By Dixie Reid
The Nov. 3 general election is unlike any in U.S. history, said Kim L. Nalder, professor of Political Science and director of Sacramento State’s Project for an Informed Electorate (PIE).
“In the COVID-19 era, many people aren’t voting in a traditional way. Many are voting by mail,” she said, also referring to the “undermining (of) confidence in mail-in voting.”
“This also isn’t a standard election because of widespread misinformation about supposed voter fraud, and active election interference by Russian bots, which has shifted the mood in significant ways,” Nalder said. “There are a lot of questions about how people will perceive the legitimacy of the election and what will happen when it takes longer to count the votes.”
Nalder and PIE stand ready to help voters, particularly students who may be voting for the first time, navigate the election with two upcoming Zoom webinars.
The webinars are among numerous events being held ahead of the election to help students and others learn more about the issues and candidates on the ballot. They are part of Sacramento State’s nationally recognized efforts to promote student voter engagement.
Nalder launched PIE in 2012, after many of her students told her they were frustrated with the voting process, unsure of who to trust, and wondering how to get reliable guidance on political candidates and ballot measures.
“Every American has probably felt that way at some point,” she said. “So the goal was to chip away at that by providing events and initiative explainers and tools for folks to deal with misinformation, and to arm voters with information so that they can vote their conscience.
“I hope that students will not be discouraged if they don’t know everything about every race, because there’s no requirement that you fill out the entire ballot. You can just pick the few things that you do know about, and call it a day.”
Sacramento State, which has a longstanding commitment to civic engagement, this fall launched the campus-wide “Hornets Vote. Hornets Count” campaign to get students involved in the process.
That effort is paying off. Sac State ranks third among California colleges and universities for the highest number of student voter registrations in the Secretary of State’s Ballot Bowl competition, which continues through Election Day. Washington Monthly magazine recently named the University to its honor roll as one of the best colleges for student voting.
Sac State also is participating in the ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge, an initiative of the nonprofit Civic Nation. University President Robert S. Nelsen recently signed the Higher Education Presidents’ Commitment to Full Student Voter Participation.
“Voting is one of the most solemn responsibilities in our society. When we vote, our voices and ideas are heard, and we actively participate in shaping the future."
Hornet Athletics is doing its part, with more than 300 student-athletes registered to vote in this election.
“Voting is one of the most solemn responsibilities in our society,” Nelsen said. “When we vote, our voices and ideas are heard, and we actively participate in shaping the future.
“I am proud of Sacramento State’s commitment. I sincerely hope that we can achieve as close as possible to 100% student registration and voter turnout. This election is an important moment in our nation’s history, and I am confident that the Hornet Family will show up and be counted.”
The deadline for registering to vote online or by mail was Oct. 19. Students or anyone who missed that deadline can register and cast their ballot in person at the on-campus Vote Center in Modoc Hall.
The Vote Center, operated by Sacramento County’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections, will be open for four days: 8 a.m.-4 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 31, Sunday, Nov. 1, and Monday, Nov. 2; and 7 a.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 3. Physical distancing and other safety protocols will be in place.
For those who prefer to hand-deliver rather than mail in their completed ballot, an official Ballot Drop Box at The WELL is accessible during regular business hours.
Associated Students Inc. (ASI) President Noah Marty, a fourth-year Political Science major, has been a leader in the University’s efforts to get students excited about voting.
“Now, more than ever, I think it’s so critical that students have their voice heard,” he said. “How does the election impact the things you find important, such as education and your community? Why is this something that should matter to you?”
The Community Engagement Center has served as the clearinghouse for election-related activities and offers a list of election resources, including the voter information guide, along with Sac State Zoom backgrounds related to the election, at www.csus.edu/vote
Voters seeking additional nonpartisan information, including videos that explain ballot initiatives, tips on detecting fake news, and a calendar of PIE-sponsored events, will find resources on PIE’s website: https://www.csus.edu/college/social-sciences-interdisciplinary-studies/project-informed-electorate/
Given today’s sometimes toxic political climate, Nalder worries students and others who are new to voting “will be turned off of paying attention to politics.
“I’ve been teaching at the University for many years, and one of my goals has always been to get students to pay attention to current events and start to understand what their government is doing day-to-day. Now I feel like it’s almost abusive to make them pay attention to the world,” she said.
However, she implores students to participate in the upcoming election.
“It’s important that you’ve made your voice heard and that you’ve started the habit of voting that will hopefully last a lifetime,” Nalder said.