Election Day 2020: Political Science Class Helps Students Make Sense of It All

Election Day 2020: Political Science Class Helps Students Make Sense of It All

“Happy Election Day!”

This was the joyful way University of San Diego Political Science Professor Casey Dominguez, PhD, greeted students in her Political Science 310 class on Zoom shortly after 9 a.m. They were tuning in, from San Diego, Chicago and all places east, north, south and west on Tuesday, Nov. 3, 2020.

Dominguez’s upper-division class, The Presidency, “focuses on the American presidency as an institution. The class examines the origins of the president’s domestic and international powers, how those powers have grown and changed over time, and how they are both enhanced and limited by other actors in the political system,” so says USD’s undergraduate student course catalog.

Presenting the Election Battleground States

Students — all first-time presidential election voters — had mailed their ballots and were among the 100 million or so nationwide to do so prior to Tuesday. Having that civic duty out of the way, 11 Toreros gave informative presentations on noted presidential election swing states: Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Minnesota, Texas, Iowa, New Hampshire, Georgia and Nevada. One student was also following the Maine and Nebraska congressional districts.

“The number of early votes cast in Georgia, almost four million, in this election, is the same number of total votes cast in 2008 and 2012,” said Corina Martinez, a senior political science and theology and religious studies double major and leadership studies minor from Ventura, Calif. “It will be exciting to see how many more people vote today.”

Meanwhile, Eli Roberts, a junior double major in political science and Spanish from Portland, Ore., was assigned Michigan. Asked for an interesting fact learned from his research, he said, “(Donald) Trump was the first Republican nominee to win the state since 1992 and was kind of the culmination of a decade-long trend of Michigan gradually swinging to the right.”

Roberts, who oversees the university’s school TV station, USDtv, and has been doing a lot of election and campaign coverage, truly enjoys this class assignment.

“I love being able to really get down in the nitty-gritty stuff and figure out why something might happen,” he said. “I think the causal mechanisms of American politics are extremely interesting and being able to kind of flesh them out on a state-by-state basis really helps my overall understanding of the mechanics of this election.”

Carly Coberly, a senior political science major, studied North Carolina. Being from California, she’s only been alive to know and see that Democrats win California. Democrats have currently won California the last seven presidential elections — George H.W. Bush was the last Republican to win it in 1988. That’s why it was exciting for Coberly to examine North Carolina, it offered something different.

“Before Barack Obama won North Carolina in 2008, (Mitt Romney won in 2012), Democrats had not won North Carolina since 1976. Jimmy Carter won the last time it went blue,” she said.

All three students, as well as the others who presented today, were scheduled to track their swing state’s county races closely, perhaps even determine a winner before it is declared officially by media covering the election happenings tonight. In the current remote learning mode that USD students are in, Dominguez and other political science professors set up text-only discussion boards on the Discord social media platform. The discussions debuted when President Trump and Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden gave their respective acceptance speeches at their virtual political party conventions. Discord discussions have also happened during the Trump-Biden and Mike Pence-Kamala Harris debates.

Political Experiences Galore for Carbajal

Another graduating senior in Dominguez’s 310 class, Chicago’s Catalina Carbajal, wasn’t assigned a swing state to cover but the political science major has been fulfilling her passion for politics in a myriad of ways.

“I'm a first-generation American citizen and I've been organizing with other activists in Chicago around environmental justice, immigrant rights, voter protection and menstrual equity for several years now so it feels nice to put that energy behind a vote that counts,” Carbajal said.

Her organizing and activism landed her an internship for one San Diego politician’s bid for office today and is a member of the 47th Ward Youth Advisory Council in Chicago. She currently serves as an at-large senator for USD’s Associated Student Government and is an evening student in the USD School of Law’s Paralegal Program. She did electoral and campaigning on-the-ground work during the 2016 and 2020 campaigns of Vermont Senator and two-time Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders.

When Sanders’ campaign ended in 2020, Carbajal didn’t slow down. Instead, she found a unique way to make a political impact.

“I still wanted to do my part this election so I applied to Ballot Ready, a women-founded, civic tech/political startup in Chicago,” she said. “Ballot Ready is a nonpartisan and free voter tool to bridge the information gap that keeps too many people home or guessing on Election Day when it comes to the 100,000 other positions on the ballot besides the presidency.”

As an electoral fellow on the data team, Carbajal “has been working to create an informed and accessible democracy and put power back into voters' hands by contacting hundreds of local county election officials and over 30,000 candidates to gather election data from every corner of the country, as well as working on a voter tool that is 100% in Spanish.”

But if you’re looking for a “fun fact” with Carbajal, it’s likely this: “My mom just recently got her U.S. citizenship so we actually voted for the first time together, it was a cute moment. We voted by mail a couple of weeks ago.”

Anxious, Excited; Yes, Voting is the Right Thing to Do

Roberts, Coberly and Martinez each expressed emotionally how this 2020 election means.

“I'm feeling pretty anxious about the election. The election season has just been so long and intense that I'm really ready for it to be over, but I'm worried about what the aftermath of the election will be like,” Roberts said. “I feel like actually voting in the election doesn't affect how invested I am in it. I've always been very into politics and I felt just as intensely about the 2016 election as I do about this one.”

“I feel good … definitely in my lifetime, it’s one of the most important elections, I think, we’ve had in a while so I’m very excited this gets to be my first (presidential) one,” Coberly said. “I think there are a lot of civil rights issues happening and those are some of the most important things to me politics-wise. Both (presidential) candidates have been very clear as to what their response is, where they stand on those issues and I think it’s very important to vote with people unlike you in mind, especially if you’re like me who is white, has some privileges that other people don’t have. I think this is a very important election for people who aren’t like me and to not think about them would be selfish.”

Coberly, who is the vice president of recruitment for the USD Panhellenic Council, isn’t shy about getting involved. Politics-wise, she knows about the recent election history of California and, after some research, more about North Carolina. But when COVID-19 brought about a slowdown, that’s when Coberly got involved. She searched online internship opportunities and wound up interning for a New York State senator incumbent, John Brooks, and first-time New York State Assembly candidate, Ann Brancato, both in Long Island.

“I did it for four or five months, doing some policy summaries, phone banking and I helped them recruit more interns,” Coberly said.

Martinez, who also expressed anxiousness with this being her first presidential election, more so because of the importance being placed on it by so many. But Martinez’s involvement in University Ministry, MEChA, the Alcala Club and other organizations on campus were valuable resources of support.

“All of these communities have encouraged students to vote in this election to ensure that their voices are heard,” she said.

USD Votes: Get Involved, Register

Several USD students, clubs and organizations and even USD Athletics teams spent part of their COVID-19 pandemic going on social media and challenging their fellow Toreros to get everyone on the roster registered.

Much of the credit for encouraging USD students to get on board comes courtesy of USD Votes. It is a committee of students, faculty, and administrators who support the mission of the University of San Diego by working to increase civic awareness and voter participation in the USD community.

USD Votes participates in the National Study of Learning, Voting, and Engagement, and uses information collected in that study to guide its efforts to register voters on campus. USD participates in two college voter-participation competitions, the All in Campus Democracy Challenge, for which USD received a Bronze Seal for having voter turnout above 50% in 2016, and a Gold Seal for voter turnout above 40% in 2018. In 2020, USD is competing in the California Secretary of State's Ballot Bowl. There has been a constantly evolving, ambitious plan to register and turn out more students this year. Even after the election concludes today, it’s still an important civic duty to register to vote. Midterm elections aren’t that far away.

After the Election: Making Sense

There will be an after-election day, week, the conclusion of the fall semester for Political Science 310. But students won’t just stop thinking about an election. They will continue to pursue information. They’ll want to preserve what they’ve learned in Dr. Dominguez’s class.

“It’s been awesome and Dr. Dominguez is an amazing teacher,” Coberly said. “You might think that going into a class about the presidency that you know what to expect, know their powers and such, but this class goes so in-depth. It’s super helpful learning why the current presidents do things. You really learn a lot about the person we’re electing.”

Martinez agreed. “For me, 310 has helped me to put this election into perspective. I think a lot of anxiety about this election comes from the fact that people misunderstand and overestimate the power of the president. I have enjoyed this class because it has walked students through the ways that presidents have used their power throughout history as well as the system of checks and balances that restrain (and sometimes bolster) the president's power.”

Roberts knew fall semester in an election year is the perfect time to take such a valuable class.

“I took the class because of how current it is and it has proved to be super valuable. I think the most influential part is to go to class a couple of times a week and have a real, fact-based discussion about what is happening with the election. Learning about the permanence of the institution has helped to kind of ameliorate stress about what happens after this election.”

— Ryan T. Blystone

The U.S. 2020 election has been a big topic in Political Science Professor Casey Dominguez's class, The Presidency. On election day, students presented on swing states that'll be keys to victory.The U.S. 2020 election has been a big topic in Political Science Professor Casey Dominguez's class, The Presidency. On election day, students presented on swing states that'll be keys to victory.

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