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April 20, 2021 @ 5:30 pm – 6:30 pm
Delaware Humanities

Free and fair elections are an important aspect of political freedom.  Elections are generally viewed as the most important form of political participation in modern representative democracies. They are a vital part of democratic processes, including political transitions, implementation of peace agreements and consolidation of democracy. However, there is more to democracy than holding elections. If the election process is corrupted, the democracy based on the election may be considered a fraud. Democracies must be ever vigilant to protect this foundational element of political freedom from the dangers arrayed against it. Threats such as ballot stuffing on election day, digital election interference, disinformation campaigns, media manipulation, voter intimidation, bribery, regulatory obstacles, and the jailing of political opposition figures can all work to the benefit of autocratic leaders and to the detriment of the democratic process.

This panel will feature experts in electoral politics in three regions around the world – Eastern Europe and Russia (Mike Smeltzer, Freedom House), the Middle East and North Africa (Elizabeth Reiter Dettmer, International Foundation for Electoral Systems), and the United States (David B. Ebner, University of Delaware). They will discuss elections in these regions, the threats posed to free and fair elections, and what is being done to protect the electoral processes in these areas.

Mike Smeltzer (Freedom House): Mike Smeltzer is the Research Analyst for Nations in Transit, Freedom House’s annual survey of democratic governance from Central Europe to Eurasia. He serves as an expert on developments in the post-Soviet space in the Nations in Transit survey region. Prior to joining Freedom House, Mike’s professional experience included stints in both the non-profit and higher education sectors, where he worked in operational and research capacities. He holds a master’s degree in Russian, East European, and Central Asian Studies from Harvard University and a B.A. in Russian language and philosophy from St. Olaf College.

Elizabeth Reiter Dettmer (International Foundation for Electoral Systems): Elizabeth (Liz) Reiter Dettmer is a senior program manager for the Middle East and North Africa at the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES), specializing in civil society development, civic and voter education, empowerment of marginalized communities and rights-based advocacy. From 2015-19, Dettmer helped design and lead the Musharaka Forum, a project geared toward the grassroots Syrian community living in Turkey to explore issues such as civic engagement, political participation, and democratic decision-making. From 2012-13, Dettmer was based in Tripoli, Libya, where she was involved in the design and implementation of the first IFES “Women’s Leadership Training and Internship Program.” In 2006-07, Liz was based in in Abidjan, Côte d’Ivoire, for a post-conflict elections and civic education project. Over the years, Dettmer has directly supported projects in over a dozen countries across the Middle East and North Africa, sub-Saharan Africa, Europe and the Caribbean. She is fluent in French and holds a master’s degree in international law from the University of Kent’s Brussels School of International Studies and a bachelor’s degree in international politics and French from Frostburg State University in Maryland.

David B. Ebner (University of Delaware): David B. Ebner is a Assistant Professor of Political Science and International Relations at the University of Delaware. He has published articles on political polarization, ethnicity and political participation, and U.S. humanitarian military intervention. Professor Ebner earned his Ph. D from the University of Southern California (2020) in Political Science and International Relations, and is an American scholar from Syracuse, New York. His research focuses on race, foreign policy, and elections in the United States. He joined the University of Delaware in Fall of 2020.

Free event, registration required.

Program Description

Did you know that in Norway non-citizens can vote after living in the country for three years? Or that in Switzerland all eligible voters are sent mail in ballots, which can be returned by the mail or dropped off at the polls? In a 2016 survey on global literacy conducted by National Geographic, only 14-29% of the general population could answer the survey questions correctly. When 1,203 recent college graduates were surveyed, the total percent of correct responses was just 55%. Citizens in the United States need to become more aware of the world around us and to perhaps look outward for some solutions to our internal issues. “Why it Matters: Civic and Electoral Participation” was a national initiative, administered by the Federation of State Humanities Councils and funded by Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, and aiming to “explore civic participation as it relates to electoral engagement in a multivocal democracy”. The Delaware Humanities project specifically to examined and elucidated systems in the United States by putting our democracy into a global context.   We hosted two lectures, two panel discussions, and five book discussions throughout the state from January-April 2021. Past Programs Freedom Under Siege: The Global Retreat of Democracy Lecture (January 7, 2021) The Global State of Democracy Panel Discussion (February 17, 2021) Global Democracy and the Pandemic Lecture (March 8, 2021) Electoral Politics Around the World Panel Discussion (April 20, 2021)