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Brooklyn Public Philosophers: Brams and Schwartzberg on How (and with Whom) We Vote

November 3, 2016 @ 7:00 pm - 8:30 pm

screen-shot-2016-10-26-at-12-40-31-pmWe regard voting as a sacred right, and disenfranchisement as a great injustice, but U.S. voter turnout is mediocre by international standards. The problem is not helped by the historically high disapproval ratings of the current Democratic and Republican candidates. This raises several questions. Why vote? How can we improve the voting system? What should we do when we don’t like the options before us, or don’t trust other voters? In two short talks, Steven Brams and Melissa Ann Schwartzberg (both Professors of Politics at NYU) will present their work on these questions. A discussion with the audience will follow.

Steven Brams, “Is There a Better Way to Elect a President?”

The choice that voters face this November between the two major-party candidates, both with high “negatives,” is dismaying to many. Might the Democrats or Republicans have found more appealing candidates in their caucuses and primaries if a different voting system had been used? Might new parties have formed or new candidates been encouraged to run?

I offer a brief overview of different ranking and grading systems and suggest that the answer is yes. In particular, approval voting stands out for its simplicity, practicality, theoretical properties, and actual experience with it. It almost surely would have produced a different winner in at least one of the major parties and persuaded one or more strong independent candidates to join the fray.

Melissa Ann Schwartzberg, “Voting with deplorables: How to think about our fellow citizens’ judgment during and after elections”

Partisanship runs hot during elections. It is often difficult to understand why our fellow citizens support – how could anyone possibly support?! – opposing candidates. When we encounter what we consider to be clearly erroneous judgments, many of us complain that our democracy has become an “idiocracy,” citing abundant studies of voter ignorance. In this talk, I argue that the right to vote rests on a deep presumption that citizens are competent judges of the questions put to them. As a matter of basic respect within a democracy, we should presume (in the absence of unequivocal evidence) that those with opposing viewpoints are not motivated by ignorance or animus. In electoral defeat, outvoted citizens should own the collective decision, rather than disavowing responsibility (“Don’t blame me, I voted for Bernie Sanders”) or challenging the results. Nor does the choice to take a rejectionist stance – by refusing to turn out or by voting for a third-party or write-in candidate – shield citizens from complicity in democratic outcomes, however personally odious we may find them.

Bring a date! Bring a non-voter! Bring someone who is going to vote differently than you!



November 3, 2016
7:00 pm - 8:30 pm
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Dweck Center, Brooklyn Public Library (Central Branch)


Brooklyn Public Philosophers
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