Three people standing outside Grace E. Harris Hall.
A new VCU website offers nonpartisan information about the Nov. 3 election for VCU voters and the general public. (Getty Images)

Get out the vote: VCU’s College of Humanities and Sciences launches website to provide election info, expert analysis

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On Nov. 3, voters will decide between four more years of President Donald Trump or Democrat Joe Biden. They will decide if the House of Representatives stays in Democratic control, and whether the Senate keeps its Republican majority. And locally, voters will decide Richmond’s mayor for the next four years.

With so much at stake, the College of Humanities and Sciences at Virginia Commonwealth University has launched a website that provides important information on the nuts and bolts of voting — how to register, how to request an absentee ballot, where to find one’s polling place, who will appear on the ballot — as well as expert, nonpartisan commentary and analysis by VCU faculty.

The project’s goal is to help the VCU community, as well as the general public, make well-informed decisions come Election Day.

“The November election comes at a time when our country faces a number of significant challenges, including the pandemic, the protest movement for racial justice, high levels of unemployment and extreme weather events,” said Jennifer Malat, Ph.D., dean of the College of Humanities and Sciences. “In addition to the events currently in the headlines, our country has grappled with other complex issues as well over the past few years. Faculty in the College of Humanities and Sciences are eager to support the democratic process by providing tools to understand these issues for both our students and the broader community.”

The website is being coordinated by Jason Ross Arnold, Ph.D., an associate professor and chair of the Department of Political Science, and Marcus Messner, Ph.D., a professor of journalism and director of the Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture.

“In this election, first of all, it’s important for students and the entire community to vote,” Messner said. “But it’s also really important that we in the college can provide this resource [amid] an environment where it’s really hard for the public, students and the community to get through the stream of misinformation, misleading information and conspiracy theories. It will provide a little bit of a space where you can go and find reliable information from VCU experts in a central place.”

Visitors to the site will find videos and articles, such as a piece by William Newmann, Ph.D., an associate professor of political science, explaining how political analysts attempt to predict election outcomes.

Another article, by Jatia Wrigten, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science, explores the role of Black women in American politics, focusing on “one aspect of that problem that is often overlooked: the exceptional burden they carry in the democratic process.”

Yet another explores the possibility that partisan gerrymandering could lead to Trump’s reelection. That article is by Alex Keena, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science, and three other experts:  Michael Latner, Ph.D., Tony Smith, Ph.D., and Anthony McGann, Ph.D.

Visitors will also find video analysis on major issues, as well as the political history that has led to the current moment. One features Amanda L. Wintersieck, Ph.D., an assistant professor of political science at VCU, discussing misinformation and disinformation amid the election. Another features Bill Oglesby, Ph.D., an associate professor in the Robertson School, explaining gerrymandering. In another, Judy Twigg, Ph.D., discusses the pandemic and the presidential candidates.

The overarching idea is to reach VCU students, faculty and staff, but also voters in Richmond and beyond, Arnold said.

“We want to reach as wide an audience as possible — anyone who is looking for fair-minded information about this election and what’s at stake,” he said.

The website also will offer information about upcoming events at VCU related to the election. For example, on Sept. 21, at noon, Keena will host a discussion on election integrity and advocacy efforts in the lead-up to the 2020 presidential election. He will be joined by a panel of VCU alumni involved in the protection of free and fair elections, voter registration and advocacy efforts and issues regarding voting accessibility and security.

Arnold said the team is planning to host additional events, including possible virtual candidate forums, in partnership with VCU student organizations.