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As votes continue to trickle in and students anxiously await the results of the presidential election, the University of Michigan College of Literature, Science and the Arts brought professors together for a panel Thursday to discuss the results so far.

At the panel, titled “What We Think We Know,” professors discussed the current election results as key states continue to count ballots. Associate history professor Matthew Countryman moderated the panel.

To begin, panelists spoke about how different this election has been compared to previous elections. Despite the fact that the country is in midst of a global pandemic, this election is projected to have the highest voter turnout since the 1910s, according to one of the panelists Jenna Bednar, political science professor.

However, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of these votes have come in the form of mail-in ballots which varied in accessibility from state to state. Bednar pointed out that states also began processing and tabulating ballots at different times.

“Since we’re used to watching this horse race played out over one night and kind of looking at state by state, county by county reporting, which has a purpose and variations, now we have this extra dimension of mail-in ballot reporting, which we are not used to embracing,” Bednar said. “It has stretched out over days, which we are also not used to embracing.” 

Another panelist, political science professor Vincent Hutchings, said the large voter turnout showed that Americans felt moved to vote in this election. 

“I think that on the one hand, it’s something that we should be happy about, I suppose, that the record turnout that is projected for this election, but on the other hand, it suggests that a wide variety of Americans felt that they had sufficient stake in the outcome that even in the midst of this pandemic, they either went to the trouble of mailing in their ballot or they voted in person,” Hutchings said.

For LSA senior Zac Rossman, this election felt especially important. He said he voted for the first time in this election because he wanted to get President Trump out of office.

“I just really hate Trump to be honest, that’s about it,” Rossman said. “Last time, I didn’t vote because I thought for sure Hillary was going to win, but she didn’t, and I felt bad that I didn’t vote, so I came out to do my part.”

Hutchings also said the voter turnout did not change much in regard to the breakdown of which demographics of Americans voted for certain parties.

“Even in the midst of all the economic turmoil, it is remarkable that the share of African Americans and that the share of white voters who voted for the Republican candidate, the share of African Americans and Latinos and Asian Americans who voted for the Democratic candidate, is more or less similar to what we have seen in any standard year,” Hutchings said.

Panelist Deborah Beim, an assistant political science professor, said she has seen the differences in the election proceedings as positive affirmations of the functionality of our country’s institutions. She believes any American, including presidential candidates, who feel they have been wronged, should be able to have their case heard.

“If a campaign, any campaign, feels that something has gone wrong and legal votes that were cast in their favor are not being counted, or votes are being counted for the opponent, the way American courts work requires a campaign to go to court and advocate on its own behalf in order to resolve that problem,” Beim said. “We have to rely on judges and justices who themselves must rely on norms to try to help them make the right decision, and I see all of this working as it should, so far.”

Afroamerican and African studies professor Angela Dillard, another panelist, added to Beim’s comments, saying she is also afraid of how fundamentally undermined these institutions are. Dillard discussed voter suppression as an example of this. 

Dillard said he believes Americans has seen the most diverse field of candidates that the Republican party has ever run and that has ever managed to get elected.

“At the same time, I think we’re seeing this upsurge of really disturbing moments of affinity of white nationalism and racism,” Dillard said. “So, I think it’s a really complicated picture out there around some of these ideas about race — and ethnicity, gender as well — and voting in the United States.”

Dillard said she has been impressed by how African Americans have continuously turned out for elections despite oppression.

“I think when it comes to African American voters, the thing that impresses me the most is that, here’s a segment of the population that has struggled historically, decade after decade, to vote and who have had aspirations of voting,” Dillard said. “The story about race in America is arguably a story about democracy in America that is shot through with trying to suppress the Black vote. And yet, the turnout in places like Detroit and urban areas in Georgia are astounding there.”

In regard to how exit polls and pre-election predictions have differed from the real election, Hitchings noted that polls are simply estimates and are not perfect and have undercounted the level of support for Donald Trump in 2020 just like they did in 2016 due to bias.

“As a consequence, the polls were off to a degree,” Hutchings said. “But it’s worth noting that in 2016, the national polls were pretty on target, and although the count is not yet finalized, nationally the polls are going to be reasonably close as well, but clearly there was some imperfection when it comes to some of these state polls.”

Dillard spoke about the role universities can play in the health of American democracy and institutions. She said she found it interesting that over the years, there has been a rise in the percentage of Republicans who do not trust universities and who do not think that a university is a good environment for young people.

“I do want to resist the idea that because so many of us vote for one party, that means that we can’t then have free speech, free inquiry, disagreements and a really robust series of debates,” Dillard said.

Countryman noted that a lot of students who attended the panel had questions about the electoral college and its future and asked the panelists their opinions on its durability.

“I don’t see it going anywhere … and that is because of the way that our amendment process works for the Constitution, where all roads go through the small states: The very states that benefit currently,” Bednar said. “So, I think it would take quite a lot to get them to vote against their existing interests and advantages.”

However, Bednar said she believes that the effects of the electoral college can be mitigated if states pledge to select the slate of electors to the Electoral College that represents the winner of the national popular vote.

To conclude the event, each panelist gave their final thoughts about where the country and the state of Michigan stands after the election.

One thread: even after the election ends, there is a long road ahead. 

“I don’t know what’s going to happen at the end of this process where we decide who is the winner of the Electoral College, but I do know that the problems America faces are going to be with us for some time to come, because we have to face up to them,” Hutchings said.

 Daily News Contributor Martina Zacker can be reached at mzacker@umich.edu.

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