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Forum explores ‘Test of Democracy’ ahead of Tuesday’s election

Engaging in dialogue can bridge political divides, panelists say

With the Nov. 8 midterm elections fast approaching, Ohioans have ample reason to maintain faith in the electoral system in spite of the polarized political climate of the nation, scholars and election officials said during an Ohio State University panel discussion.

Your Other Midterms: A Forum on Citizenship, Elections, and the Test of American Democracy” was held Nov. 1 at Drinko Hall on Ohio State’s Columbus campus and was presented by the university’s Institute for Democratic Engagement & Accountability (IDEA) and the Office of Academic Affairs’ Civil Discourse Project.  

Michael Neblo“On Nov. 8, Americans will cast their votes in the first federal election since the unprecedented events following the 2020 election,” Stacy Rastauskas, Ohio State’s vice president for government affairs, said in welcoming attendees to the event. “These midterms will be a major test of American democracy.”

The panel included Michael Neblo, IDEA director and College of Arts and Sciences Alumni Professor of Political Science; Sahar Heydari Fard, an Ohio State assistant professor of philosophy; Aaron Ockerman, executive director of the Ohio Association of Election Officials; and moderator David Staley, Ohio State associate professor of history.

Races around the country that are hotly contested and projected to have razor-thin results may end up being challenged by the candidates who did not prevail and their supporters – although those scenarios are not likely to play out in Ohio, Ockerman said.

“There are a handful of candidates who have said, ‘If I lose, it’s because of fraud.’ If that becomes the norm, then we are in big trouble,” he said. “We have to get back to a place where, win or lose, people accept the results.”

Ohio has rules and procedures in place that are designed to ensure each ballot is secure and prevent election fraud, Ockerman said.

Sahar Heydari Fard“I’m really optimistic about Ohio. Our folks are really well prepared, and I think we’re going to have a great election,” he said. “Maybe with the exception of the U.S. Senate race (between Tim Ryan and J.D. Vance), there’s not going to be a lot of close races, so that might instill some confidence in the results.”

The electoral process takes an inordinate amount of coordination among election officials and volunteers who work countless hours at the polls and counting votes long after precincts have closed, Neblo said.

“What election procedure does is set the rules,” he said. “It’s not just counting heads, it’s how we count the heads. It turns out that’s not a simple matter.”

The vast majority of U.S. elections proceed each year without any major glitches, in spite of the complexity of ensuring that each vote counts, Neblo said.

“The fact that things don’t go wrong more often is extraordinary,” he said. “Fraud and malfeasance are quite rare.”

While Ohio’s elections are secure, every citizen should be concerned about the growing threat of political violence nationwide, panelists said.

“The civil rights era around race was worse,” Neblo said, “but what we’re facing now is pervasive, and that worries me.”

Engaging in constructive dialogue can lead to a better understanding among people of opposing political views, Heydari Fard said.

“Sometimes you don’t have to go that far away. There are friends and family who think differently from you, and you can see things from a different perspective,” she said. “You need to reach out to people who are different from you. If we do that, we can start to fix some of the holes in our social networks.”

Voters with concerns about casting their ballots should reach out to local election officials, Ockerman said.

“If you have questions, pick up the phone and call your board of elections,” he said. “They’ll be happy to walk you through the process, and they’ll probably invite you to become a poll worker. Get on the inside and see how it works.”

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