Democracy 20/20 Webinar Series

Sponsored by the American Democracy Collaborative, the Mario Einaudi Center for International Studies, and the Institute of Politics and Global Affairs.

Recent global and national events—including the Covid-19 pandemic and mass antiracist protests in the wake of the highly publicized police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery—have deepened what was already a looming crisis for American democracy. The American Democracy Collaborative is a group of scholars of American political development and comparative politics who have come together to examine the state of democracy in the United States today. We aim to integrate insights from previous crises in American political history with understanding of the conditions that have threatened democracies around the world, and to foster discussion and writing around these topics and to provide analysis and commentary that is useful for fellow scholars, teachers, journalists, and citizens.

The Democracy 20/20 Webinar series will bring together colleagues who can put contemporary events in historical and comparative perspective in order to promote deeper understanding of the challenges that these unsettling times pose for American democracy. The series will go beyond the day-to-day rush of events and convene conversations that will help us understand the broader context of our times and help advance the search for constructive answers to our society’s most urgent questions.

Beginning in June 2020 with a webinar on Protest and Democracy, the series will continue regularly through the 2020 election and will consider topics such as:

  • Can the United States Have Free and Fair Elections This Fall?
  • Already Authoritarian? Policing and the Use of Force
  • Evaluating the Health of Checks and Balances
  • Polarization, Political Parties, and the Health of Democracy
  • Whither the “Deep State”? Administration, Expertise, and Democracy

 The stakes for American democracy have never been higher, so please join us for these critical conversations.

Can the United States hold free and fair elections this fall?
July 21, 2020, 1:00pm – 2:15pm (EST)

Free and fair elections constitute an essential element of representative democracy, enabling societies to resolve conflict peacefully and permitting the people to select their public officials and hold them accountable. But Americans’ confidence in the legitimacy of elections has declined in recent years, battered by partisan voter suppression efforts and the erosion of the Voting Rights Act, Russia’s persistent attempts to disrupt American elections, and President Donald Trump’s unfounded charges of electoral fraud. Now the coronavirus pandemic presents additional obstacles. This panel will assess the challenges to running a free and fair election this year, and how they can be overcome.


Amel Ahmed is associate professor of political science at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her work focuses on comparative democratization, with a special interest in the origins of electoral institutions and the unintended consequences of electoral reform. She is author of Democracy and the Politics of Electoral System Choice: Engineering Electoral Dominance and numerous articles on democratization in both historical and comparative perspective.

Jacob M. Grumbach is an Assistant Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington and a Faculty Associate with the Harry Bridges Center for Labor Studies. Grumbach’s research focuses broadly on the political economy of the United States, with an emphasis on public policy, racial and economic inequality, American federalism, and statistical methods. Previously, Grumbach was a Postdoctoral Fellow at the Center for the Study of Democratic Politics at Princeton University, and received his PhD from UC Berkeley in 2018.

Richard L. Hasen is Chancellor’s Professor of Law and Political Science at the University of California, Irvine. Hasen is a nationally recognized expert in election law and campaign finance regulation, writing as well in the areas of legislation and statutory interpretation, remedies, and torts. His newest book, Election Meltdown: Dirty Tricks, Distrust, and the Threat to American Democracy was published by Yale University Press in 2020.


David Bateman is an associate professor in the department of Government at Cornell University. His research focuses on democratic institutions, with a particular focus on voting rights and representation. He is the author of Disenfranchising Democracy: The Construction of the Electorate in the United States, United Kingdom, and France (Cambridge University Press – awarded the 2019 J. David Greenstone Prize) and co-author, with Ira Katznelson and John Lapinski, of Southern Nation: Congress and White Supremacy after Reconstruction(Princeton University Press – awarded the 2020 V.O. Key Prize).


The Protests and U.S. Democracy
June 26, 2020

Social protests against police violence quickly proliferated across the United States in recent weeks, attracting large crowds not only in major cities but in smaller cities and towns as well, and placing racial inequality and civil rights at the center of political debate heading into the November 2020 elections.  In this session of our webinar series, three experts on U.S. politics will analyze these protests  and their implications for U.S. democracy.



Megan Ming Francis is a Visiting Associate Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School and Associate Professor of Political Science at the University of Washington. Francis specializes in the study of American politics, with broad interests in criminal punishment, black political activism, philanthropy, and the post-civil war South. She is the author of the award winning book, Civil Rights and the Making of the Modern American State.

Daniel Q. Gillion is the Julie Beren Platt and Marc E. Platt Presidential Distinguished Professor at the University of Pennsylvania. His research interests focuses on racial and ethnic politics, political behavior, political institutions, public policy, and the American presidency. He is the author of three books, most recently, The Loud Minority: Why Protests Matter in American Democracy (Princeton University Press) .

Lara Putnam is UCIS Research Professor in the Department of History at the University of Pittsburgh.  She researches social movements and political participation in local, national, and transnational dimensions. Since 2017 she has been studying grassroots political organizing in “rust belt” Pennsylvania and beyond. Her findings have been featured in Upending American Politics: Polarizing Parties, Ideological Elites, and Citizen Activists from the Tea Party to the Anti-Trump Resistance, ed. Theda Skocpol and Caroline Tervo (Oxford University Press) as well as the Washington Post, Washington Monthly, Vox, and Democracy: A Journal of Ideas.


Kenneth Roberts, Department of Government, Cornell University, teaches comparative and Latin American politics, with an emphasis on the political economy of development and the politics of inequality. His research is devoted to the study of political parties, populism, and labor and social movements.