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Political student groups at U.Va. work to get out the vote before Election Day

Both groups have been hosting in-person and virtual GOTV events in the weeks leading up to the election

<p>The University Democrats have gathered in open University spaces like the Lawn in masked and distanced groups of less than 10 to phone bank.</p>

The University Democrats have gathered in open University spaces like the Lawn in masked and distanced groups of less than 10 to phone bank.

University Democrats and College Republicans have ramped up get-out-the-vote efforts in recent weeks in preparation for Tuesday’s general election. Though COVID-19 has impacted each group’s operations this semester, club members have been gathering outdoors in masked and socially distanced groups, as well as virtually over Zoom, to participate in campaigning events.

As of 4 p.m. Tuesday, 33,095 voters — or 16.6 percent of active registered voters — have voted in person in Charlottesville. An additional 10,494 people voted early in person, comprising an additional 31.7 percent of active registered voters. Mail in ballots are not included in turnout counts, though the Virginia Public Access Project reports that the City has received 7,053 mail ballots. 

This semester, the University Democrats have heavily focused their campaign efforts on Dr. Cameron Webb, who is running on the Democratic ticket in VA-05 against Republican candidate Bob Good. Additionally, they have campaigned for Abigail Spanberger, the Democratic incumbent running for re-election in VA-07 against Republican Nick Freitas, as well as for Democratic candidates in competitive Senate races in states like Maine, North Carolina and Arizona. They have also been phone-banking and text-banking voters in swing states for the presidential election. 

Kiera Goddu, UDems president and fourth-year College student, said that coronavirus-related restrictions have not significantly limited member participation this semester, as students staying home have joined virtual phone-banking and text-banking events on Zoom — ahead of the weekend before the election, UDems reported making over 7,000 phone calls and 200,000 text messages to voters. She said that the club’s GOTV efforts will have important impacts on student participation in the election. 

“We’re anticipating really high student turnout,” Goddu said.

With respect to in-person events, the University Democrats have gathered in open University spaces like the Lawn in masked and distanced groups of less than 10. Instead of canvassing — going door-to-door to speak with voters — as they would in a normal semester, they have been completing literature drops, in which students leave fliers for candidates on the doorsteps of voters to limit contact. 

Goddu and other members of University Democrats are excited but nervous about the upcoming election. 

“I would say I’m cautiously optimistic but preparing for the absolute worst, because I think part of the problem last [presidential election] is that we were completely caught off guard,” Goddu said.

She said that University Democrats will remain a welcoming institution for marginalized students regardless of the election’s outcome.

“Especially because of my position, I realize that I’m going to have to have a brave face on no matter what and be there to support our membership especially if it doesn’t go our way,” Goddu said.

College Republicans have been phone banking and deploying members to go door-to-door knocking to try to get out the vote. Over the weekend, the club had 28 members knock on over 3,000 doors. Sean Piwowar, a member of College Republicans and third-year College student, said that their goal is to maximize voter contacts. Members will also be staffing the polls on Nov. 3.

College Republicans did not endorse Republican candidate Bob Good in VA-05 — which includes the City of Charlottesville — and have instead focused their efforts this election on VA-02 and VA-07. Members participated in a call night for VA-02 –– in which Republican candidate Scott Taylor is running to take back the seat from Democrat Elaine Luria –– and Taylor joined a College Republicans Zoom call to speak last week. 

Campaigning in VA-07 has consisted of phone banking and several trips to the district to knock on doors to increase voters in the race between Freitas and Spanberger. Deployments of door knockers have also campaigned for Daniel Gade, who is running against Democrat Mark Warner for Virginia’s open Senate seat this election cycle.

Although the University’s COVID-19 restrictions have only allowed for small groups to gather for in-person activities and restricted travel outside of Charlottesville, members of College Republicans have persisted in going to VA-02 and VA-07 for door knocking. They have been traveling in groups of five or fewer, wearing masks and keeping their distance to make sure everyone is comfortable. 

“It’s given us a chance to get close, and it’s really nice for first years who want to get involved to feel like they’re part of a community,” said Caleb Flowers, College Republicans member and third-year College student. “It gives them that smaller group interaction, and then people outside of the small groups have been hanging out in their own time and getting to see each other.”

Additionally, College Republicans have been making sure that students are able to participate in getting out the vote from both on and off Grounds. Calls can be done remotely, so students who are at home can still phone bank.

“It’s really all hands on deck, and the nice thing is we’re able to do things like calls virtually,” Piwowar said. “People can just do a call night from their apartment, and I think that’s what I plan on doing.”

This way, students who stayed at home for the semester or those who are in quarantine still get the benefit of increasing voter turnout in some form.

Piwowar said that he feels that the GOTV efforts of College Republicans have been worth their time in VA-02 and VA-07.

“It’s clear that young people working to get out the vote really has an impact on those races in what the outcome is going to be next week,” Piwowar said.  

Piwowar said the overall goal of GOTV activities is to make sure people know their voting rights and encourage people to come out and share their voice.

“I think Tuesday is going to take a lot of heat off of our shoulders until the [next] Virginia elections roll around in 2021, and then we get busy all over again,” Flowers said.