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PodmassPodmassIn Podmass, The A.V. Club sifts through the ever-expanding world of podcasts and recommends the previous week’s best episodes. Have your own favorite? Let us know in the comments or at

We’re doing something a little different this week: Since tomorrow is Election Day in the U.S., and because we here at The A.V. Club think it’s important to vote, we’re recommending 15 podcast episodes to listen to while you’re waiting to vote tomorrow. They’re organized from shortest to longest, so we’ve got something to recommend no matter how long or short the line is. See you at the polls.


1. Skeptoid, “The Science Of Voting” (11 minutes)

Original air date: 10/25/11

What if elections were decided not by counting every vote but by drawing a single ballot out of the pool, lottery-style? It’s totally unrepresentative, but it would eliminate the need for strategic voting for a candidate seen as the lesser of two evils, or disingenuous support of primary candidates seen as less likely to win in a general election, or any other electoral messiness caused by an arrangement that science has known is flawed since at least the 1950s. That’s when Kenneth Arrow published a theorem stating that no fair voting system exists with three or more candidates. Mathematician Donald Saari went further, showing that systems can be designed to produce a desired electoral outcome before a single vote is cast. Imagine if instead of factoring all those elements into your civic decisions, you voted for everyone you wanted and hoped your ballot got selected. Somebody’s got to win, right? [Zach Brooke]

2. Today, Explained, “Six Easy Steps To Nuclear War” (21 minutes)

Original air date: 2/19/18

Halloween was just last week, so why not keep scaring the pants off yourself? An efficient 20-minute episode on nuclear war turns out to be pretty interesting and informative, even if the extremely analog nature of going from peacetime to bombs away is unsettling. By the time you get to the voting booth, you’ll be well informed about how nuclear codes work, what exactly the nuclear football is, and which presidents lost the nuclear codes. [Laura M. Browning]

3. The City, “Six Stories” (28 minutes)

Original air date: 9/24/17

The winners and losers on Election Day extend far beyond the ballot. They include large communities of people. This is the story about what happened to one such group living near the Chicago Loop in 1990 when their elected officials chose to prioritize other constituencies. Chicago was going through a Renaissance at the time, spurred by Mayor Richard M. Daley’s downtown revitalization efforts. But a byproduct of the construction boom materialized in the North Lawndale neighborhood in the form of an illegal dump on a vacant lot. It attracted kids from the elementary school across the street, who climbed and rummaged without knowing the dangers. Dust wafting from the debris gave elderly residents breathing problems. And it was all being run by a guy under FBI protection. [Zach Brooke]

4. The Argument, “Is Trump Destroying The World Order?” (32 minutes)

Original air date: 10/18/18

Even if local issues inform the majority of midterm election votes this season, that doesn’t mean you should turn a blind eye to the absolute shitshow that is the federal administration or the global PR disasters they seem to incite with disturbing frequency. This new podcast from The New York Times features three staffers from across the political spectrum assessing the potential damage being done by the Trump administration. In this episode, the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi kickstarts a discussion of Trump’s confounding approach to foreign policy, which seems to favor demagogues over longtime Western allies. It’s important to be informed before heading into the voting booth, and a podcast that offers perspectives from all sides of an issue is a good place to start. [Dan Neilan]

5. Code Switch, “The Cost To Catch A Ballot” (33 minutes)

Original air date: 10/23/18

Hosts Shereen Marisol Meraji and Gene Demby cram an impressive amount of information into this half-hour episode, including nitty-gritty details about two state races, a history lesson in voting rights, and some big philosophical questions about voting itself. The first half focuses on the present day, exploring the different approaches that two Black Democratic candidates are taking to win over red states. The second half is a history lesson in voter disenfranchisement that starts in the late 1800s and continues through the modern day. Though the situation is in many ways bleak, education is a powerful tool to fight for change, and this episode is a streamlined, sleekly produced educational powerhouse. [Caroline Siede]


6. The Sporkful, “Searching For Rosa Parks’ Pancakes” (37 minutes)

Original air date: 5/1/17

Here’s a chance to a recreate a taste of the past without having to leave the kitchen. When a handwritten peanut butter pancake recipe turned up in the Library of Congress’ collection of Rosa Parks’ papers, it was a warm revelation of the everyday humanity embedded within the deified civil rights icon. Aside from being delicious and surprisingly light on the peanut butter flavor, it also illuminates the early 20th-century African-American experience. The addition of peanut butter reflects the work of George Washington Carver, who helped popularize the staple. And the location of the unearthed document in Detroit recalls the Great Migration of Blacks from the rural south to urban centers of the north, a path Parks herself followed, although not before wrapping up some unfinished business in Montgomery, Alabama. [Zach Brooke]

7. Unladylike, “How To Break The Silence” (42 minutes)

Original air date: 3/27/18

Warning: This episode of Unladylike recalls, in detail, the most severe consequences of domestic violence. Rosie Batty’s son, Luke, was murdered by his father in 2014, after cricket practice, in broad daylight, with people nearby. Batty had reported the father to the police and even obtained the equivalent of a restraining order against him. This episode also details the sweeping and significant reform that Rosie Batty initiated to Australian legislation surrounding domestic violence, beginning the morning after her son died. It’s impossible to weigh the positive outcome against a murdered 11-year-old, though it does give one hope for what difference one person can make in a democracy. The interview with Rosie Batty is brutally difficult and beautifully honest, and though it ends on a surprisingly hopeful note, this episode will haunt listeners well past its 42 minutes. [Laura M. Browning]

8. Freakonomics, “Ten Ideas To Make Politics Less Rotten” (45 minutes)

Original air date: 7/27/16

Leave it to these brainiacs to game out some changes needed in order to form a more perfect union. Would you believe nine out of 10 of these changes are concerned with the dismal way we elect leaders in this country? You don’t have to accept all of them to conclude that our current system enables much of the country’s dysfunction. There’s a smorgasbord of suggestions ranging from standard fare—ranked choice, mandatory voting—to more exotic items like quadratic voting and giving every citizen “democracy dollars” to fund political campaigns. Karl Rove makes a case for preserving the electoral college, which is how you know it sucks. [Zach Brooke]

9. The Weeds, “Republicans Run Everything, And They’re Mad As Hell” (46 minutes)

Original air date: 10/17/18

“Liberals have control of the culture, but not the politics—and Conservatives believe they have control of the politics, but they don’t have any control of culture. And the ideal for both [parties] would be to have both.” Senior politics reporter Jane Coaston breaks down Republican ire alongside Matthew Yglesias and Tara Golshan, in a pre-midterms analysis that might offer some hint of where we’re headed. That American society did not unanimously bend the knee to Election Day 2016’s decisive victors has perhaps helped widen the gulf between parties, or at least complicated efforts to garner bipartisan support in divided districts nationwide—and the current race has shown 45’s curious habit of responding to Congress’ actions as a spectator would, rather than the president of the United States. [Marnie Shure]

10. Getting Curious With Jonathan Van Ness, “How Do We Flip Red States Blue In The Midterms? with Gaby Goldstein” (51 minutes)

Original air date: 10/23/18

Queer Eye’s Jonathan Van Ness is curious about seemingly everything, with his weekly podcast, Getting Curious, covering topics from drug addiction to menstrual cups to politics. In this episode, he interviews Gaby Goldstein, who co-founded the Sister District Project in 2016 to try to identify purple districts that could be flipped blue if they had a little more help. Goldstein and Van Ness are both passionate and engaging, and though this goes longer than the usual 30-minute episodes, it’s a great way to get started with Getting Curious (and your local polling place). [Laura M. Browning]

11. Serial, “You’ve Got Some Gauls” (58 minutes)

Original air date: 9/20/18

In November of 2012, Judge Cynthia Brim was retained to the Cook County (in The A.V. Club’s home city of Chicago) 1st Subcircuit by voters, with 63.5 percent of the vote. Less than six months later, Brim shoved a sheriff’s deputy outside the courthouse, was charged with misdemeanor battery, and was found not guilty by reason of insanity. As Sarah Koenig’s astonishingly good third season of Serial proves, this isn’t even a worst-case scenario. Koenig and co-producer Emmanuel Dzotsi spend months sitting in Judge Daniel Gaul’s courtroom in Cleveland, watching him berate, lecture, and belittle defendant after defendant. He’s particularly galling—sorry—when it comes to Black defendants, trying to speak in African American Vernacular English in order to “get on their level.” Like the rest of this season of Serial, it’s a difficult but important listen—and a reminder that a little pre-voting research on judges could change somebody’s life. [Laura M. Browning]


12. Stuff You Should Know, “Recycling Update: How’s It Going?” (64 minutes)

Original air date: 7/24/2018

While waiting in line to fulfill one’s civic duty, why not think about additional ways to help make the world a better place? Hosts Josh Clark and Charles W. “Chuck” Bryant move away from simplistic advice like “use a paper straw” and “bring a reusable grocery bag” to take a frank look at the larger state of recycling and waste management. Even avid recyclers will have plenty to learn from this conversation, which examines what actually happens to the stuff we recycle, as well as the pitfalls of making recycling “easier” (and therefore easier to mess up). A funny, accessible, and conversational investigation into the complex issue of environmental sustainability. [Caroline Siede]

13. Andy Daly’s Podcast Pilot Project, “The Pee Tape With Don DiMello” (76 minutes)

Original air date: 9/19/18

Theater director Don DiMello was never one for politics. But at some point in 2017 he heard two words that piqued his interest in the subject and inspired him to join the fray of political thinkers populating the airwaves: “pee tape.” In this predictably raunchy episode of the Andy Daly Podcast Pilot Project, Daly’s most detestable comedic creation mines the few details known about this scandal with a little help from his two friends, Falcon (Jason Mantzoukas) and Mal Bachman (Matt Gourley). Their investigation will provide zero insight into our current political moment, but as DiMello would say, it will provide “a little something for Daddy.” [Dan Neilan]

14. Gaslit Nation, “Robert Mueller And The Iron Triangles” (78 minutes)

Original air date: 8/7/18

To enable authoritarianism or reject it: That’s the central measure on the ballot in every district this year. As we await news of which choice our country is making, it’s worth remembering how we got into this precarious situation. In this August 7 episode of Gaslit Nation, Sarah Kendzior and Andrea Chalupa take us back to the final days before the world’s mind was collectively blown and a reality TV star was elected president of the United States. The two hosts—among the very few journalists in the country who were able to recognize and/or willing to report on hostile foreign interference in our election at the time—guide the audience through a labyrinth of propaganda, voting hacking, feckless recounts, and murdered Russians. Not an easy listen, but a worthwhile one. [Dennis DiClaudio]

15. West Wing Weekly, “Season 4 Retrospective, Live With Aaron Sorkin And Emily Procter” (85 minutes)

Original air date: 5/15/18

Given the toxic, hyper-partisan nature of our current political climate, it can be jarring to revisit the centrist fantasy world of The West Wing. But, hey, escapism has its merits, and each week hosts Hrishikesh Hirway and Joshua Malina remind us why we fell in love with Aaron Sorkin’s snappy political drama in the first place. In this special live episode, Sorkin and semi-regular cast member Emily Procter stop by to discuss the events of the show’s fourth season. More than a perfunctory wrap-up of a nearly 20-year-old show, this episode functions as a retrospective of Sorkin’s tenure as showrunner, since both he and producer Tommy Schlamme left the show after the fourth season finale. It’s a humorous and loving look back at a time when there was still some hope in the world of politics. Well, in the fictional world of politics, at least. [Dan Neilan]

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