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'COVID has absolutely changed the game': Voter outreach groups take canvassing virtual

Several student volunteers work a table to assist others in registering to vote last year on Oct. 1, 2019. This year, student activists are finding virtual ways of doing so.

Before the COVID-19 pandemic, activists aiming to increase voter turnout could stand in crowded public spaces, go door-to-door and host events to encourage voter registration and participation. Amid a pandemic though, many traditional strategies are temporarily obsolete.

Local and national voter outreach organizations have struggled to adapt to this new normal. Rupi Jain, president of the UNC Young Democrats, said the new circumstances have been difficult for the Young Democrats, considering the greatly reduced number of students on campus this fall. 

“Before COVID, we were out in the pit, on the quad and lower campus every single day,” Jain said. “Normally training, organizing, canvassing is all in person, and that’s what makes it so special.” 

Living in the information age, students have more access to technology than ever before. Social media and the internet are integral parts of culture now, especially for younger voters. Many organizations are picking up on this, and using the tools they have to create effective polling tactics. 

Jain spoke about the ways Young Democrats have been reaching out online: infographics, Zoom info meetings and extensive phone and text canvassing efforts. Similarly, the Orange County Democratic Party has been performing many of the same duties under the direction of Marilyn Carter, chairperson of the OCDP. 

“Orange County was on the leading edge of adapting to COVID," Carter said. "COVID hit really hard, so we began preparing in February. In March, we had a virtual town hall meeting with 400 attendees to talk about COVID and what we were preparing for – we were one of the first county parties to do that.” 

Because of this early adoption of risk-preventing strategies, OCDP was able to adapt to the new tech-centered normal by hosting software and technology training early in the canvassing process. Carter said the more flexible attendance options available through Zoom and other similar platforms seem to have made it easier for people to attend meetings and gain more important insight on local, state and federal issues.

UNC Young Republicans and the Orange County Republican Party did not respond to request for interview by the time of publication. 

Non-partisan organizations have also had to deal with the same engagement complications, and come up with creative ways to get all voters engaged, not just one party or the other. Rachel Weber, the North Carolina press secretary for NextGen America, shared some of the unique ways they’ve been reaching out.

To reach younger voters who might be undecided on whether or not to cast their ballot, NextGen has hosted virtual info rallies in the popular Nintendo Switch game, Animal Crossing: New Horizons. 

Millennials are quickly approaching Baby Boomers as the largest voting bloc in America with nearly 62 million eligible voters in 2016 compared to the 70 million Baby Boomers. This means that more than ever, younger people are going to have the ability to make huge changes, but only if they can organize and get the information they need to make their decisions

“Like many other industries, COVID has absolutely changed the game of what campaigning looks like,” Weber said. “But now we really have to get creative, get motivated, and make sure no voter goes unreached.”


@DTHCityState | 

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