Two months ago, the RHS speaker series continued with David Becker, whose heavily-attended talk sparked quite a bit of controversy among students. On November 14, The Network for Responsible Public Policy in Ridgewood brought in Mr. Becker, the Executive Director and founder of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. The CEIN is a non-profit dedicated to “ensuring that all eligible voters can vote conveniently in a system with maximum integrity.” Becker previously worked for several public policy organizations and was also a senior trial attorney for seven years.
Becker’s talk, “Does Voting Even Matter Anymore?” addressed the questioned legitimacy of the voting process and was accompanied by data and statistics. Students watched as Becker criticized media companies for discouraging voter turnout by indirectly suggesting that votes don’t matter. Additionally, he claimed successful voter fraud is unrealistic and leaves a lot of evidence. He also stated that foreign interference in elections (such as Russian intelligence having a known presence in the Illinois voter database in 2016) is not done to install a desired leader or outcome, but to destabilize civilian faith in the democratic process and American governmental institutions.
Where Becker’s talk became controversial for students was with the Q&A session that followed. Some students believed that Becker had not addressed the more important and nuanced issues of race and socioeconomic status as a factor in the election process. Jake Rubenstein, a junior, said that “David Becker gave his speech with an air of self-righteousness; he spouted off facts without any citation or sources to make himself credible. Although I appreciate how he wanted to challenge commonly held beliefs about voting, he seemed, to me, overly dismissive of the students’ questions and too self-assured.” Rubenstein posed a question to Becker about the issue of racially-based voter suppression. “[Becker] claimed that it did not exist and did not give any evidence supporting his claim.” Issues surrounding voter suppression and disenfranchisement of marginalized groups are prevalent in American society and relevant to the discussion. According to attendees, Becker’s contemptuous attitude towards these topics was explicitly noticeable.
Other points of contention arose with the ways in which Becker supported his points and interacted with the audience. His lack of sources was off-putting to some students, believing his information was faulty and claims were unsubstantiated. However, many viewers disagreed with this stance, affirming that the presentation was informative and worthwhile, and that Becker’s reasoning and evidence was eye-opening and legitimate. Senior Tomás Carlson said, “I thought [the presentation] was really well done and it highlighted how the worries we might have over election fraud might be counterintuitive by causing people to not vote.”
At the end of the talk, Becker emphasized how the student and first-time voter population can get involved to strengthen the democratic voting process. He called for students to go out and vote themselves, volunteer as poll workers, encourage friends and family to vote, and vote by mail to further secure the legitimacy of elections. After a long discussion mainly focused on debunking systemic problems, Becker’s call to positively impact elections resonated with the student audience, placing power and hope in their hands.
Although some RHS students were not impressed by Becker’s presentation, others thought it was a valuable exposé of the electoral process’ flaws and was very instructional in how the youth can get involved to help remedy these issues. Once again, the RHS speaker series has succeeded in generating student interest and discourse over a relevant topic in modern American civics.
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Graphic: Katie Hu