

Political conventions

Money in politics

Cory Booker can use money left over from his presidential campaign to run for reelection to the Senate. AP Photo/Patrick Semansky

Candidates’ debates

Media and public perception

President Elizabeth Keane, played by actress Elizabeth Marvel, stands at a podium in an episode of 'Homeland.'
President Elizabeth Keane of ‘Homeland’ is a craven politician who has a ruinous tenure in office. Showtime


Vice presidential and Cabinet picks

Rep. Bella Abzug speaks to a crowd of some 10,000 at ‘The War is Over’ celebration in Central Park on May 11, 1975, where she called for unconditional amnesty for Vietnam War draft dodgers in Sweden and Canada. Bettman/Contributer/Getty

International perspectives

A man stands at an outdoor voting booth.
A voter casts a ballot at a mobile voting station in California in May 2020. AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez

The process of voting

History of voting

Voter suppression

Milwaukee voters wait in a social-distancing line, some wearing masks, before voting in the state’s spring elections on April 7. AP Photo/Morry Gash

Many voters face obstacles

Specific voting groups and blocs

Asian Americans leave a polling palce
Asian American voters leave a Temple City, California, polling place in 2012, in the state’s first legislative district that is majority Asian American. Frederic J. Brown/AFP via Getty Images

How to vote

A polling place in a public building with booths and voters.
Voting is important. Make sure you know how to do it! Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images

Voting in person

Voting by mail

Mailed ballots sit in a box.
In most states, ballots must be mailed in official envelopes. AP Photo/Hans Pennink
A woman looks at papers.
Staff of the House of Representatives review Illinois’ Electoral College vote report in January 2017. Samuel Corum/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images


Electoral College

Election integrity

A white sign with red text that says 'Every Vote Counts.'
Every vote counts – but what does it mean when election results go to court? Roberto Schmidt/AFP via Getty Images

Potential for violence

Who decides the outcome?

The floor of the U.S. House of Representatives in 1993.
Under the Electoral Count Act, Congress supervises the counting of the Electoral College ballots in early January after the presidential election happens. Mark Reinstein/Corbis via Getty Images

How it all endsThe Conversation

Catesby Holmes, International Editor | Politics Editor, The Conversation; Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation, and Naomi Schalit, Senior Editor, Politics + Society, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Monday, October 19, 2020

Mail-in voting is safe and reliable – 5 essential reads

An election worker in Pennsylvania handles mailed ballots during that state’s primary election in May. AP Photo/Matt Rourke
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

Time is running out for Americans who want to cast their ballots by mail.

If you want to vote this way but haven’t yet requested a ballot, you should know that it takes time for ballot requests to get from voters to their local election officials, for ballots to get mailed to the voters, and for the completed ballots to make it back to election offices.

The U.S. Postal Service recommends that, this close to the election, people who want to vote by mail request their mail-in ballots as soon as they can, and fill them out and send them back in the mail as soon as possible, as well – before Election Day for sure, but perhaps even earlier, depending on state deadlines.

Many scholars have studied various aspects of mail-in voting, looking at how secure it is, how susceptible to fraud it might be, and what voting officials need to do to handle an influx of ballots arriving by mail. Here we spotlight five recent examples from our archives.

1. Mail-in voting is safe and reliable

In 43 states and the District of Columbia, any citizen can vote by mail.

Edie Goldenberg, a University of Michigan political scientist and public policy scholar, studied mail-in balloting as part of a National Academy of Public Administration working group. Her group found that “voting by mail is rarely subject to fraud, does not give an advantage to one political party over another and can in fact inspire public confidence in the voting process.”

2. Election officials and postal workers are key

Many of the protections that keep mail-in voting safe are “built-in safeguards,” according to Charlotte Hill, who is a former elections commissioner now studying voting laws at the University of California, Berkeley, and Jake Grumbach, a political science professor at the University of Washington.

They explain that special paper, printing details, unique bar codes and other anti-counterfeiting methods in election and postal offices combine to “make it hard for one person to vote fraudulently, and even more difficult to commit voter fraud on a scale capable of swinging election outcomes.”

3. It has bipartisan support

Public confidence in voting by mail is extremely high in Oregon, which has been conducting all elections that way since 1998, writes Priscilla Southwell, a professor emerita of political science at the University of Oregon.

She has been studying mail-in voting for almost that entire time, and has been struck by the degree of public support for continuing to conduct elections that way, writing:

Perhaps the strongest evidence that the system is equitable, fair, reliable and safe is that in two statewide surveys I have conducted over the years, a nearly identical percentage of Oregon Republicans and Democrats strongly support voting by mail, and the same is true of elected officials in the state.”

4. You can keep an eye on things

If you are voting from home, you can make things easier for the people who will be processing and tallying your vote – and those of countless neighbors. Luke Perry, a government professor at Utica College, explains that sending in your ballot early, with a signature that matches the one on your voter-registration card, can ensure your ballot is counted efficiently.

Perry points to an important step voters themselves can take: tracking their ballots. In 44 states and the District of Columbia, people who vote by mail can go online to a statewide site that will display when a ballot has been requested, when it has been mailed to the voter, when it was returned to the election office, and whether it was accepted or rejected. In the remaining six states, some municipalities or counties may provide this option as well – which might allow people whose mail-in ballot was rejected to cast a ballot another way instead.

This helps people feel confident their vote has been counted and may give them enough notice to vote in person if their mail-in ballot encounters delays or other problems,” Perry writes.

5. Be sure to vote alone

One thing to be aware of, write Susan Orr and James Johnson, is that voting is still supposed to involve a secret ballot.

Orr, who teaches political science at The College at Brockport, a part of the State University of New York system, and Johnson, who teaches political science at the University of Rochester, warn that there are powerful interests seeking to coerce people into voting particular ways.

In 2018, Los Angeles landlords threatened tenants with rent increases if a particular ballot initiative passed,” they write. “And in the last two presidential elections, as many as 1 in 4 workers were approached with political information by their employer. … [That] included employer endorsements of referenda or candidates – and even notes in employees’ paychecks threatening layoffs or plant closures if one particular candidate were to win.”

They explain that the key element of democracy that prevents these efforts from controlling the results of an election is the principle of a secret ballot. So if you choose to vote by mail at home, make sure you mark and seal your ballot in private.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, December 3, 2019

At 70, is NATO still important? 5 essential reads

French President Emmanuel Macron, left, and U.S. President Donald Trump meet the press at the 2019 NATO summit in London. AP Photo/ Evan Vucci
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

As the NATO summit begins in London on Dec. 3, it brings together leaders of the world’s most powerful military alliance, with 29 members on three continents. Celebrating its 70th anniversary in 2019, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization remains a key contributor to European peace and a strong counterbalance to Russian influence around the globe.

Several scholars around the U.S. have looked at aspects of the role of NATO in a changing world.

1. NATO’s origins

In the wake of World War II, in an effort to achieve a lasting world peace – and to resist Soviet influence – the U.S. and many European nations joined forces, write NATO historians Garret Martin and Balazs Martonffy from the American University School of International Service. The group “collectively provides military security for all its members, from the United States and Canada in the West to the Baltic states in the East.”

At present, the alliance has successfully presented “a united front against Russia’s global aggressions,” they write, but that could be in danger.

2. Facing down Russia

Russian President Vladimir Putin is working hard to affect domestic politics in countries around the world – through military force, diplomatic efforts and with propaganda.

Ronald Suny, a historian and political scientist at the University of Michigan, explains: “The Kremlin is determined to retain an influential position in the part of the world closest to its borders.” Remember, that’s an enormous area of the globe, given the size of Russia itself.

3. Trump questions alliance

President Donald Trump has openly and repeatedly spoken about his doubts that NATO is useful or effective anymore. He has demanded that other countries spend more money on their militaries and pay more of the costs of having U.S. armed forces based in their territory.

Global affairs scholar Simon Reich of Rutgers University Newark explains that this approach could lead to the U.S. giving up its role as a key world leader:

“[A] steady shift to a focus on short-term interests, and bullying … other countries … can take many forms. In economic terms, it may entail the leader imposing protectionist trade barriers against other countries. In security, the leader may require other countries to pay more for their collective defense. With that kind of behavior comes a loss of reputation.”

4. High stakes

As diplomatic historian Kelly McFarland from Georgetown University notes, though, “Trump isn’t the first leader to take a brutish approach to international affairs.”

German Kaiser Wilhelm II, U.S. President Teddy Roosevelt, Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein did too – though McFarland notes that their times in power brought war, defeat and international disapproval to their countries.

5. Americans face a choice

Americans as a whole, like their president, are reconsidering their country’s role in the world. Many members of the country’s largest generation, and one just coming into the prime years of its political and economic power, have a different view of the U.S. in global affairs than their elders, explains Duke University political scientist Bruce Jentleson:

Only 51% [of millennials] felt the U.S. should take an active part in world affairs,” his research found. “Only one-quarter of millennials saw the need for the U.S. to be ‘the dominant world leader.’”

Nevertheless, millennials do see value in connections with Europe and against Russia, Jentleson wrote: “Millennials are especially supportive of NATO, at 72%.” What these views mean for the country and its leaders is yet to be seen.

Editor’s note: This story is a roundup of articles from The Conversation’s archives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Politics + Society Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Remember, you're being manipulated on social media: 4 essential reads

File 20181109 116838 12jwy9.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
Beware the strings attached to social media and smartphone use. VAZZEN/
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

Editor’s note: As we come to the end of the year, Conversation editors take a look back at the stories that – for them – exemplified 2018.

Sometime in the political frenzy of the past year, I realized I had to stop scanning Twitter.

I had become used to taking the pulse of online society, but was no longer confident that the tweets I was reading were accurate portrayals of the authentic views of real humans. Some of them were, no doubt – yet I had worked with so many scholars on articles about how social media sites leave users vulnerable to being misled and misinformed. There’s plenty of evidence that social media platforms were misusing my data, and allowing trolls and bots to exploit their systems, to manipulate my thinking.

I haven’t been back to Twitter since – nor have I used Facebook for anything other than looking at friends’ photos of babies and other celebrations. Here are some of the articles I worked on that informed me how wary I should be of secret, malicious influencers online.

1. Don’t trust social media

When 2018 began, I – like many in the U.S. – was worried about the previous year’s revelations about how Facebook data had been used to influence voters in the 2016 election. I considered deleting my Facebook account, but as part of my job I need to be aware of what’s happening on the platform. So I took the advice of Dartmouth College social media scholars Denise Anthony and Luke Stark:

“Without full information about what happens to their personal data once it’s gathered, we recommend people default to not trusting companies until they’re convinced they should.”

Since then, I have spent far less time on the site than I used to. Also, I deleted some information from my profile, and am extremely limited about clicking on links, commenting on posts or even clicking “like.” Facebook can still track what I see, but not how I react to it. I imagine, and hope, that means the company has less information about me, and is less able to manipulate me.

2. Checking my own perceptions

To further understand how manipulative and misleading online activity spread, I used the tools created by Filippo Menczer, Giovanni Luca Ciampaglia and their colleagues at the Observatory on Social Media at Indiana University. They want to “help people become aware of [biases in the brain, society and technologies] and protect themselves from outside influences designed to exploit them.”

The most fun is their game “Fakey,” which asks players to identify which news stories and information sources are reliable – and which aren’t. They’ve also built Hoaxy, which shows graphically how falsehoods spread across social networks, and Botometer, which rates how likely it is that a particular Twitter account is a bot – or not.

3. Bots are powerful

Those bots, I learned from MIT professor Tauhid Zaman, can be dangerous even if there aren’t very many of them. He analyzed Twitter activity, including both people and bots, and measured users’ political opinions. Then he found a way to simulate what the humans’ views would have been if the bots weren’t there.

A small number of very active bots can actually significantly shift public opinion,” he found. The key wasn’t how many Twitter bots there were, but how many posts they made.

4. Engaging with real people

All the free time I gained by spending less time on social media went to good use, for socializing in-person and being by myself – which likely made me feel happier. As Georgetown psychologist Kostadin Kushlev found, “Digital socializing doesn’t add to, but in fact subtracts from, the psychological benefits of nondigital socializing.”

I certainly feel best when socializing face-to-face and, as Kushlev found in his research subjects, focusing on the people who are right in front of me is even more enjoyable than hanging out in person while also messaging others on their phones.

Avoiding psychological and political manipulation and having a more enjoyable time with friends and loved ones in person sounds like a great plan for 2019, too.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Your smartphone apps are tracking your every move – 4 essential reads

File 20181210 76980 o86td7.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
If you feel like you’re being watched, it could be your smartphone spying on you. Jakub Grygier/
Jeff Inglis, The Conversation

If you have a smartphone, it probably is a significant part of your life, storing appointments and destinations as well as being central to your communications with friends, loved ones and co-workers. Research and investigative reporting continue to reveal the degree to which your smartphone is aware of what you’re up to and where you are – and how much of that information is shared with companies that want to track your every move, hoping to better target you with advertising.

Several scholars at U.S. universities have written for The Conversation about how these technologies work, and the privacy problems they raise.

1. Most apps give away personal data

A study based at the University of California, Berkeley found that 7 in 10 apps shared personal data, like location and what apps a person uses, with companies that exist to track users online and in the physical world, digital privacy scholars Narseo Vallina-Rodriguez and Srikanth Sundaresan write. Fifteen percent of the apps the study examined sent that data to five or more tracking websites.

In addition, 1 in 4 trackers received “at least one unique device identifier, such as the phone number … [which] are crucial for online tracking services because they can connect different types of personal data provided by different apps to a single person or device.”

2. Turning off tracking doesn’t always work

Even people who tell their phones and apps not to track their activity are vulnerable. Northeastern University computer scientist Guevara Noubir found that “a phone can listen in on a user’s finger typing to discover a secret password – and […] simply carrying a phone in your pocket can tell data companies where you are and where you’re going.”

3. Your profile is worth money

All of this information on who you are, where you are and what you’re doing gets assembled into enormously detailed digital profiles, which get turned into money, Wayne State University law professor Jonathan Weinberg explains: “By combining online and offline data, Facebook can charge premium rates to an advertiser who wants to target, say, people in Idaho who are in long-distance relationships and are thinking about buying a minivan. (There are 3,100 of them in Facebook’s database.)”

4. Rules and laws don’t exist – in the US

Right now in the U.S., there’s not much regulatory oversight making sure digital apps and services protect people’s privacy and the privacy of their data. “Federal laws protect medical information, financial data and education-related records,” writes University of Michigan privacy scholar Florian Schaub, before noting that “Online services and apps are barely regulated, though they must protect children, limit unsolicited email marketing and tell the public what they do with data they collect.”

European rules are more comprehensive, but the problem remains that people’s digital companions collect and share large amounts of information about their real-world lives.The Conversation

Jeff Inglis, Science + Technology Editor, The Conversation

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.