NIU College of Law hosted its lecture series—Race and the Law Conversations— on Wednesday, October 21. The conversation, “Combating Structural Racism in U.S. Elections” was led by Stanford Law Professor Pamela S. Karlan, one of the nation’s leading experts on voting rights. She has served as a commissioner on the California Fair Political Practices Commission, an assistant counsel and cooperating attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense Fund, and a Deputy Assistant Attorney General in the Civil Rights Division of the U.S. Department of Justice. NIU Law Professor Jeffrey Omari moderated the discussion.
Professor Karlan discussed the history of voting rights and election law covering a variety of topics including racial inequities in voting, obstacles to registration, issues of voter suppression, voter ID requirements, and voting by mail. Following her presentation, Professor Karlan fielded questions on the upcoming election, voting restrictions imposed by states, and the vulnerability of the election due to the current pandemic and other factors.
When asked about her most recent article, “Our Most Vulnerable Election” in the New York Review, Professor Karlan explained several reasons of why she considers this America’s most vulnerable election. The first is due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It is riskier to vote in person and there will be fewer polling place than usual which results in longer lines. The second reason is the vast numbers of Americans voting by mail. The more stringent restrictions that vary from state to state can make it difficult to confirm your ballot is counted. Another reason is that the President has launched unprecedented attacks to casts serious doubt on the entire election system, claiming fraud and malfeasances on the part of election officials with no evidence. She also adds that because we are a deeply polarized country right now, the margin of victory would have to be greater than the margin of error to avoid another set of vulnerabilities. Professor Karlan maintains that one of the things that has allowed the election process to work is confidence, which gives the process legitimacy.
The Race and the Law Conversations series was created to provide a platform with expert panelists who will engage in much needed conversations on a wide range of racial and social justice issues including, but not limited to, racial inequality, police brutality, and voter suppression. Our inaugural conversation on August 26, “Understanding Issues of Police Accountability and Reform,” featured distinguished panelists Sharon Fairley, Professor of Law at the University of Chicago Law School and former Chief Administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority in Chicago, along with Paige Fernandez, Policing Policy Advisor for the ACLU National Political Advocacy Department. NIU Law Professor Paul Cain moderated the discussion.