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StraightTalk 2020 Speaker Bios

Return to StraightTalk: Voting in America

September 1: Lurching Forward: 244 Years of Fighting for the Right to Vote


Beryl Dakers is a 40-year veteran of South Carolina ETV, having joined the network as News and Public Affairs director in 1977. Dakers has developed numerous programs for ETV, and most recently has taken the lead on their exploration of the history of women’s suffrage in recognition of the centennial of the 19th Amendment. An award-winning film maker, Dakers has produced a wide range of documentaries, most notably Making a Way Out of No Way: Modjeska Simpkins, a study of the civil rights leader, and Strom Thurmond—At the Seat of Power, about South Carolina’s longest-serving senator. A graduate of Syracuse University, Dakers did graduate work at Harvard and the University of South Carolina.



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. The Brennan Center is a leading national voice on voting rights, money in politics, criminal justice reform, and constitutional law. Waldman, a constitutional lawyer and writer who is an expert on the presidency and American democracy, has led the Center since 2005. He is the author of several books including The Fight to Vote, a history of the struggle to win voting rights for all citizens. A graduate of Columbia College and NYU School of Law and former chief speechwriter for President Clinton, he writes for several national publications and frequently appears on television and radio to discuss policy, the presidency, and the law.


Kelly Dittmar is associate professor of political science at Rutgers University–Camden and director of research at the Center for American Women and Politics (CAWP) at the Eagleton Institute of Politics. Dittmar’s research focuses on gender and American political institutions. She is the co-author of A Seat at the Table: Congresswomen’s Perspectives on Why Their Representation Matters and author of Navigating Gendered Terrain: Stereotypes and Strategy in Political Campaigns. She was also the project director of Gender Watch 2018, which tracked and illuminated gender dynamics in the 2018 midterm elections. Dittmar earned her B.A. from Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, MI, and her Ph.D. from Rutgers University-New Brunswick. 


Chryl Laird is assistant professor of government and legal studies at Bowdoin College and co-author with Ismail White of Steadfast Democrats: How Social Forces Shape Black Political Behavior. Laird teaches courses in race and ethnic politics, urban politics, and women of color in politics. Her research examines the importance of black political discourse in black opinion formation and how group norms shape black political behavior. Her research and commentary have been featured on numerous print and broadcast media outlets. A graduate of the University of Maryland, Laird received her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University. 

September 8: The Dark Arts of Politics: When Politicians Choose the Voters


Don Gonyea is national political correspondent for NPR and often finds himself in a battleground state looking for voters to sit with him at the local lunch spot, the VFW or union hall, a campaign rally, or their kitchen tables to tell him what’s on their minds. Through countless such conversations each year, he gets a ground-level view of American elections. He chronicled the controversial 2000 presidential election with its legal recount battle in Florida, and he has served as co-anchor of NPR’s election night coverage. He covered the entirety of the Bush presidency and the presidential campaigns of Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton, and Donald Trump. Gonyea is a graduate of Michigan State University.


Allison Riggs is interim executive director of the Southern Coalition for Social Justice (SCSJ), where she leads the voting rights program. Her voting rights work over the last decade at SCSJ has been focused on fighting for fair redistricting plans, fighting against voter suppression, and advocating for electoral reforms that would expand access to voting. She has litigated redistricting cases on behalf of State NAACP Conferences in Texas, Florida, Virginia and North Carolina. In 2018, she argued the Texas redistricting case in the United States Supreme Court, and in 2019, she argued the North Carolina partisan gerrymandering case in the Supreme Court. Allison works closely with grassroots organizations and communities of color as they seek to advance their political and civil rights. She received her undergraduate, Master’s Degree and J.D. from the University of Florida.


The Hon. Gary Clary (R-Pickens) was first elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives in 2014 and is not seeking an additional term. During his time in office, he advocated for legislation removing the Confederate flag from the state capitol grounds, helped pass legislation that widened dyslexia screening and resources in South Carolina schools, expanded the powers of registered nurses and physician assistants, and worked to reform civil asset forfeiture. In 2018, he co-sponsored a bill that would establish an independent redistricting commission in an effort to reduce redlining for state and local elected official seats. A retired circuit court judge, Clary is a graduate of Clemson University and the University of South Carolina Law School.


The Hon. Gilda Cobb-Hunter (D-Orangeburg) has served in the South Carolina House of Representatives since 1993. She was the first African American woman in Orangeburg County elected to a statewide office and the first freshman representative appointed to the powerful House Ways and Means Committee. A recipient of the Riley Institute’s 2008 David. H. Wilkins Legislative Leadership Award, she has worked in a bipartisan way to support expanding the Earned Income Tax Credit and sponsoring legislation creating a Citizens Redistricting Commission. Cobb-Hunter also sponsored legislation to add a constitutional amendment to the upcoming November ballot where voters would decide who has redistricting power. A licensed master social worker, Cobb-Hunter holds a B.S. in African American history from Florida A&M University and an M.A. in American history from Florida State University. 

September 15: Democracy at Risk: Safeguarding the Votes, the Voters, and Election Integrity


Teresa Nesbitt Cosby is associate professor of politics and international affairs at Furman University, specializing in constitutional law and racial and ethnic politics. Cosby was the law clerk of retired United States Magistrate Judge William M. Catoe, Jr., she served as an assistant deputy attorney general for the South Carolina Attorney General’s Office, and she was the executive director of Legal Services of South Carolina and the former Legal Services of Western Carolina. She also served as the executive director of the Black Family Land Trust, a six-state program. Cosby received her B.A. degree from the Howard University School of Communications and her J.D. from Howard University School of Law.



Robert Costa is the moderator and managing editor of Washington Week, the Peabody Award-winning weekly news analysis series on PBS. Costa is also a full-time national political reporter for The Washington Post, where he covers Congress and the White House and regularly travels the country to meet with voters and elected officials. His election reporting has included the 2010 mid-term elections and the 2012 race for the Republican nomination, and his writing also chronicled the ascent of Donald Trump in the 2016 campaign as well as the Senator Bernie Sanders campaign. Costa is also a political analyst for NBC News and MSNBC and has appeared frequently on television in recent years, in particular on NBC’s Meet the Press, MSNBC’s Morning Joe, and PBS NewsHour and Frontline. He holds a bachelor's degree in American studies from the University of Notre Dame and a master's degree from the University of Cambridge. 

Edward (Ned) Foley directs the election law program at Ohio State University, where he also holds the Ebersold Chair in Constitutional Law. Previously, Foley clerked for Chief Judge Patricia Wald of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit and Justice Harry Blackmun of the United States Supreme Court. As reporter for the American Law Institute’s Project on Election Administration, Foley drafted Principles of Law: Non-Precinct Voting and Resolution of Ballot-Counting Disputes, which provides nonpartisan guidance for the resolution of election disputes. He is the author of the acclaimed book Ballot Battles: The History of Disputed Elections in the United States and, new in 2020, Presidential Elections and Majority Rule. Foley is a graduate of Yale University (B.A., history) and received his J.D. from Columbia University School of Law.

David Levine is the elections integrity fellow at the Alliance for Securing Democracy. David previously served in a range of positions administering and observing elections, and advocating for election reform. As the Ada County, Idaho, elections director, he managed the administration of all federal, state county and local district elections in Boise and its environs. As election management advisor for the Washington, DC, Board of Elections, he supported the executive director and the Board in highly complex matters relating to elections operations, data management, voter registration and outreach, and advised others concerning legislation, statutes and regulations impacting election programs. He also served as the deputy director of elections for the City of Richmond, Virginia. Before he actually administered elections, David worked with advocacy groups to improve the election process. He has also observed elections overseas in a number of countries for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. He received a bachelor’s degree in history from Haverford College and a law degree from Case Western Reserve University.

Michael McRobbie is president of Indiana University (IU), one of the largest universities in the United States, with seven campuses, more than 19,000 faculty and staff, and over 111,000 degree-seeking students. He joined IU in 1997 as the university’s first vice president for information technology and chief information officer. McRobbie holds faculty appointments in computer science, philosophy, cognitive science, informatics, and computer technology, and has been an active researcher in information technology and logic during his career. He is vice chair of the board of directors of the Indiana University Health system, a trusted source of information for the public during the COVID-19 crisis. He served as co-chair of the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine’s Committee on the Future of Voting, which published the 2018 consensus study report Securing the Vote: Protecting American Democracy. A recipient of numerous awards and honors, McRobbie is a native of Australia and earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Queensland and a doctoral degree                                                  from Australia National University.