COVID-19 has changed the 2020 election season in many different ways.
California voters are participating in this year’s election primarily through mail-in ballots, candidates have found new platforms for lobbying and campaigning, and one professor has created a new avenue to spread awareness about local politics to North Orange County voters.
Jodi Balma has taught political science at Fullerton College for 20 years while informing her students of the importance of local politics.
“I am really trying to get students engaged and following city council races, school board races and all of those that we in the business call low-information elections,” Balma said. “These elections really shouldn’t be low-information because they affect people’s lives and they are the level of government where you have the most power… you can go to public comments, people have to listen to you and you can run for office relatively easily.”
In her political science classes, Balma emphasizes how to gather reliable information about candidates in local elections and regularly hosts guest speakers who are involved in the local community—things that her former students have missed after taking her classes.
“During the spring semester, I was bringing my guest speakers that were scheduled to come to school to Zoom… and suddenly, I could have guests from Sacramento Zoom in, so we had lobbyists talk about how they lobby during a pandemic when the job is to go and talk to people individually, so that really got me thinking that we could have a wider audience,” Balma said.
And so her podcast, “A Slice of Orange: North Orange County Politics” was born.
“One of the great things about this being an election year is that a lot of candidates are looking for ways to campaign during a pandemic, so we talk to candidates and those who are already in elected office… so it’s been really fun to share that with more than just the 40 students who would be in a classroom,” Balma shared.
Right now, the central theme of the podcast has been informing the public on how to learn and gather information about different candidates through candidate forums and meetings, most of which are now being uploaded and saved online.
In this way, the pandemic has increased accessibility for voters and accountability for candidates and elected officials.
“In politics, we say that sunlight is the best disinfectant… knowing that there is accountability to what you are saying and that it’s not just limited to the audience in the room… that matters in local government. Local government is fascinating because you run into people at the supermarket or the sports field and there is a personal accountability because you’re living in the community and people know you,” Balma said.
There has been a positive reaction from listeners so far, and they are suggesting guests for Balma to interview in the future. The audience continues to broaden as people from different realms of government and different locations join the podcast.
“There’s a lot of folks out there who have a passion and want to talk about how to get involved if you don’t want to be elected,” Balma said. “Whatever city you’re in, there are unelected advisory positions and very few people even know about that and there’s a strength in youth because young people are so underrepresented in government and underrepresented on these commissions that bringing in a new perspective can really help.”
The Fullerton College professor stated that she plans to continue the podcast after the election to shed some light on current events in the local community.
“There’s a lot of people to talk to about what they’re doing in their cities,” Balma stated. “There’s a shortage of local government being covered in the media, so after the election, we’ll talk to people who have the jobs about what our cities are doing with the budget shortages and what nonprofits are doing to make up those shortages because we have massive community need for programs that are provided by local government.”
As a final comment, Professor Balma said, “Pay attention to who you elect. Make sure they know that you’re paying attention. When you have a problem, go talk to them through public comments and let people know about the problems in your community because often it’s not malice, it’s ignorance. A lot of times, the folks that have those seats just don’t know the problems that people in their town have so when you can come up with solutions, all the better.”
You can view information about the podcast including guests and interviews as well as updates on current events in local politics by visiting the Facebook page for “A Slice of Orange,” linked here.
The podcast is available on Spotify or Apple Podcasts by searching “A Slice of Orange.” You can also visit the Facebook page to access a link to listen to each episode on your web browser. Professor Balma has been posting two episodes a week on average leading up to the election and will go to a once-a-week schedule after the election.