From Racial injustice protests to voting breakdown: Where do we go next?


AUGUSTA, Ga. (WJBF) – Days after the Georgia primary, which was laced with voting problems , Dr. Craig Albert sits down with Brad Means on The Means Report to discuss what went wrong and how secure votes are heading into November. Plus we find out of recent demonstrations condemning racial injustices will make an impact when voters go to the polls.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, thanks again for being here for this edition of the Means Report.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks for having me.

Brad Means: Let’s talk about protests. We’re seeing them all across the country. We have seen peaceful demonstrations right here in the CSRA, Dr. Albert, are those an effective means of getting change? Do lawmakers see protests and then act the way the protestors or demonstrators wanted them to act?

Dr. Craig Albert: It depends, it’s a case by case situation. I think for the most part, for the most we’ve seen with racial injustice, these protests that we’ve had lately are causing some direct action changes, but that might be the case for legislative makers in the legal system and laws. But none of that makes sense if people that are protesting don’t come out to vote. So that’s where the real effectual change happens is if you go to the voting poll and cast you vote for change and one way or the other, however you want change, however you view it, protesters especially millennial protesters, or the younger demographics, tend to think that direct action through protest is the only way to make change. And so they’ll protest, but then they won’t go to the polls to really register their vote for change. And that’s unfortunate because that’s how real change happens. Most effectively and most efficiently is through the voting apparatus.

Brad Means: Have you had a chance to look at the turnout for the recent primaries in Georgia? And if so, what do you think about them? I got the impression that turnout wasn’t great.

Dr. Craig Albert: It wasn’t great for the CSRA area. It was right around 35% of the total registered voting. That’s about on par for a primary in an election year, but a little bit lower than what you would expect for a presidential primary. So those numbers should be a little higher. I think that general election you’ll see much higher because it’s more competitive. It’s the, presentably Joe Biden against Trump’s and more people will come out. I know a lot of Republicans probably didn’t come out because the only person on the ballot for the Republican primary was Donald Trump. And for Democrats, maybe some of them did not come out either, because it was already a foregone conclusion that Joe Biden was gonna be the nominee. So the fact that our elections were so late because of the postponement due to COVID-19, that probably discouraged a lot of people from going out to vote. But I don’t think or anticipate that those numbers will be that low come November.

Brad Means: Let’s go back to the demonstrations and their effectiveness. How quickly can protestors hope to see change and hope to see the climate of this country, become more peaceful? Is that, it feels like it’s not going to be an immediate thing.

Dr. Craig Albert: No, it’s not gonna be immediate, but I mean, you’re talking about some institutional and structuralized change that needs to occur. And that type of change through an institution through a bureaucracy. When we’re talking about police forces, for instance, that’s gonna take incremental and methodical and lengthy changing. Some changes can happen instantaneously. They can change tactics. You see a Minnesota already, a New York state already not allowing any type of a police officer to engage through any holds or choke hold or anything as a result of what happened to Mr Floyd. So that’s instantaneous change, but the longterm structural change takes quite some time. And that’s gonna take some legal efforts. Some efforts by Congress members to actually effectualize change. But you do see other changes happening very quickly, re-encouraging the debate between whether or not a military basis should be named after Confederate officers, for instance, whether or not we should have Confederate monuments. These are real changes that to a large section of our population, makes meaningful difference to have these conversations and to get rid of some of these symbols that for a large sector of the population means hate.

Brad Means: You know, what you say about police tactics is true. We’ve talked to a lot of law enforcement agencies here in our area, and they say that it’s all about the training. And it’s all about the tactics that officers, especially the new ones know to use and not to use. What do you think about this effort or this push to defund police departments? The city of Minneapolis, where the George Floyd case took place, wants to get rid of its police department. The city council supports that. Are we looking at cities and towns in the future with no police?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think we’ll go that far. And what defunding the police means in many, precincts and jurisdictions doesn’t mean getting rid of the police. It means restructuring how the money and finances is handled into what operations or what facilities within a police force the money goes to. And so what most of these calls are, are for the demilitarization of the police. So to take that and high heavy weaponry out of the hands of the police, that some would argue are more fitting for the military authority and not to be used domestically. So that’s what most of the calls for defunding the police are, is the demilitarized to get heavy weapons out of their hands and make them more civilian citizen friendly. I don’t think we’ll see much calls for no police force because that would lead to total anarchy. But I think what we need to see is more training, more money, perhaps being spent on training and de-escalation techniques and tactics rather than heavy military equipment. We have the national guard, if we need heavy military equipment for anything domestic or domestic response for Homeland Security, we need police to engage and de-escalate. And of course they have a hard job because they are always amped-up and not sure, when somebody might present a threat to them. So we have to roll back a little bit and be cautious and cognizant to that fact as well. But at the same time, they should be better trained to de-escalate and to handle without force or to expect for us and how to de-escalate when force presents itself to them. And that’s methodical training that takes months and months, and they should repeat it every month. If not every week, it should be implemented in all police precincts nationwide as a weekly standardized you train for this.

Brad Means: Does that put police at a disadvantage if they bring a knife to a gunfight?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think so, it’s all about de-escalation techniques and knowing, the confrontation, the situation, when it presents itself. I wouldn’t necessarily say take, pistols out of their hands, but that should be a last resort. And they should understand how to act and how to de-escalate and when to tell when somebody is a direct threat to them and when force is needed or not. And at the same time, they need to understand the consequences. If they present their weapons and discharged their weapons, there are gonna be consequences. If it wasn’t done legally lawfully and according to the due process of law. And that is something that the citizens and the government officials and legislative leaders are taking much more seriously this time, after the outrage from Mr. Floyd’s death is how you use force matters. And the amount of force you can use cannot overstep the amount of force that was pushed against you. So the police have the obligation and the duty to not escalate beyond what is reasonable and proportional to the threat presented against them. And when they do so, they must by default of the law be held accountable.

Brad Means: What about from a political standpoint, can lawmakers do to stop discrimination? It sounds impossible or highly difficult because discrimination for many people is part of their DNA. Can lawmakers do enough to stop it or greatly reduce it?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think that you can stop discrimination in the public sphere and in the public space, which is the job of Congress and of lawmakers in state local and federal offices. I’m not sure you can stop it on an individual level. Unfortunately, people are going to be like that. It comes from, what part of the country you live in? How are you raised? What are your values and morals? I think a conversation needs to be had at the individual level where we start bringing up these difficult conversations between people of difference and be more inclusive and have a serious conversation, but lawmakers have the obligation and can legally stop discrimination in all public aspects and public spaces and spheres, and that’s their job. And I think that they are really starting to take this more seriously that there are some instances of institutional racism or structural racism, which can be taken apart systematically out of our system through incremental methodical changes. And I think we’re at that time where we now see that this is going to happen and more people on board and some demographics that weren’t on board before, like in 2016 and 2017, when this, the last round of protests we had seemed to be more onboard now, including a more Republican contingent and conservative people on board with incremental change as well, and I think that’s the answer, and I think we will see change coming.

Brad Means: Have you ever seen anything like this? And for the younger people watching, is this like the sixties, these demonstrations?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think the spirit is like the sixties absolutely. It’s beautiful to see people take to the streets to protest, of course, as a political scientist and a political philosopher, I don’t like seeing the looting and the riots that much, but, I think it’s, we have to expect that when people are mad and people see discrimination or even perceived that, of course there’s gonna be some anger and there’s gonna be some folks that, that act out hastily with their anger and cause some destruction and cause some chaos, but that’s only a small percentage of the population engaging in these protests and the messages that these protests are getting people out and politically involved that have been empathetic or that haven’t been empathetic and that have been apathetic to the political process. And that’s what’s great. And can really be compared to the sixties are the demographics that are coming out, taking full action with these political protests, being a part of the political process and participating in what the founding fathers wanted. We had the right to assemble and to protest and that’s what these folks are doing. And they’re engaging in their constitutional right. Even with some that are unfortunately causing some violence that nobody wants to see.

Brad Means: Is the energy that these demonstrators showing the nation sustainable up until election day in November. You mentioned at the beginning of the interview, it’s all about them taking that enthusiasm and carrying it with them to the polls. Can this level of intensity stay this way for the next few months?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think it will die down in the next six weeks or eight weeks, depending on what happens. Of course, if we have any more, videos that capture police officers doing anything, that’ll keep it energized. But generally these things died down a little bit. And as I said, and we discussed earlier, unfortunately protests and people that engage politically that way, usually don’t turn out to vote. And so even if it’s a highly energized the movement come November 3rd, I doubt that you’ll see the same numbers in the same demographics in the voting booth as are out on the streets. And I mean, the millennial, the younger folks in general, just aren’t interested in voting for some reason. And I don’t think this will really change their attitudes towards that in any large meaningful manner.

Brad Means: What happens if the defendants in these cases, the George Floyd defendants and the Ahmaud Arbery defendants are acquitted?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think we can expect to see perhaps more dangerous protest, a more severe writing and in a serious call for justice reform and re-evaluation of how in these instances, when you have video footage of where it appears that things did not happen the way they ought to have happened, we’ll have to restructure the criminal justice system to take into account some type of institutional bias that would allow the alleged perpetrators to get away with this. I mean, I’m not a lawyer and I’m not an expert at the criminal justice system, but this is the first time I’ve known where you’ve seen something so blatantly illegal occur in these instances. And it’s all caught on film. So unless there’s some kind of loopholes, I’m not sure how they can be found not guilty. And I think if they are found not guilty, there would be more cries that the system is institutionally racist and you can expect a rightful protest and perhaps even severe writing in that case.

Brad Means: When we continue with Dr. Craig Albert on The Means Report, we’re going to talk about our upcoming elections and the security of them. Does your vote really count? Can it make it from the polling place to the place where all the votes are tallied and can your candidate really stand a chance? We’re gona look at the security of that system. We’ll talk about the pandemic, a busy day on the Means Report in a moment.

Part 2

Brad Means: Welcome back to the Means Report. Our special guest is Augusta university political scientist, Dr. Craig Albert, talking to us about all of the issues making headlines these days. Let’s look at the recent primary in Georgia, Dr. Albert, it did not go well from a functionality standpoint. As I mentioned at the top of the broadcast, long lines, machines malfunctioning, results taking forever to be counted. Is this a preview of what we have coming for the big one in November?

Dr. Craig Albert: I don’t think so. I think it will be much less chaotic in November. This is the first time Georgia, the state of Georgia has used these voting machines, in any large manner. And so unfortunately it takes a lot of training to understand that, even if the poll workers understand the training and how to use the machines, which unfortunately they didn’t in all instances, because there wasn’t adequate training statewide. Even the citizen, the voter is gona have difficulty understanding and looking at the machine or just sitting back and taking it all in. So that’s gonna take time to get used to, and I think we saw that play out in the primary. Additionally for the primary, you had social distancing rules in effect and unfortunately I think the numbers and the spacing and how many people would turn out with all the rules from the shutdown on the lockdown, and the social distancing, just allowed for large lines, unfortunately. And some of those were ridiculously long. I don’t think we’ll see that in November. I think the state has of course issued some investigations into why this happened, why the machines didn’t work, why it took so long in some of these precincts for people to vote. And of course the state allowed polls to stay open for a few more hours in a couple of counties. I think you’re gonna have long lines when it comes to a November election. So if you have an absentee ballot, you can mail-in your ballot. I would take advantage of that and do so. Otherwise you’re gonna have long lines, ’cause I anticipate we’ll still have social distancing in November, but the hiccups with the machines should be resolved by then, most part, at least on the behalf of the individuals working the machines or the poll workers themselves versus the citizens. We’re of course gonna have some difficulty if we didn’t use them before.

Brad Means: You think they’ll work most of the bugs out?

Dr. Craig Albert: I think so, I’m highly hopeful.

Brad Means: Somebody said the other day that we’re not gonna have election night in November, we’re gonna have election week because it’s gonna take so long to count everything. Do you think maybe we need to get ready to be patient as we wait to find out who the president is gonna be?

Dr. Craig Albert: Absolutely, I mean, I think we’ve learned that from the past couple of presidential elections anyways, that sometimes the results take some time to come in and you have to count them. And with the more results we have coming from the absentee ballot, mail-in ballot, it’s gonna take time to count those. And usually they accept those depending on the state up to election day. And sometimes even a few days after they’ll allow, as long as they’ve been postmarked before the end of the election day itself. And so you have to wait until all those are counted before you can officially declare a winner. You also have to consider the military folks overseas have their own ballots as well. And sometimes those take an additional time to come in. And so they have to count those as well. But I think for the most part, we should get used to a festive week of election analysis nationwide and be prepared to be patient. And I think that this election will actually be quite close as well. And so we might have another, Bush versus Gore type of scenario, where it’s unclear who the winner is. And it’ll come down to a few States such as Ohio and Florida, as we’ve used to seeing in a couple of the last elections.

Brad Means: Do you trust those mail-in ballots? It seems like it would be easy to steal them out of people’s mailboxes and throw them away.

Dr. Craig Albert: There’s no totally secure way to vote, in a democratic republic regime. And so this is kind of trying to combine the best methods through a cyber voting, through the electronic age, as well as through mail-in. And so everything that the United States is doing is the best that it can do given the situations. I mean, for the state of Georgia, you have to, you register your vote on the machine and then it prints out a paper ballot and those two have to match. And I think that’s much more secure than anything we’ve thought of before. Of course with mail-in voting, when it’s solely mail-in, there’s gonna be some insecure aspects of that. Yes of course they could be stolen, but again, that can be stolen at the precincts as well. And we’ve had instances where they’ve gotten lost misplaced, and we’re not quite sure what to do with them, or if they’re not marked properly, if you remember in 2000 with Bush beats Gore with the hanging chads. So unfortunately there’s lots that can go wrong, but I think we need to hold our, state elections and federal elections committees to account and make sure that if they don’t go right, that we hold them to account and make sure that we get new people in office that can handle how to make these decisions and make voting more secure and open and free for everybody.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert, let’s take a look at the pandemic and what the future might hold. If there’s a second wave of this virus, do you think America is willing to shut down again?

Dr. Craig Albert: That’s a good question. I’m not sure if the national economy can handle a full shut down. I think what the president and what some of the congressional leaders and even state leaders are trying to warn citizens about is that there will be a second wave. We need to be prepared for the hospitals to handle the ICU capacity for people that get very seriously sick and need to be hospitalized for it. But I think everybody is trying to send us the signs that we should be ready to live amongst the COVID-19 and coronavirus as a new normal. And that means understanding that everything is changed now, where we might be asked to wear a face mask in public places forever from now on, where social distancing might become the rule for the foreseeable future. Especially as some medical doctors and some disease experts say that this could come in waves through the seasons, just like the flu comes in waves. And so we might be dealing with COVID-19 just like we deal with the regular strain of the flu every year for the foreseeable future. Even if there’s a vaccine, right? Not everybody takes the flu vaccine for instance. So you still have to be cautious of the flu. And so it’s the same type of mentality for coronavirus. So I think, unfortunately, this is the new normal, and we’re gonna have to get used to these types of rules.

Brad Means: Well, this pandemic and these protests are certainly consuming this country right now. All of our attention is focused on those two big issues for the most part. Are we vulnerable right now to an attack?

Dr. Craig Albert: The security situation for interstate attacks doesn’t seem to be too heightened right now. We have some worries from North Korea, of course, that just this week cut off all communications with South Korea. So that’s a dangerous precedent that we don’t want anything from misperception or misunderstanding to occur between the two Koreas, because it will obviously involve the United States. So as of right now, that’s the most serious confrontation we face is some type of miscommunication or misperception from South Korea and in North Korea, that will cause the United States to get involved, if anything happens, which according to international law and treaties, we’re bound to get involved, if North Korea attacks South Korea whatsoever. So that’s a scary situation. But just like the United States is dealing with the pandemic, all of our great power arrivals, China, Iran, Russia are also dealing with catastrophic numbers from COVID as well. And so they’re dealing with their internal politics and domestic affairs and trying to deal with their election status and most of these countries and how the citizens are gonna handle their response. Russia is a case in point. We understand that they’re not being very forthcoming with their numbers and President Putin is facing some serious backlash in his country for what he’s done. And they went on locked down only for a few weeks and are already off. So those numbers look to jump as well. So everybody’s just trying to figure this out right now. I’m surprised that we haven’t seen an increase in terrorist activity. So that’s my biggest concern as it usually is, is from terrorist activity rather than anything from nation state actors. ISIS has asked to use the pandemic too, they have asked members and lone activists lone attackers to use the pandemic, by creating more fear in this time of chaos, through acting and doing terrorist actions. And luckily we haven’t seen any of that so far. Even in Syria and Iraq, it hasn’t been too much of an increase of terrorist activity or insurgent activity. And, that’s quite interesting to see. So I don’t think we’re any more vulnerable right now for most of the quarters of security studies. But North Korea causes me to pause.

Brad Means: Dr. Albert a busy half hour, as I knew it would be. And I can’t thank you enough for shedding some light on these key issues today. You’ve helped us understand them better. And I appreciate your time.

Dr. Craig Albert: Thanks so much.

Brad Means: Dr. Craig Albert with Augusta University, he will be back. He is our political scientists and our expert on all things politically speaking.

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The Means Report first aired in January of 2009 offering coverage that you cannot get from a daily newscast. Forget about quick soundbytes -- we deliver an in-depth perspective on the biggest stories. If they are making news on the local or national level, you will find them on the set of The Means Report. Hosted by WJBF NewsChannel 6 anchor, Brad Means, The Means Report covers the topics impacting your life, your town, your state, and your future.