COVID-19 factors reshape election norms

Election Day 2020 has officially wrapped up, and while the winners of various races are still uncertain, one thing that is clear is just how the COVID-19 pandemic has impacted the way elections were conducted. In a number of ways, COVID-19 has made this one of the most unusual years in American history with many changes to typical election practices.

For example, a record breaking amount of voters voted early either in-person or mail. According to the Virginia Public Access Project, 2,758,957 Virginians voted early in 2020 while only 574,872 voted early in 2016. In Virginia Beach, 125,711 voted early this year compared to 30,949 who did the same in 2016.

In addition to the mail-in voting and curbside voting services offered, voting inside the precincts themselves took on a different look. For many of those registered to vote at Virginia Wesleyan, this could be seen at their polling precinct was Ebenezer Baptist Church, located right across Wesleyan Drive from campus.

Everyone practiced social distancing at Ebenezer, with spaced out voting booths and tape markings on the floor to guide this process. There, workers operated with gloves and hand sanitizer dispensers. Bins designated new and user materials like pens or manila privacy folders.  Finally, no voter was accepted into the precinct until they displayed proper use of a face mask.

Ensuring all of this was in operation was a COVID-19 procedure observer. At Ebenezer, this was a representative of the Virginia Beach Medical Reserve Corps.

Much like these volunteers and observers, students on-campus did their part to aid voting turnout and ease during these times. Marlins Vote was active in ensuring voters were registered to vote and informed on their options for casting their vote.  

Throughout the semester, Wesleyan Engaged sent out emails to the campus community regarding important deadlines and other significant information. Before Election Day, they reminded students when the polls opened and closed as well as information about their shuttle service. They also ran a shuttle between campus and Ebenezer Baptist Church beginning at 8:30 a.m.

This culminated in a smooth process in spite of the obstacles set forth by COVID-19 factors.  A fair amount of success can be attributed to the significant portion of voters in Virginia who voted early. Still, the success of Ebenezer as a voting precinct was shared not only by the  precinct’s Chief of Elections, Valerie Beard, but partisan and nonpartisan election observers and voters themselves.

Junior Damien Kelly was surprised how quickly he was able to vote. “Overall, I had a great voting experience for the first time voting for a presidential candidate,” Kelly said.

By Connor Merk