With the Oct. 13 voter registration deadline approaching, Charlottesville and student groups are working to ensure that every student has the ability to vote this November. Registration efforts look different this year, as many of the previous strategies violate newly implemented COVID-19 guidelines.
According to Kierra Goddu, a fourth-year College student and president of University Democrats, UDems is registering students twice a week — from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. on the Lawn on Tuesdays and at O’Hill dining hall on Thursdays.
“We are rolling out many new strategies that are adapted to the socially distanced reality of campaigning and voting this year,” Goddu said.
UDems also plans to roll out a social media and flyering campaign that will include a QR code for Virginia residents to register online. They will have a QR code for out-of-state students to download the registration form, which they can bring to UDems or send to the registrar's office.
This year, UDems is also working closely with the Student Council’s Legislative Affairs committee, College Republicans and HackCville to launch a voter registration and ridesharing website called hoosvoting.com. The goal of this site is to help students register and vote safely during COVID-19.
Since the deadline to request an absentee ballot is Oct. 23, there are concerns about what students should do if they get sent home before receiving or sending in their ballot. Goddu said that if students are sent home before the deadline, they can request to receive an absentee ballot at their home address.
“It is more complicated if we get sent home after the deadline, which is why we are encouraging students to vote early in person or request their absentee ballot immediately,” Goddu said.
Students can vote early in person at the registrar's office in Charlottesville or Albemarle every weekday from Sept.18 until Oct. 31 and the two Saturdays before the election.
Jim Heilman, head of the Albemarle County Electoral Board, has also been working to increase voter registration as well and said that he strongly encourages every student to register as early as possible.
“I really recommend for students to do [register to vote] ASAP rather than waiting until the last minute to register because there might be some problem that can’t get resolved until after the deadline and they are going to be out of luck,” Heilman said.
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Albemarle County has been forced to change voter registration tactics and can no longer go door-to-door in the county. According to Heilmen, the county has been attempting to increase registration through public outreach to media and newspapers, targeting student groups and engaging with underserved communities, such as bringing voter registration forms to local jails.
“I am concerned about U.Va. students and other young people getting registered because normally, in a presidential year, we see a spike right about now in voter registration,” Heilman said. “We are not seeing a spike, we are seeing a bump, but we aren’t seeing a spike.”
According to Goddu, UDems has seen a decrease in the number of voter registration forms.
“There are plenty of reasons for why this could be, including that there are simply fewer students on Grounds and in Charlottesville this semester,” Goddu said. “Also, we are encouraging in-state students to register online, which makes it harder for us to collect data, which we have been able to track in the past by counting forms.”
Students should visit vote.elections.virginia.gov/ to register to vote or check their voter registration information.
Other than voter registration, UDems has been focusing on electing Dr. Cameron Webb in the VA-5 because it is the organization’s home district, as well as Abigail Spanberger in VA-07 and Elaine Luria in VA-02.
“This is going to be one of the most competitive Congressional races in the country,” Goddu said. “Dr. Cameron Webb is also an alum who is uniquely qualified to represent this district and to respond to the ongoing crisis of COVID-19.”
College Republicans did not respond to a request for comment.