By Dixie Reid
Sacramento State’s Student Safety Ambassadors — believed to be the first of their kind in the CSU — have been busy this fall ensuring that campus safety protocols are followed during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During the final run-up to Election Day on Nov. 3, their work expands to include Modoc Hall, site of a Sacramento County Vote Center.
The Vote Center represents a significant part of what has been an unprecedented campus-wide promotion of civic engagement, an effort that has pushed Sac State’s student voter registration levels to among the highest in the state.
"We must continue the work we have started, build upon our momentum and ensure that student voices are heard.”
Vote Center hours are 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.
“The Student Safety Ambassadors will be doing what they do in our academic buildings: holding open doors, handing out face coverings to those who need them, and encouraging physical distancing,” said Adam Dowrie, University Housing’s assistant director for Programming and Staff Selection.
“And they will assist the county elections officials if a COVID-related concern pops up, such as helping to form a line if people are congregating.”
The Vote Center, which replaces traditional polling places, is operated by the county’s Department of Voter Registration and Elections. It will serve as a central location for registered voters on campus and in the community to vote in person or to drop off mail ballots. Sacramento State became the first CSU campus to host a Vote Center after Sacramento County joined four other California counties to pioneer the 2016 Voter’s Choice Act for the 2018 midterm elections.
Voters can also return their filled-in mail ballot at the Sacramento County drop-box at The WELL, which is accessible during regular business hours.
Students, and any eligible voter who missed the Oct. 19 registration deadline, can register in person at the Vote Center and cast their ballot the same day.
With only a few hundred students on campus this semester because of the pandemic, it’s unlikely that the Vote Center will see anything like the heavy turnout of the November 2018 midterm election, when students waited in line for two to three hours.
Even so, Sac State’s almost-entirely virtual “Hornets Vote. Hornets Count” civic engagement campaign has been robust and ongoing since last summer, when the Serna Center hosted a focus group about the barriers students face when it comes to voting.
The Community Engagement Center took the lead in coordinating dozens of campus-wide election-related events, created the Sac State Votes page and designed and distributed "We Vote. We Count" T-shirts. The Center also held two voter-registration drives.
The University’s efforts to encourage students to register and vote in the Nov. 3 election have paid off: With 1,543 new student registrations, Sac State was tied for third among all California colleges and universities in the Secretary of State’s Ballot Bowl competition.
The Ballot Bowl, launched in 2018, encourages institutions of higher education to engage their students in the democratic process.
“We did not have a formal goal for this year’s registrations but hoped to double the number of students — 20,775 — who registered during all of 2016 using the Secretary of State’s online system," said Lizette Mata, deputy secretary of state for Operations.
"Students have blown that number out of the water this year: More than 65,000 students have registered to vote since the 2020 Ballot Bowl got underway Aug. 17.”
Californians, including young people, are registering to vote in record numbers, but the lowest-represented group statewide remains 18- to 24-year-olds.
“It’s encouraging to see such growth since the California Students Vote Project was established in 2016 by the Secretary of State’s Office,” Mata said. “But we must continue the work we have started, build upon our momentum and ensure that student voices are heard.”