Political Science Experts Will Consider Voting Trends in ‘Voting: Why It Matters’ Event March 9

'The Reappearing Voter'

By Ryan Woodard

Americans were once criticized for their voting apathy, but in 2020 they turned out in record numbers. What made the difference?

In “The Reappearing Voter,” presented via Zoom on March 9 at 7 pm CT/6 pm MT, Harvard professor and 2018 One Book South Dakota Author (Informing the News: The Need for Knowledge-Based Journalism) Thomas E. Patterson and respected South Dakota State University professor emeritus Robert V. Burns will examine voter participation trends and recurring problems in American democracy.

Patterson and Burns will be joined by moderator Amy Scott-Stoltz, President of the League of Women Voters of South Dakota, Scott-Stoltz appeared on SDHC’s Brainstorming: The Human Connection show last fall. Funded by a $50,000 grant from The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, this third event in the Voting: Why It Matters series encourages South Dakotans to discuss the importance of civic participation.

(Register free and provide your mailing address to receive a free copy of Patterson's Informing the News!)

American Democracy in Turmoil

One of the main topics for the March 9 discussion is the potential repeal of voting rights. Historically, it has been up to states to regulate voting procedures, and civil rights advocates have fought for decades to make voting accessible to all Americans.

"Discussion of the continued significance of the decentralization of election process authority in both denying and expanding the right to vote in the US will be one topic addressed," Burns said. "Is there a present-day revival of state governmental efforts to restrict voting rights after both national and state efforts to promote easier access to voting?"

Patterson's research indicates that after reaching historic lows during the past 24 years, the turnout for the 2020 election was higher than it had been in 100 years. However, what happened next made it difficult to celebrate the sudden rush of civic participation: allegations of voter fraud fueled a group of citizens to storm the US Capitol on Jan. 6 during a nightmarish event broadcast on national television. Now, Patterson said, there are more than 100 bills proposed by state legislatures to restrict mail-in voting and early in-person voting.

As advocates of fair and balanced reporting, civic participation, and a thriving democracy, Burns and Patterson are understandably concerned about the ongoing political turmoil.

Thomas E. Patterson, author of 2018 One Book SD Informing the News, delivers his keynote address at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books. Patterson will discuss voting trends with retired political science professor Bob Burns March 9 via Zoom.

2018 One Book SD author Thomas E. Patterson delivers his keynote address at the 2018 South Dakota Festival of Books. Patterson will discuss voting trends with retired political science professor Bob Burns March 9 via Zoom.

What Draws People to the Polls?

Burns taught political science at South Dakota State University in Brookings for 38 years. A member of the South Dakota Hall of Fame, he continues to be involved in state and local civic and government boards, commissions, task forces, and councils. He also teaches political science courses at Osher Lifelong Learning Institute in Sioux Falls.

Patterson, an SDSU graduate and Bradlee Professor of Government and the Press at the Harvard Kennedy School of Journalism, believes fact-based journalism and electoral participation are vital to the future success of American democracy.

Patterson said American democracy is in "new territory" because of the Jan. 6 incident at the US Capitol and the events that led up to it.

"We live in a period of misinformation," he said. "And you can construct alternative realities, and if you say it often enough, and enough people are saying it and throw enough smoke into the mix of the same time, you're going to get large numbers of believers, and it's pretty toxic."

Patterson and Burns will discuss various trends affecting modern voters: what draws people to the polls, and what keeps them away? Where are people getting their news, and what is the future of journalism?

"I think the news — the traditional news industry — is in a bind at the moment," Patterson said.

To give viewers an idea of what to expect, Burns revealed a partial list of the questions he will ask Patterson.

"What individual characteristics tend to separate regular voters from occasional voters and nonvoters? How can occasional voters and nonvoters be prompted to become regular voters? Was the strong dislike and strong support for Donald Trump the sole explanation for the record voter turnout in the 2020 Presidential Election?"

Tune in to find out.

Other Scheduled Events

  • "An Evening with Louise Erdrich" A special guest appearance by the award-winning author, March 25 at 7 pm CT/6 pm MT. Erdrich will discuss Native American electoral access.

Register here: bit.ly/ErdrichVote

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This program was funded by the "Why It Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation" initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.