Carnegie Mellon University
October 22, 2020

An Interdisciplinary Look at American Elections

Grand Challenge Seminar gives broad perspective on voting

By Michael Henninger

Abby Simmons
  • Dietrich College of Humanities and Social Sciences
  • 412-268-6094

A historian, a data scientist and a game theorist walk into a Zoom.

In "How We Vote," a Grand Challenge Seminar for first-year students, three Carnegie Mellon University faculty bring a multidisciplinary perspective to a remote examination of the process of voting in American democracy. Lisa TetraultTeddy Seidenfeld and Aaditya Ramdas conceived the idea for the class, which includes many first-time voters, in order to take a deep dive into a complex and unstandardized system.

In addition to the course, the three professors are scheduled to participate in a faculty dialogue entitled "Behind the Ballot Box," on Oct. 29 in which they will discuss the history, philosophy, data and technology behind voting.

"We take American democracy for granted, and forget that we need to be informed to keep it alive," said Tetrault, an associate professor in the Department of History who specializes in the history of gender, race and American democracy. Tetrault has spent the last two years touring the nation and then shifting to online speaking engagements in celebration of the centennial of the 19th Amendment (it passed Congress in 1919, and was ratified in 1920).

"Each week in our class, the three of us apply our own expertise to a different topic, like voter suppression and voter fraud," Tetrault said. "We're trying to give students knowledge about how the system is structured and has evolved historically. They can see and unpack that framework and apply it to the current political situation."

While Tetrault leads the lesson on voter suppression, Seidenfeld and Ramdas are able to provide their own invaluable additions to the class.

Read the full article