Election Day aftermath: Berkeley leaders discuss what lies ahead for America

Campus staff and academic leaders joined Chancellor Carol Christ to discuss the state of the election thus far. (UC Berkeley video)

In the aftermath of a grinding presidential election that rendered millions of Americans exhausted and frustrated, UC Berkeley experts Wednesday examined the bruising route to the White House and the future political and social implications for our democracy.

“This is the most important presidential election in my lifetime,” Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of Berkeley Law, said during a wide-ranging Campus Conversations event that sought to make sense of the dizzying election and its nail-biting outcome. “The largest challenge after this election, and in the years to come, is: How do we heal the deep divisions in society and go forward?”

Chemerinsky was joined in the hour-long discussion by UC Berkeley Chancellor Carol Christ; Lisa García Bedolla, vice provost for graduate studies and dean of the Graduate Division; Henry Brady, dean of the Goldman School of Public Policy, and Bertrall Ross, Chancellor’s Professor of Law.

García Bedolla said that, in addition to feeling anxious about the election and the road ahead for our democracy, she was also “sad, a bit disillusioned and troubled.”

“I’m troubled by the fact that so many people still support (Trump), despite (his) major deviations from normal presidential behavior,’’ she said. “So, I am struggling to think of how we go forward as a society and how we have the difficult conversations that we need to have to understand how people can live through the same experience and come out with such different conclusions.”

Christ said the election represented a “huge test” for our democracy, a test that Ross believed the country would pass – eventually.

“I am cautiously optimistic that this country will pass this democracy test. (Tuesday) was a hopeful day, in which we had an election that was carried out without violence, an election in which turnout numbers were enormous,” Ross said. “That gives me some hope, in terms of the level of engagement of the American people and our democracy.”

The panelists touched on a number of topics, ranging from voter suppression to legal questions that could potentially wind up before the newly configured Supreme Court to foreign interference (and the lack thereof) during this election cycle.

The election has yet to be decided, even as President Trump’s lead narrows in key battleground states. Some political analysts said we may be days, or even weeks, away from determining a victor.

Brady, who referred to ballot counting as “an enormous paper-moving operation,” said this year’s election results were continually shifting, thanks to ballots cast three ways — at early voting centers, through the mail (absentee) and in person on Election Day. Each method involves various processes to tabulate the results.

“With mail-in ballots, in many states, they have to open them up, and they also have to look at the outside to make sure there’s a signature that matches. So, there’s a whole lot of bureaucratic procedures that have to be gone through,” he said. “And, by the way, that’s one reason why we can’t have all the votes done on Election Day. It’s physically impossible.”