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University's voting effort succeeds despite COVID roadblocks

Vote Center, registration prove to be University and community assets associated with the important general election.
Fri Nov 13, 2020
One of Sac State's volunteer Election Ambassadors stands his post near the entrance to the Vote Center that welcomed students and members of the community at large during the 2020 general election. (Sacramento State/Andrea Price)

 By Dixie Reid

Post-election figures show that Sacramento State’s concerted efforts to build voter engagement succeeded, with the University posting some of the highest student-voter registration among California universities and colleges.

Sac State finished third among all California colleges and universities in the Secretary of State’s Ballot Bowl by registering 1,767 student voters and more than doubling the hoped-for target number set by Associated Students, Inc. (ASI).

“Our goal had been 800 voter registrations,” said Noah Marty, ASI president. “I am incredibly proud of our students, our University, and our ASI for making civic engagement a priority this election.”

Beyond garnering a certain amount of bragging rights, the University’s political engagement builds its credibility as a place that takes the process seriously.

“The ability to go to elected leaders with this level of student civic engagement shows them that our students have a strong voice when it comes to politics and government, and that they are ready to use it,” Marty said. “Our campus community’s effort empowered more students to exercise their right to vote and to use their voice to make a difference.”

Despite there being few students on campus because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Community Engagement Center took the lead in coordinating dozens of virtual election activities for students and others that began last summer and continue the week of Nov. 16-20.

At 3 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 18, Sac State’s Project for an Informed Electorate (PIE) and the Center for California Studies host the webinar “The November 2020 Election: What Happened?” Political Science faculty, including Kim Nalder, who is PIE’s director, Kristina Flores Victor, Chris Towler, and Danielle Joesten Martin, will lead the discussion. An ASL interpreter and live captioning will be provided.

Registration for the event may be done online.

“We are incredibly pleased with how involved students, student organizations, (and) ASI were in getting students out to vote,” said Nathan Dietrich, associate vice president for Public Affairs & Advocacy. “We believe our efforts to be an absolute success.”

Examples of those efforts include the 25 students who volunteered as ASI Election Ambassadors, logging more than 200 hours as they registered eligible voters, encouraged fellow students to attend virtual voter-education events on campus and in the community, and supported the “Hornets Vote. Hornets Count” campaign to get students involved in the process.

"Being an ambassador was a special experience, knowing how much this election meant for others and myself,” said Nohely Diaz, a Political Science major who graduated in Spring 2020.

“I was able to do work within my community, even with the pandemic going on. It demonstrated how important it is to engage with voters and was truly a learning experience. I’m happy to have done this work for the election.”

Additionally, 10 Student Safety Ambassadors, who usually work in campus academic buildings, were posted at the Sacramento County Vote Center, in Modoc Hall, for four days leading up to and including Election Day. They held open doors, handed out face coverings, and encouraged social distancing among voters.

Sac State first hosted a Vote Center for the 2018 mid-term elections, and lines of students waiting to cast ballots illustrated its popularity.

With fewer students on campus this fall, turnout was lower though still notable. Sacramento County’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections provided these preliminary numbers:

  • 639 registered voters, including 480 on Nov. 3, Election Day, cast their ballots in person at the Modoc Hall Vote Center, which was open Oct. 31-Nov. 3.
  • 588 voters, including 379 on Election Day, dropped off their completed vote-by-mail ballots at Modoc Hall.
  • 717 voters deposited their ballots in Sacramento County’s drop-box at The WELL. That included 136 on Election Day.

“Sac State continues to be a terrific partner in helping to educate and facilitate voting among the youngest voter population in the county,” said Courtney Bailey-Kanelos, Sacramento County’s registrar of voters.

“We’re thrilled at the participation from Sacramento State’s student voters. They had a good turnout, despite the lack of classes being held on campus.”