Join us on Zoom on January 12 at 5:30 pm for a panel discussion.

In accordance with Article Two of the U. S. Constitution, George Washington was unanimously elected by 69 presidential electors who cast their votes on February 4, 1789. When Washington was inaugurated as First President at Federal Hall, the world was watching the birth of this new government, the first of its kind. The world will be watching again on January 20, 2021 after a period of historic electoral turbulence. While the Constitution asserts general principals, much is left to interpretation and practice in the powers of the presidency, the process of providing for voters to elect a new president, and the transition between administrations. The framers left the states’ responsibility for elections imprecise with scant direction about how they must exercise their mandate to organize elections. Multiple amendments over the centuries have protected certain populations from disenfranchisement, but these voting rights are framed in the negative, in that people cannot be barred from voting on the basis of race, gender, or age of at least 18. Should federal legislation require more uniformity in voting procedures? Should the Constitution affirm a right to vote with ready access to the ballot? Is it sufficient to mandate the date for a transfer of power, but not a process? As one administration gives way to another, is the system of checks and balances working as the framer’s envisioned or should more constraints be considered? Answers to urgent questions like these will shape American governance for decades to come. Federal Hall’s Sam Roberts will open the event with a historical video presentation and Brennan Center president Michael Waldman joins the panel discussion.

Moderator: John Avlon
John Avlon is an author, columnist and commentator. He is a senior political analyst and fill-in anchor at CNN, appearing on New Day every morning. Previously, he was the editor-in-chief and managing director of The Daily Beast, during which time the site won 17 journalism awards. He is the author of the books Independent Nation, Wingnuts, and Washington’s Farewell as well as co-editor of the Deadline Artists journalism anthologies. Avlon served as chief speechwriter to New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani and won the National Society of Newspaper Columnists award for best online column in 2012.

David Frum is a senior editor at The Atlantic and author of ten books. He volunteered for the Reagan campaign in 1980 and has attended every Republican convention since 1988. Mr. Frum served as a speechwriter and special assistant to the George W. Bush and was a senior adviser to Rudy Giuliani’s presidential campaign. In 2018, Mr. Frum published Trumpocracy: The Corruption of the American Republic, about the dangers posed by the Trump presidency to American democracy. In 2020, he published a second volume about the Trump era and its consequences, Trumpocalypse: Restoring American Democracy. Prior books include The Right Man: The Surprise Presidency of George W. Bush, which was the first insider account of the Bush presidency, and Why Romney Lost (And What The GOP Can Do About It).

Franita Tolson is vice dean for academic and faculty affairs and professor of law at the University of Southern California Gould School of Law. Professor Tolson’s scholarship and teaching focus on the areas of election law and constitutional law. In 2019 she testified before the House Judiciary Committee about the reauthorization of the Voting Rights Act, and Professor Tolson recently authored a legal analysis for an amendment to the U.S. Constitution, introduced by Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Sen. Richard Durbin, to explicitly protect the right to vote. Professor Tolson, who has provided legal commentary for CNN during the recent election, is currently working on a book, In Congress We Trust? Enforcing Voting Rights from the Founding to the Jim Crow Era, to be published in 2021.

Michael Waldman is president of the Brennan Center for Justice at NYU School of Law, a nonpartisan law and policy institute that focuses on improving systems of democracy and justice. It is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Mr. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer and writer who is an expert on the presidency and American democracy, has led the Center since 2005. A former speechwriter and policy coordinator for President Clinton, Mr. Waldman has drafted four State of the Union addresses. He is also an author of acclaimed books on voting and the Second Amendment.

DEBATE DEFENDS DEMOCRACY is presented by the National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy at Federal Hall in partnership with New York University and the National Park Service. For more details on DEBATE DEFENDS DEMOCRACY, and to see video of past programs, visit

Logos: Federal Hall Debate Defends Democracy, National Parks of New York Harbor Conservancy, National Park Service, NYU, Brennan Center for Justice NYU Law