University of Colorado Boulder Associate Professor of Law Douglas Spencer spoke to a hybrid crowd for the first CU on the Weekend lecture of the fall semester. He focused his lecture on how the United States’ political process is not functioning as well as it should but may be improved through the law.
“We don’t have any incentives for our parties to behave responsibly,” said Spencer. “They’re not state institutions; they’re private organizations, and our government doesn’t regulate private organizations very well.”
On Saturday afternoon, Spencer presented his lecture, “America’s Broken Political Process and the Path Forward” as part of the CU on the Weekend series. CU on the Weekend hosts free public weekend lectures from CU Boulder faculty on a wide range of themes, including arts and humanities, music, science and engineering. Saturday was the first hybrid lecture since the pandemic when the series had to go virtual.
Spencer is an associate professor of law and the associate dean for faculty affairs and research at the CU Boulder Law School. He’s an election law expert with a research focus on how racial attitudes affect and are affected by voting legislation.
Spencer focused on the United States’ lack of voting rights protections and how that negatively impacts democracy. He said the U.S. Constitution doesn’t demonstrate democratic properties when it comes to these voting rights compared to other “enshrined” rights like guns and religion.
Spencer provided an example using the 2021 Brnovich v. Democratic National Committee Supreme Court case. Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that “mere inconvenience cannot be enough to demonstrate a violation” of the current ban on voting discrimination based on race as described in the Voting Rights Act of 1965.
“Voting rights can be restricted in ways that we wouldn’t tolerate otherwise,” said Spencer. “How many inconveniences are we as a city or as a county willing to tolerate?”
Spencer pointed to the development of “microtargeting” in the mid-2000s as a reason why many voters feel left out by presidential candidates. Microtargeting allowed candidates, particularly Barack Obama in 2008 and 2012, to view the party affiliation and likelihood to vote of specific households to target who to persuade and mobilize. People of the opposite political party or those who had a low chance of turning out in the polls were contacted significantly less.
“People feel like they’ve been written off…we haven’t created incentives for our parties or our campaigns to behave in a way that promotes equality and participation. We’ve told them to win at all costs,” said Spencer.
To solve these problems, Spencer focused on three general solutions: changing the system by amending the U.S. Constitution to include protections for voting rights, suing for voting violations at the state level, and working with communities and organizations that fight for equal voting rights.
“I think one of the ways that we can change our country is through the law,” Spencer said as he concluded his lecture. “The law is not a perfect salve, but the law is rigorous.”