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Author: Lincoln Zaleski

Two Weeks to Go, Have You Voted?

With the election only two weeks away, knowing how you’re voting is a critical component of our democracy. At Renew America Together, we created a handy guide to recap how to vote and voting tips:

 

Firstly, voting by mail is safe and secure. Both the Federal Election Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) have found no evidence that voter fraud is increased in any way through voting by mail. Despite claims to the contrary, no evidence exists of mass voter fraud in mail-in ballots. However, there are some concerns about voting by mail that you should know.

  • Voting by mail has requirements to make the system more secure. If a mail-in ballot is received without those requirements, the ballot will not be counted in the election. So, it is of the utmost importance to follow the instructions on the ballot in order to make sure your vote counts. These requirements may include:
    • Signing both the ballot and the envelope for the ballot
    • Completely filling in the circles for candidates with dark ink
    • Only voting for one candidate
    • Sealing the envelope completely
  • Once all the steps have been completed for your mail-in ballot, you can either send the ballot in the mail or deposit the sealed ballot in an official election dropbox, which locations can be found on your local government website. There have been some cases of fraudulent dropboxes in California, so be sure to confirm that the ballot box is official.
  • Finally, once all the above steps are complete, remember that you cannot vote in-person once you have voted by mail. In addition, you cannot vote on someone else’s behalf. There have been reported cases of mistaken swapped ballots, such as a married couple putting the two ballots in the same envelope or in the wrong envelopes. Your ballot must be in your signed envelope in order to count.

Secondly, you may not want to vote by mail! Here are some tips to help vote in-person:

  • Check for your local voting locations and make a plan to vote beforehand. One of the leading causes of low voter turnout is confusing polling locations, so make sure that you know where yours is and how to get there.
  • Make sure you go and vote! The next leading cause of low voter turnout is bad weather. Don’t let a little rain stop your civic engagement in our democracy! Commit to your plan and go vote to make your voice heard.
  • Voter intimidation is a potential threat, meaning that some people may try to influence the way you vote before you go into the polling place. Remember that this is your country and your vote counts equally as everyone else’s vote. It may be helpful to decide who you’re voting for before you arrive at the polling place.
  • To be a more informed voter, the federal government recommends BallotReady, which provides you a summary of your entire ballot based on your address. Each candidate and referendum is explained and included in the voting guide and can help you make decisions before you reach your polling place.

Renew America Together is committed to protecting our American democracy. The great experiment of our founding fathers lives on every time you cast a ballot. Use this guide, make a plan, and go vote on November 3.

Recap of World Affairs Council of Philadelphia Event

On September 11, General Clark and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan held a discussion at the World Affairs Council of Philadelphia. The talk centered around the importance of bipartisanship, the future of our democracy, and combating polarization of the American political system.

 

The discussion kicked off with concerns about the pivotal nature of this election cycle. Both Gov. Hogan and Gen. Clark expressed wary optimism that the election would not end in violence and a constitutional crisis, as suggested by this Washington Post article. However, both speakers recognized the deeply polarized environment in the United States, with Gen. Clark stating that, “this is the most polarized America has been since the Civil War.” Gov. Hogan called for the entrenched partisanship of our democracy to be quelled and more bipartisan cooperation to offset our polarized environment.

 

Gov. Hogan, a Republican governor in a deeply blue state, suggested that the best way to overcome polarization was to avoid party rhetoric and look for the right ideas, not just Republican or Democratic ideas. Using Maryland as an example, he highlighted that no bills would pass without bipartisanship.

 

The conversation then turned to the origin of American polarization. Gen. Clark and Gov. Hogan identified three major trends in creating a polarized United States. First, the American people tend to fall into echo chambers, where they only consume one news source that channels only one slant. This creates a news trap, where the populace only receives biased information from the same source. Second, the emergence of social media and online influencers make disinformation and misinformation much more accessible and widespread. Third, political parties deliberately create an enemy in the opposite party to drum up support against the opposing side. Through self-created echo chambers, disinformation on social media, and entrenched partisan rhetoric, we live in an increasingly polarized America.

 

Both men have either ran for president or expressed interest in becoming president, prompting the question: if you were president now, how would you unite America and solve the problem? Gen. Clark emphasized the need to get dark money out of elections and promoted open primaries to prevent far right and far left candidates from continuing to win primary cycles. He also emphasized the importance of the attitude of the president. A president needs to behave in a unifying manner, protecting all Americans, not just those in red states. Gov. Hogan agreed with Gen. Clark’s solutions and proposed a less polarized and more bipartisan approach to combating the COVID-19 pandemic and the subsequent economic recession.

 

Some questions from the audience included solutions to combat polarization, such as a moderate third party or ranked-choice voting. Gen. Clark stated that while a moderate third party has been attempted historically, but has never been successful, as evidenced by Ross Perot’s infamous presidential campaign. Gen. Clark also stated that ranked-choice voting is a possibility, but parties will try to combat a vote for it, as ranked-choice decentralizes party power.

 

In conclusion, a Republican Governor and a Democratic presidential candidate held an insightful and important conversation on the importance of bipartisanship, unity following this election cycle, and civil leadership. The event speaks to the importance of cooperation and looks to set an example for American political discourse during this polarizing time. The video for the event is linked here.

Why Black Lives Matter Should Be Bipartisan

The Black Lives Matter movement protests systemic racism, the justice system, and police brutality. This summer, a slew of African-American deaths at the hands of white police officers incited protests across the United States. Recently, the horrific killing of Jacob Blake by a police officer in front of his children in Kenosha, Wisconsin has sparked another wave of protests. However, the support for these protests have become highly partisan and polarized. The core of the debate circles around whether systemic racism exists in America; in sum, do the killings of black Americans at the hands of police officers constitute a trend of systemic racism? Or are they each individual cases?

 

This blog seeks to show some objective facts about racially motivated police violence and historical reasoning for these trends. To begin, let’s look at some analysis on the statistics for police violence and race.

 

This next graphic comes from a 2016 study from the Center for Policing Equity, highlighting the use of force by police officers per 100,000 residents by race. Based on this graphic, non-hispanic blacks had force used against them disproportionately higher than any other ethnicity. On an average year, 0.273% of the entire black American population had force used against them by police, compared with 0.076% of the entire white population, which is nearly four times as often.

 

However, these statistics can often be misleading, as the rates are population-based. The population of African-Americans in the United States is not the same as the population of white Americans. This means that one instance where police force was used against a black American will contribute a higher percentage of instances than one instance of white Americans. In fact, according to a 2019 Harvard study, while non-lethal force was used against black Americans at a 50% higher rate, lethal force was used at the same rate between black and white Americans.

 

At first glance, this equitable rate seems to disprove racial intent amongst use of lethal force. However, encounters with the police are also not the same between white and black Americans. As highlighted in this 538 article, black Americans have significantly higher encounters with police officers, due to racial profiling and other systemic practices like stop-and-frisk. If the lethal rates of police force are the same, but more black Americans are stopped due to racially biased practices, then the police use lethal force against more black Americans. In sum, if the police used lethal force against 20% of all stops, but stop 200 black Americans and 100 white Americans, then 40 black Americans are killed for every 20 white Americans.

 

In sum, systemic racism exists throughout the justice system. Racial profiling leads to more police stops of black Americans, which leads to more black Americans killed by police officers. Even if you account for statistical anomalies, like black Americans being a smaller share of the population than white Americans, these systemic trends continue to exist. The system of oppression has continued for years against ethnic and racial minorities in the United States and exists not only in the justice system, but throughout nearly all forms of governance.

 

Renew America Together fights for civility, leadership, and unity. Targeting minorities through a systemically racist justice system is neither civil nor unifying. Regardless of your political orientation, we can all agree that police officers should not use deadly force unless absolutely necessary. Looking at the objective facts and statistics, the systemic racism that plagues our country must be solved for our democracy to thrive and progress. Together, we can make a difference to reform our justice system and truly create an equitable system for all.

SpaceX and the Opportunity for Bipartisan Space Exploration

This past Sunday, the United States watched two astronauts complete the first water landing from space in 45 years. Despite these polarizing times, this incredible feat cut through the panicked headlines about the upcoming election, the deadly pandemic, and the civil unrest in our society and united Americans for an hour. Two astronauts, landing in the Gulf of Mexico, successfully united Americans and ignited, albeit temporarily, a sense of pride in the accomplishments of our country.

Massive scientific accomplishments, particularly with regard to space exploration, have always been a unifying force. The Apollo 11 mission drew an unprecedented 58 million American households and 650 million viewers worldwide, making the moon landing the largest television event to that point. Similarly, the peril of the astronauts in the Apollo 13 landing drew massive viewership, nearly 40 million Americans watched the splashdown in 1970. Space exploration provided an opportunity for Americans to be proud of the technological achievements of the United States and still hope for more, as the vast expanse of space provided infinite possibilities.

However, the accomplishments of the SpaceX capsule were not solely in the unifying nature of space exploration. SpaceX cooperated with NASA scientists and astronauts to make this event possible, showing important collaboration between private enterprises and the US government. In addition, while the partnership between SpaceX and NASA was finalized under President Obama, President Trump tweeted out a rare, non-partisan statement about the splashdown

While the sense of accomplishment and unity appeared fleeting, the lessons learned about bipartisan collaboration were very real. Space exploration and technological and scientific advancement provide an opportunity for bipartisan collaboration, while simultaneously working to unify our country around the minimal nature of our problems against the backdrop of space. At Renew America Together, we hope that more partnerships between unlikely collaborators will lead to a unified, less polarized America. Space is a great place to start.

What is Disinformation?

The battle against disinformation is global - Alliance for ScienceBetween the COVID-19 pandemic, the upcoming presidential election, and the Black Lives Matter protests, disinformation campaigns have run rampant throughout American society. False and inflammatory rhetoric about wearing masks, paid protestors, the dangers of mail-in voting, and even the existence of COVID-19 have spread across social media, echoed by mainstream media and elected officials. However, despite the amount of false information circulating around our democracy in 2020, not all fake news is disinformation. This prompts some questions: what is disinformation, where does it come from, why is it dangerous, and how do we combat it?

At its core, disinformation is the intentional spread of false information. The intent to disseminate contrasts disinformation with misinformation, the spread of false information without malicious intent. Misinformation has always been an aspect of our democracy; we often hear about “uninformed voters” in our elections, as it is easy to misunderstand the nuances of our complex political structures and policies. While misinformation muddies the waters of our political society, disinformation weaponizes false information and uses our own pre-existing biases against us.

Disinformation is similar to spreading a rumor. By targeting those that would be most interested in the false information, actors can spread disinformation quickly. For example, recent rumors about “paid protesters shipped into major cities to increase looting and violence” resonates with those that tend to view the protests as negative. When those individuals read posts that confirm that the protests are bad, their pre-existing belief that “Black Lives Matter protests are bad” is strengthened and a confirmation bias is created based on false information online. The confirmation bias encourages those individuals to continue to share the disinformation, further spreading the false information and perpetuating the confirmation bias.

Where do these false rumors come from? Much of the disinformation surrounding major events in our democracy originates in authoritarian regimes that seek to exploit inherent democratic vulnerabilities. Actors such as Russia, China, Iran, and Venezuela have built or funded armies of trolls to spread disinformation online and created automated social media bots to further the spread of disinformation. Wealthier countries, such as Russia and China, also utilize their economic might to pay for advertisements that perpetuate false information, hire journalists and political influencers to spread false messages, and even purchase radio stations and news outlets to broaden their control over American information.

However, not all disinformation comes from abroad. Some politicians and organizations here in the United States seek to manipulate the American people through disinformation. Despite clear warnings from the CDC, multiple academic research reports, and clear anecdotal evidence that masks are helpful in reducing COVID-19 cases, many organizations are spreading disinformation about the dangers of wearing masks and the existence of COVID-19, with some going as far as to say that COVID-19 is merely a government-created news story. While much of our disinformation comes from malicious actors abroad, many actors within American society still perpetuate disinformation for their own personal gain.

Why is disinformation dangerous? While the messages themselves are often dangerous, such as disinformation surrounding COVID-19, the real danger lies in the ability of disinformation to polarize our country and break our democracy. As disinformation influences actors on both sides, confirmation biases prevent any collaboration in the center, as society becomes so polarized that right-wing and left-wing individuals begin to shun those that cooperate with the other party. Progress and legislation becomes based on the members of the ruling party rather than the will of the people. Further polarization leads to politically motivated violence, the increased role of conspiracy theorists and bigots in our society, and no clear “American identity.” If we continue to allow disinformation to run rampant in American society, there will be nothing “united” about the United States.

With that grim warning, how do we combat this threat? The United States government, civil society, and the American people must work together to eliminate the power of disinformation. The government must punish countries that attack us through information warfare and crack down on domestic perpetrators of disinformation. Civil society must create frameworks to educate the public on the threat of disinformation and increasing media literacy. Most importantly, the American people must work together to identify false information online and mark it as false to prevent further spreading.

At Renew America Together, we launched a campaign to identify disinformation on Twitter. To help us combat disinformation, follow these simple steps:

  1. Ask yourself a few questions: Is this post providing evidence from their personal experience or is it an “I heard from a friend” article? Is the post from a reputable organization or individual? How many followers does the person posting this have?
  2. If the source seems legitimate and the evidence seems reputable, now it’s time to put on your detective caps. Do a quick search online for other reputable sources that support the claim.
  3. If there’s sufficient evidence to support their claim, look at their account and see if there’s anything strange: many bots are recently created but have hundreds of tweets already. If the account was created last week, but there are hundreds of posts, this is likely not a reputable source.
  4. If the account seems legitimate, the sources back up the claim, and the intent of the post seems genuine, this is not disinformation. Otherwise, congratulations! You’ve found a threat to our democracy. Please comment #usvsdisinfo under the disinformation to report it to us.

Thank you for your help in fighting the greatest threat to our democratic system. Together, we can overcome disinformation.

Recap of College of William & Mary Event with Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark

On May 19, Gen. Clark and Gov. Ridge held a discussion at the College of William and Mary, discussing the need for American leadership, civility and unity in order to overcome the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic and our polarized American society.

With the rise of Russian and Chinese illiberalism, the danger of a deadly pandemic, and a slowing of the American economy, many nations look to the United States for guidance and leadership. During the discussion, Gen. Clark remarked on the American political system, “it may not be a perfect system, but there is no better system that mankind has devised,” emphasizing the need for all politicians, regardless of ideological differences, to strengthen and utilize our political structure to protect democracy around the world.

Gov. Ridge also emphasized the need for bipartisan cooperation, saying “problem-solving normally requires the best thinking, multiple experiences and a general dialogue for all those that we pledge as officeholders to serve.” Gov. Ridge also highlighted the importance of civil discourse, emphasizing that his job as a governor was not to serve his party, but rather to determine the best solutions to the problems of all of his constituents. Bipartisanship drives better policy-making through a diversity of thought, experiences and backgrounds.

Moderator Liz Rosen kicked off the QA with questions about government responses to the pandemic. Gov. Ridge highlighted the need for bipartisan cooperation, noting “This is no time for politics. This is a war against Mother Nature.” He also discussed his role in creating the Bipartisan Commission on Biodefense, where Republicans and Democrats worked together to establish policy solutions to protect Americans from bioweapons and biological agents. Gen. Clark discussed his concern about the separation of state policy decisions from the policy decisions of the federal government in response to COVID-19, highlighting the need to strengthen the relationship between governors and the federal government.

In response to a question on the role of institutions operating past their duties, Gen. Clark compared the highly resourced nation-building efforts in Vietnam to the poorly resourced missions in Afghanistan and Iraq. Clark emphasized the need to use American talents and institutions, not the military, to strengthen democratic values abroad, “We don’t really understand how to reform anybody else’s country. We can’t. That’s their job. Our best talent is education and that’s what we should be doing more of and more graciously.” Gov. Ridge discussed the importance of allies and globalization, emphasizing the need to support our allies and combat American isolationism.

A key takeaway from the discussion is the highlighted concern of President Trump’s pandering solely to his base. Both Gen. Clark and Gov. Ridge emphasized the necessity of promoting solutions that benefit all Americans, not solely the partisan base, and warned that these actions are not the norm and should not become the norm of an American president.

Finally, Gov. Ridge discussed the role of the university in shaping the next generation of American leaders. Gov. Ridge emphasized the importance of a diversity of thought and ideology, for students to maintain an open mind and grow their intelligence and knowledge base through reasoned debate and discussion.

As a student virtually attending the discussion, I wanted to offer some thoughts on the excellent civil discussion between a life-long Republican and a proud Democrat. Firstly, one point by Gen. Clark rang true for me: “You can’t have global leadership if you don’t want to lead.” America must reassume responsibility for the global order that we created. The American global order protects self-determination, human rights, globalization, and democracy. It emphasizes the need for cooperation and collective problem-solving. As Americans, it is our responsibility to protect these ideals and the order that we established from illiberal actors, the economic lies of isolationism, and the dangerous precedent of polarized democracy that we have experienced in recent years.

Secondly, hearing a civil discourse between two life-long public servants that deeply care about our country is heartening. Much of American politics today is a partisan blame game, filled with “what-aboutism” and an inability to admit fault. Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark admitted past faults, what they learned from them and how, through collaboration, better policy emerged from the ruins of failed policy. Gov. Ridge discussed cleaning the Great Lakes and the responsibility of Republicans to environmental stewardship, rather than denying science or attacking environmentalists on the left. Gen. Clark discussed the failures of nation-building in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan and how the military learned to support international development aid. These discussions of learning from failure to promote better policies at home and abroad show the damage to our system under the current toxicity of the political environment is temporary. As Americans, by admitting fault and learning from failure, we can greatly improve our society.

In conclusion, the event was wildly successful. As a student, I learned a lot and appreciated hearing from experienced policymakers. As an observer, I felt as though Gov. Ridge and Gen. Clark discussed incredibly important issues in a serious and civil manner and I hope to continue to see these events and discussions in the future.