On October 18, UVA Center for Politics hosted a panel discussion in the Rotunda about the threat to democracy and the threat of the “big lie” – efforts to hack elections.
The panelists included Chris Krebs, a Center for Politics Scholar and expert on election security, Barbara Comstock, former Republican Congresswoman and Center for Politics Scholar, Renee Diresta, a Stanford Research Manager, and Said Vaidhyanathan, a Robertson Professor of Media Studies.
The panel discussion was meant to be a “discussion about ongoing threats to democracy,” said Krebs. These threats include “the continued delegitimization of the 2020 election,”“continued threats against elections workers,” and the “radicalization of election workers,” said Krebs. All of these previous threats “create a degradation in political discourse,” which is then taken advantage of by both domestic and foreign actors.
Comstock mentioned Arizona gubernatorial candidate Kari Lake is threatening democracy, and that “she won’t accept the election except if she wins.”
All panelists encouraged students to work at the polls and to help calm anxious people down. Comstock said “people who come [up] with the conspiracy theories… usually have not worked the polls.”
“Conspiracy theorists” who work the polls and see the system usually notice how hard it would be to steal the election because of security measures in place, according to Krebs.
Diresta said “what we’re seeing now is a repeat of 2020.” Both Diresta and Krebs noted the threat of candidates running for office across the country who do not believe in the legitimacy of the 2020 election.
“What it really gets down to is the fact that we don’t wax romantic about democracy anymore. Because we’re so busy just trying to explain, and defend, and work around, right, and whack moles to figure out how to just keep the thing steady and stable. And stop Nazis from marching through our neighborhoods, or taking over our state government, or our national government. To stop them from invading the Capitol building in the United States,” said Vaidhyanathan.
The discussion then expanded beyond the U.S. to democracy throughout the world. Vaidhyanathan said “those who believe in democracy need to sing louder than those who oppose it.” Examples of losing democracy included Italy, India, Brazil and the Philippines.
Vaidhyanathan encouraged the crowd to take a moment when voting to acknowledge the importance of the action and to think about what your vote demonstrates to others in your community or country.
The panelists ended the discussion by noting what they were most concerned about with the upcoming elections. Krebs noted his concern that “we have a crisis of confidence in democracy, and those that we’re entrusting with administering democracy may not necessarily hold the same kind of objective truths as we do.”
Several panelists were concerned about potential violence coming out of elections. Diresta noted the Stop the Steal Protests, including January 6th. “Since there was, you know, actual violence on the sixth that shifted a norm and I’m hoping that we don’t see the perpetuation of that shift in norm in this election” said Diresta.