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Honors Course Tackles the 2020 Election

| Miranda Fernandez

With the presidential election still looming, it’s all anyone seems to be talking about. However, this is not a problem for Professor Geoffrey Peterson and his class of students, who gather to discuss not only this election, but elections more generally, every week.

“If there’s going to be a more interesting election in my lifetime, I don’t know when it’s going to be,” Professor Peterson joked concerning the 2020 election. “It seemed like an obvious choice” to create this course and offer it this fall semester in the University Honors Program, which strives to offer timely courses that investigate pressing current issues. The pandemic and the increased role of social media, especially in disseminating misinformation, has brewed a unique storm this election season, and this course does not shy away from that reality, especially “looking at current events in the context of how the system works.”

Grey Mielke, a student in Professor Peterson’s course, values the time Professor Peterson allows his students to ask questions about new developments as they are happening. “It’s really nice to have someone who is knowledgeable” to help guide the class to good sources and contextualize current events, and someone who is really passionate about the subject, too. Professor Peterson is both.

students engaged in Geoff Peterson's honors colloquium course on the 2020 election
Honors students engaged in Geoff Peterson's 2020 election honors colloquium course

A professor of political science, Dr. Peterson is an expert in elections—they are his bread and butter, his lifeblood. “Nothing is more important than elections... nothing is more important than who actually gets elected.” Elections determine who has the power to make decisions, direct policy, and determine the course of the nation, making them the most powerful tool of democracy.

And yet, so many of us are confused by the sometimes convoluted, complicated American election system. “It’s remarkable how much misinformation there is—not just about the candidates or the issues, but even about basic electoral processes,” Professor Peterson comments. For example: though there are many ads proclaiming that we will not have results on election night this year due to increased absentee or mail-in voting, “we have never had results on election night”; we just had “really good exit polls.”

This course not only discusses these misconceptions, but the fragile and somewhat chaotic nature of the electoral system itself. Student Grey Mielke, a political science major, was particularly interested to learn "how much of our electoral process is not set in stone,” noting that the Constitution is vague on many electoral processes, and often convention rather than Constitutional guidelines govern modern electoral processes. These ‘gray areas’, differences in state voting laws, and shifts in convention—this election season especially—are things that Professor Peterson and his students are excited to explore.

Throughout the semester, Professor Peterson has and will continue to peel back the layers obscuring these processes so his students get a clearer idea about how elections really work. “It’s all about elections”—and it’s the perfect time to learn more.

Professor Peterson will be discussing the election, the future, and any possible results on November 12th at 6 pm over Zoom—join us to learn more about ‘what the hell just happened.’ “What the Hell Just Happened?: An Election Post-Mortem" (Zoom link)