Category Archives: Public Policy

Securing the Vote

Democracy withstood the assaults of misinformation during the contentious 2020 American Presidential election but did not emerge unscathed. The Center for Security in Politics at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy explores what it means to have free and fair elections from three perspectives: the international comparative aspect, lessons from battleground states, and election security.

With more than 100 democracies currently in the world, there are potentially many examples of how we might improve our election process in the future. The first panel brings together a distinguished group of experts to focus on election security practices in Latin America, South Asia, and West Africa. What might the United States be able to learn from what’s being done in these regions?

The panelists include Katherine Casey, Associate Professor of Political Economy at the Stanford Graduate School of Business; Thomas Fujiwara, Associate Professor of Economics at Princeton University; Gianmarco León-Ciliottais, Associate Professor at Universitat Pompeu Fabra; Aila M. Matanock, Associate Professor of Political Science at the UC Berkeley; and moderator Susan Hyde, Professor of Political Science at the UC Berkeley. These scholars focus on election security practices in Brazil, India, and Sierra Leone while also citing examples from other countries.

Then, get firsthand accounts from a cybersecurity expert and election officials from Arizona, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. The panel of experts examined the 2020 election, current debates about voter suppression and what to expect in future electoral contests. States like Arizona and Michigan put in tremendous effort to educate voters and demonstrate the integrity of the process. They built robust election infrastructure, created resources to demystify the election process and invited people to participate in the process of keeping elections transparent.

The panelists include Jocelyn Benson, Michigan Secretary of State; Katie Hobbs, Arizona Secretary of State, Josh Shapiro, Pennsylvania Attorney General; Matthew Masterson, Former Senior Cybersecurity Advisor at CISA, Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency; and moderator Janet Napolitano, Professor, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley.

The third panel features domestic experts in election security practices. They focus their discussion on how we can advance our own election security practices by using the knowledge we’ve gained from our experiences in 2020 as well as looking at best practices in other countries to improve our system overall.

The panelists are Wayne Williams, former Colorado Secretary of State; Kammi Foote, Clerk Recorder and Registrar of Voters for Inyo County; Jennifer Morrell, former Colorado local election official and Partner at The Elections Group; Philip Stark, UC Berkeley Professor Statistics; and moderator Henry Brady, Dean, Goldman School of Public Policy, UC Berkeley.

Watch Free and Fair Elections: Lessons for the US from the Rest of the World.

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The Truth Needs Reinforcements

Maybe it has happened to you. You were talking to friends, or scrolling through Facebook when someone shares an outrageous political news story. You think, “that can’t be right.” After a quick check you confirm the story was actually fabricated by a click farm or satirical website. You might be able to set your friend straight, but what about the larger implications of living in a world where you can’t believe everything, if anything, you read or see.

David Barstow, the new head of UC Berkeley’s investigative journalism program, addressed the challenges facing truth during the Goldman School of Public Policy’s recent board of advisor’s dinner. Barstow examines attacks on the truth from several angles. There is the aforementioned rise of intentionally untruthful news. There is social media, granting anyone unfettered access to the masses. There are deepfakes, new technology allowing people to create increasingly convincing videos of politicians, celebrities and others saying whatever the creator wishes. And on top of it all, there is the rise of public relations firms putting pressure on the economically devastated journalism industry.

Barstow believes we are in a great contest between a world of truth and a kingdom of lies. He shows how investigative reporting can excavate truth from a mountain of deceit, from his work examining President Trump’s finances, to Ronin Farrow’s reporting on Harvey Weinstein. Now, the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner hopes to inspire a new generation of journalists.

Watch — The World of Truth vs. The Kingdom of Lies — Goldman School of Public Policy Board of Advisors Dinner Fall 2019

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Innovating Democracy

What is the current state of American democracy, and what can be done to improve it? Three legal and political experts weighed in on those questions during a recent panel discussion at UC Berkeley.

Steve Silberstein is a member of National Popular Vote, a nonprofit that aims to work within the confines of the electoral college to ensure the presidential candidate who earns the most votes wins the presidency. Bertrall Ross teaches election law, constitutional law and legislation law at Berkeley Law. Steven Hayward is a senior resident scholar at Berkeleys Institute of Governmental Studies, and well-known conservative commentator.

The panel focuses on three key issues: voter participation, gerrymandering, and the electoral college. Silberstein begins by discussing the plan to switch to a national popular vote system without amending the constitution or passing congressional legislation. His group’s plan is to get states to agree to give all of their electoral votes to the national popular vote winner. The total of electoral votes would need to be at least 270 for the plan to effectively sidestep the electoral college. As of now, enough states have agreed to bring that total to 194 electoral votes.

Silberstein argues this would change the way presidential campaigns operate, and force candidates to focus on issues that matter to the entire country, not just voters in swing states. Hayward cautions that while that may be the intent, there will likely be some unintended consequences. Hayward urging caution before pushing reform emerges as a theme throughout the night as the panel discusses redistricting, campaign finance, and universal basic income.

Watch — Innovating Democracy: Key Issues for the 2020 Election and Beyond

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The Fight to End Bay Area Poverty

Daniel Lurie has been on a mission to make his community stronger since he was a child. Born and raised in San Francisco, Lurie’s family believed it was their responsibility to be part of a better Bay Area. Today, Lurie is doing just that through his non-profit Tipping Point Community. Lurie developed the concept while he was a student at UC Berkeley’s Goldman School of Public Policy. He recently returned to campus to discuss how Tipping Point is rethinking philanthropy.

Tipping Point provides funding for non-profits around the Bay Area working on four key issues: housing, employment, family wellness, and education. But, rather than just giving money and walking way, Tipping Point works with groups to measure their success, and hold them accountable. Lurie says Tipping Point has ended relationships with 20% of their partners over the years, a testament to their high standards.

Another major issue Tipping Point is addressing is homelessness. Right now, the group is working on a three-pronged approach – creating more housing, prevention, and optimizing the public sector. For housing, they’re attempting to construct a 146-unit building in San Francisco in under three years for less than $400,000 per unit. Lurie hopes this project will prove building at that speed and price is possible, and serve as a model for future development.

For prevention, Tipping Point is working with UCSF to increase the number of beds so people with mental health problems can be set up with case managers instead of being released back onto the streets. They’re also running a pilot program in a jail to arrange housing for people when they are released. And, Tipping Point is holding regular meetings with local officials and business leaders to figure out how they can work together to address the problem.

Watch — Tipping Point and the Fight to End Bay Area Poverty with Daniel Lurie

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Is it Time to Rethink the Idea of the Amoral Economic Man?

There is a widely held belief that when designing public policy or legal systems, it makes the most sense to assume that all citizens are entirely self-interested and amoral. It’s a theory known as “homo economicus” or “economic man.” But, economist Samuel Bowles argues against that belief in his book The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives are no Substitute for Good Citizens. Bowles laid out the case for his argument during a recent talk at UC Berkeley.

Bowles says there are two key reasons to move away from the economic man idea. First, he says polices that follow the paradigm can be self-fulling – making the assumption of universal amorality truer than it might otherwise be under different policies. Second, he argues that fines and rewards often do not work as intended.

The problem Bowles argues, is that incentives can “crowd out” otherwise altruistic motives people might have for any given action. He cites the classic example of a daycare that imposed a small fee for parents who showed up late. The result? Many more late parents. The thinking goes that the fee turned being late into a commodity rather than an inconsiderate action. Thus, the incentive backfired, and ended up having the opposite of its intended effect.

However, Bowles says incentives themselves are not to blame. He argues they can be designed in a such a way to encourage good civic behavior, while avoiding possible pitfalls. For example, when Ireland wanted to get rid of plastic bags, lawmakers imposed a small tax. But, they paired the tax with a huge media campaign about not trashing the Emerald Isle. Appealing to citizens better nature made the difference, and most shoppers stopped using plastic bags within weeks.

Watch — The Moral Economy: Why Good Incentives are No Substitute for Good Citizens

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