Politico

New academic center aims to 'strengthen' democracy in U.S.


A well-regarded elections law expert is launching a new center focusing on elections and free speech at the University of California-Irvine School of Law.

UC-Irvine law professors Rick Hasen, a well-known expert in elections law, and David Kaye, a former UN appointee focused on freedom of opinion and speech across the globe, are co-directing the new center, called the Fair Elections and Free Speech Center.

Plans for the center were shared first with POLITICO.

“American democracy is under increasing strain, and the 2020 election exacerbated threats to the rule of law and to public confidence in fair elections,” Hasen said in a statement. “Much of that is thanks to the rise of social media. The new Center will look at what’s wrong, and what can be done, to strengthen democratic institutions in the U.S. and around the world.”

What’s next for the center? The center’s early events focus on elections and democracy, both in the United States and globally. The group’s first event will be on Sept. 1, with a focus on the global impact of disinformation and digital media on elections.

On Sept. 24, the center will hold a conference called “Election Subversion: Is American Democracy in Danger?”

People tentatively scheduled to participate include Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, a Republican who then-President Donald Trump pressured to try to overturn the results of the 2020 election; Bob Bauer, who was White House counsel for former President Barack Obama and is now leading a voting rights initiative at a nonprofit aligned with President Joe Biden; and Ben Ginsberg, a longtime Republican elections lawyer who has criticized recent GOP-led efforts to expose election workers to civil or criminal penalty.

Michigan Secretary of State Jocelyn Benson, a Democrat, is scheduled to speak at an early-October event about disinformation in elections.

Who else is involved? The center’s advisory board includes dozens of academics, civil rights advocates and experts who will guide the center going forward.

The board also includes staffers from the Brennan Center for Justice, the liberal-leaning think tank and advocacy group focused on voting rights, the NAACP Legal Defense Fund and the ACLU.

Alex Stamos, the former chief security officer at Facebook who is now director of the Stanford Internet Observatory, and Pam Fessler, a recently-retired NPR voting rights reporter, are also on the board.

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