The 2020 U.S presidential election between Donald Trump and Joe Biden is shaping up to be different from prevous elections due to the pandemic. On the University of Colorado Boulder campus, student organizations on both sides of the aisle are struggling to organize their approach to the upcoming election, in the face of new challenges onset by the pandemic.
“We were so used to being on the ground and in-person, like yelling at people about healthcare in the UMC,” Head Campus Corps Leader of CU’s Buffs for Progress Shay Mannik said. “COVID is making things so much harder.”
Joey Fratino, President of the CU College Republicans has also felt the impact that the pandemic has taken on their discussion based organization.
“It’s hard to operate a discussion on zoom,” Fratino said, mentioning how he was previously used to reacting and responding to the body language of the groups members to advance the conversation during meetings.
CU College Republicans is primarily a discussion-based organization that focuses less on involvement in campaigns and more on talking about issues and policies from libertarian and conservative perspectives. That being said, the group does usually see more student involvement prior to big elections. Fratino said that the organization had 30 students come to the first meeting this year yet they have 106 that are on their email list.
“They (members) will only be attending meetings until the election and then after the election, they’re not going to be engaged that much,” Fratino said, stating how the election year typically changes membership turnout.
In contrast, Buffs for Progress began as a campaign-based organization, supporting democratic primary candidate Bernie Sanders as ‘Buffs for Bernie.’ Following Sanders’ loss in the primaries, the group changed its name, although maintaining its focus on student involvement.
“It was never really about Bernie,” Mannik explained.
The group was very successful in promoting voter registration during the presidential primary elections and plans to continue its work in partnership with organizations such as the Student Action network. A recent email from the group called on its members to sign up for phone and text banks to talk to student voters in Iowa about the upcoming election. Mannik anticipates that virtual Buffs for Progress meetings will start up soon via Zoom.
Buffs for Bernie had about 800 people on its emailing list and Mannik hopes they can get as many people as possible to attend meetings and join its new list for Buffs for Progress.
“Even with 50 really dedicated people, we can do a lot of stuff,” said Mannik. This includes registering student voters; something that is relatively easy in Colorado due to its same-day and online registration options.
While members of Buffs for Progress find that mail-in voting is also a strong way to increase voter turnout, Fratino mentions how mail-in ballots might lead citizens to complete their voting prior to forming complete opinions on candidates.
While both student-leaders acknowledge that this is a critical election year, they have differing views on what the results will mean for the country.
“I think the importance of this election is primarily about the economy, how fast the pace of our economic recovery is going to be,” Fratino said.
Mannik, in contrast, was more focused on how issues such as climate change, immigration, and medicare for all would be addressed by both Biden and the Trump administration.
Despite the challenges presented due to the pandemic, both organizations are striving to advance a dialogue this election year.
“Our work doesn’t end on election day,” Mannik said. “It pretty much only begins then.”
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