This year was always supposed to be a significant one. Not only is there a census happening, but a number of high-profile elections. Now, it’s all been turned upside down by the Coronavirus. Today we take a look at how the virus has impacted political campaigns, which continue on whether people are isolated or not.
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The Coronavirus has made everyone adjust to a new way of life and the next several months are pivotal to our country’s future. For a lot of reasons 2020 was already supposed to be an incredibly busy and important one. Not only was it a census year, but elections to name president and several state and congressional representatives are on tap. That sound you’re hearing in the background probably both familiar and pretty foreign at this point. We keep hearing that people are social creatures, and it’s been about three weeks since anyone in New York State has really experienced normal the way it was before the coronavirus pandemic arrived. But that sound people laughing talking debating issues is completely common in our political system. And right now it has completely ceased, at least in person.
Hello, and welcome to The Daily Debrief. I’m Josh Durso, and today we take a closer look at how campaigns are adjusting to this coronavirus change. Leslie Danks Burke is running for New York State Senate in the 58th district that includes the Southern Tier and part of the Finger Lakes region. It’s a rural district, which means that there are a lot of people who rely on face to face contact to get a feel for candidates, even before social distancing protocols were mandated by New York State. Some candidates had though taken steps to put space between supporters and even themselves. But even then, when the mandated order came down from Governor Cuomo, it was a surprise.
It was an extraordinary experience because shelter in place orders came out right at the time that the petitioning process was starting to get underway. And the way it works in New York State is you have to get a certain number of petitions, signatures to have a political campaign name appear on the ballot in November. And that process happens in the spring and then in November, you know, the ballads come out. In our case, we had to get 1000 petition signatures from registered democrats in order to have our campaign on the ballot. About two weeks into the process. Normally, you get about five weeks to do that two weeks into the process, the word came down. That of course, it was necessary to stop that to stop volunteers from going out and visiting door to door and getting those signatures earlier than we had expected it would. And also they cut the requirement for the number of signatures down. But that was a real flurry of activity right there in the first week in March, to all of a sudden put out a call to all of our 200 volunteers who were working very diligently all through the district to get these signatures and say, okay, team, get get them in as fast as you can, because we need to turn them into the state by the end of the week. We were enormously gratified in our campaign that as soon as we put that call out to all of our volunteers, the pages just came flooding back. And people were so generous in making sure they got their signatures to us as fast as they could. We ended up with almost eight times as many signatures as we needed. They just poured in. And so then we spent a few days my campaign team and I proofreading those and double checking them against the database, you have to make sure you’re turning in accurate signatures, and then overnighted those to Albany to just make the deadline. So that’s what the lead up to shut down as you put it look like for our particular campaign, it was just a real flurry of activity with volunteers all over the place real fast, putting on gloves, carrying around hand sanitizer, standing six feet away from people and getting those last signatures.
But how do you reach voters and what are the challenges posed by this new need for digital campaigns? As it turns out, one of the issues that has dominated rural politics broadband access has taken center stage again.
But it is very different – to all of a sudden be in a position where you’re trying to reach voters but can’t go visit with people personally. It sure does make campaigning different. It also is particularly challenging in a region like ours where internet access is paltry to say the least for a lot of people. And so, you know, we’re seeing that in so many different contexts we’re seeing in the campaign but also in the healthcare context. In the education context, children are trying to get online to be able to do their schoolwork. People are trying to use telemedicine to meet with their doctors for you know, whatever smaller issues might be treatable over a computer line rather than then going into hospitals that could be very crowded or, or full of germs. And those sorts of opportunities are a lot harder for people to take advantage of when the internet is, is as poor as it is in some parts. of our region. So we’re certainly seeing that on the campaign front that it is harder to reach people. We’re making every single effort that we can to overcome that. And we’re very proud of how many achievements we have had. We were one of the first campaigns to move an event online. We did that actually, before the shelter in place, orders came down, because we kind of saw, saw what was coming and also recognized that there was some public health recommendations out there that people should start social distancing, even before the regulations came in from the state. So we moved our events online, it turned out to be a really successful opportunity for people to join through Facebook Live and participate from the comfort of their homes who might not have participated in our event in person. That was three weeks ago. I think that people are less excited about it now. Now that we’ve all been in our houses for two and a half, three weeks, but we sure are seeing as much as engagement as, as we could possibly have imagined, given the curveball we’ve all been through.
Here’s the catch. Even after you navigate all of the technical aspects of turning your campaign digital, hosting zoom conferences, talking to people on the phone and producing facebook live sessions, there’s a campaign to actually organize putting one together is challenging under ordinary circumstances. Here’s how Leslie and her team have approached it.
Really good question, Josh. And I think that everyone’s grappling with this, right. We know the situation we’re in, we just don’t know how long it’s going to last. And I think from a campaign perspective, you know, we’re trying to plan for the worst case scenario. We’re trying to be as Cognizant as possible that we might be in this fix for a while and so we need to get our systems up and running so we can reach as many people as possible and do as much outreach as possible in case this last for a while and then if it if it lifts and we’re able to get out and visit with people in person. And then that’ll be a great thing right we’ll be able to take advantage of that. And we’ll also have all these digital platforms in place that we’ve put in place to sort of superpower our campaign right now. But I think planning for the worst, and hoping for the best is the way anybody gets through a crisis like this. Wash your hands as much as you possibly can, even if you don’t think they need it, and and that’ll be even safer.
Make no mistake, there is real concern about the status of our upcoming elections, not just in June, but in November. Well, election commissioners across the state were successful in their lobbying to get special elections slated for late April move to June. parts of the country may not be fully recovered by November, and that worries some people.
I am very worried about turnout and our democracy is very important to maintain even in a pandemic. There are lots of ways ways that we can make sure people have the opportunity to vote without putting themselves in harm’s way. Thank goodness New York State already put in early voting opportunities. So we can certainly space out the time that people are showing up to vote. If we do get into a situation where people are going to the polls, and voting, we can space it out over a longer period of time, they will all be crowding the polls on one particular day. There’s also opportunities for, you know, obviously moving things online doing things by mail, people can apply for absentee ballots. And I think that all of those options really need to be looked at very carefully so that we are planning in advance so that we don’t have a crisis, and we don’t lose. You know, what is so very dear to us as Americans is our opportunity to have a voice in our government. We can’t lose our opportunity to vote because of this health crisis. In fact, our voices are even more Important. Now we need to all pull together and, and discuss and decide together how we’re going to get through this.
If all of this feels a bit overwhelming, Leslie shared some potential upside that she sees as voters get used to interacting with candidates through digital platforms.
One opportunity that might happen is it because people are home and they’re online and they’re, you know, looking for things maybe to occupy their time a little bit. One optimistic possibility is that people will be looking for a way to vote. I’m wondering what’s happening with the census for example, I’m seeing so many people post that they have filled out the census. Maybe people are going through their mail and and checking off things on their to do list that they otherwise would have been too busy to do. If they were going about their normal routines.
Do you work for a political campaign? Are you a voter who’s just concerned about elections this summer and fall? Drop us an email at [email protected] and let us know what’s on your mind.
The Debrief is our daily show about the stories that matter in the Finger Lakes region in upstate New York. Look for new episodes each morning on FingerLakes1.com or wherever you get podcasts. And be sure to check out archived episodes by visiting FingerLakes1.com/Debrief. If you have an idea for an episode or would like us to find an answer to a question, email [email protected]. Thanks for listening and we’ll see you tomorrow.