Democratic candidates running in the upcoming general election addressed efforts to boost voter registration amongst their constituents at the annual “Meet the Candidates” event hosted by University Democrats Wednesday evening in Clark Hall.
Incumbent Virginia Senator Creigh Deeds faces Republican candidate Philip Hamilton for the 11th District Senate seat, while potential Delegate Amy Laufer faces Republican candidate Steve Harvey for the 55th House District seat. Allison Spillman will face opponent Dr. Meg Bryce in the race for the Albemarle County School Board.
All seats in the Virginia House of Delegates and State Senate, as well as certain local positions, are up for election Nov. 7 this year.
During the event, each candidate shared their commitment to increasing political awareness amongst their constituents and touched on the specific values of their campaigns.
Spillman said that she planned to continue blocking the implementation of Governor Glenn Youngkin’s anti-trans policies in Albemarle schools and promote more LGBTQ+-friendly and anti-racism initiatives in schools across her district. As someone with five children in the Albemarle County Public School system and who has a transgender daughter herself, Spillman emphasized the necessity of inclusive policies within public schools in the area.
“The goal of our school board is to be as…loving and accepting of all students so that all students can succeed,” Spillman said of these efforts.
Young people like these students were the subject of much of the candidates’ discussion surrounding voter registration. Spillman also noted that the youngest voters she interacts with are aware of the impact that politics has on their lives but do not always pay as much attention to state elections as they do the federal ones.
“A lot of young people want to wait and vote in the really big presidential ones, but it’s about getting them to understand that [local] elections like this have the most impact on them,” Spillman said. “That’s really where the change happens.”
Virginia’s general election, for which early voting opened Sept. 22 and will run until Nov. 4, historically has a lower voter turnout than the other four elections within the five-year cycle. It was as low as 29.1 percent in the recent 2015 general election, a fact that Deeds made note of in his introductory remarks.
“It’s the lowest year—we could have a turnout as low as 25 percent, which is pathetic,” Deeds said. “We can do better than that. We need a turnout higher than 40 percent. And if that happens — if Democrats turnout in Charlottesville and Democrats turn out in in Albemarle county — we win.”
Each candidate talked about how vital these less well-known elections are to the overall democratic process. Laufer said that winning elections like this one on a community level is just as important as it is on a larger scale.
“On every level, Republicans are battling us,” Laufer said. “If they can’t get us at the federal level, they’ll try it at the state. And if they can’t get us at the state — that’s why they’re starting up on the school board.”
This concern with local communities does not limit the scope of the candidates’ platforms. According to Deeds, the issues that rural or younger constituents are invested in are often not so different from the ones on the federal level.
Laufer’s platform, for instance, centers largely around nationally publicized issues such as securing women’s reproductive rights, reducing carbon emissions and promoting gun control. Deeds also made note of his continued interest in reforming election law, reinforcing pro-choice abortion policies, and instituting criminal justice reform.
“We believe we have a responsibility to one another,” Deeds said. “We have a responsibility to our community and we are in a life-and-death battle right now.”
The candidates also discussed how to better engage a younger voter bloc as well as more rural voters. Laufer described the work of increasing voter awareness and voter registration as being a difficult process, especially for younger generations who may feel out of touch with current representatives.
“Making [politics] compelling to somebody who’s not already interested is what we’re trying to do,” Laufer said.
Bringing registration to voters, rather than waiting for voters to come to them, was a theme throughout the event. University Democrats President Vincent Kloes opened the meeting with a series of QR codes that linked directly to voter registration forms and passed out paper forms both at the beginning and end of the event to those who requested them.
Making the process of registering to vote as easy and accessible as possible is an overarching goal of University Democrats. In addition to tabling and event outreach throughout the next month, Kloes said University Democrats’ current focus is on streamlining the out-of-state voting process for students who live outside of Virginia.
“They have to register with a paper form, so that's our main effort right now, ahead of the deadline, making sure people who are not registered and who want to vote here are getting their paper forms into the city or the county,” Kloes said.
Along this same vein, Laufer continually reinforced throughout the event the necessity of door-knocking and face-to-face interactions in the campaigning process. While social media is a large aspect of campaigning, she stressed the centrality of in-person conversations to her campaign strategy.
“If you get to a door and are able to talk to somebody, they’re more likely to show up to vote,” Laufer said. “Sometimes you guys want to ask, ‘Is this worth it?’ and it absolutely is. Every conversation matters.”
The general election will take place on Nov. 7, and information about polling stations can be found on Virginia’s official election website here.