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Students vote and work at the polls despite the pandemic

Historically, most young Americans do not vote. In the 2016 presidential election, less than half of eligible voters aged 18-29 voted.

This year, that could change. Young voters show rare enthusiasm, even as students face new obstacles.

“The pandemic has improved both the way people vote and the way students learn,” said our colleague Dan Levin, who wrote about the challenges students face today. “Just like there are Zoom courses, students go virtual with their organization.”

In a typical election year, campus activists had tables on the quad and knocked on dormitory doors. Now, instead of crowding into common rooms, students are hosting debate monitoring nights on Zoom, recruiting voting agents on Instagram, and encouraging students to post their voting plans on Snapchat.

“We had to exhaust all possible options to continue to energize voters,” said Roderick Hart, 20, a junior at Morehouse College in Atlanta. “Social media is really our only way to connect everyone at the same time, since we’re not on campus.”

This year, more than seven million voters under the age of 30 have already voted, including nearly four million in 14 key battlefield states, according to data compiled by researchers at Tufts University.

“We just arrived and have as many students as we could attend on their floor,” said Jess Scott, who asked the University of Pittsburgh resident advisers to organize voter information sessions on Zoom.

It’s not just the coronavirus that has hampered student efforts to vote. New requirements, often in Republican-led states, can prevent college voting.

“Under the guise of health concerns, officials tried to keep polling stations away from college campuses,” Dan said. “They are limiting early voting hours and eliminating postal voting.”

Students, Dan said, are extremely vulnerable. The coronavirus has heightened concerns over student IDs and proof of residency, as documents go online and many students learn in other places this semester.

Some colleges also did not prioritize voting. The University of Georgia canceled plans to vote on campus, citing concerns over social distancing, but chose to allow up to 23,000 fans to attend home football games. After a major outcry, the university gave in and will house voting booths in the basketball zone.

“If we can have the football, we should have the vote too,” tweeted the University of Georgia Fair Fight chapter, a voting rights group founded by Stacey Abrams.


In 2018, around 58% of election officials were over 61 years old. Now, with older people more at risk of coronavirus, students and young people have stepped up to staff the front lines and keep polling stations open during the pandemic.

“It’s less risky for me than for my grandmother or my parents to go to work in the polling stations,” said Max Weiss, a 25-year-old law student at William & Mary who will be working in Virginia this year. . “I feel a kind of duty to the country to do this.”

Weiss, whose grandmothers worked in polls for years, is one of the founders of the Alliance of Students at the Polls, a nationwide network of law students facilitating the recruitment and training of polling officers. students.

“I’m worried about going out and going to class, but I would much rather put myself in danger,” he said.

Credit…Max Weiss

Energized by issues such as climate change and protests against police brutality, the young people have volunteered en masse. In doing so, they assume a role in politics, often in reaction to their own lack of commitment in 2016.

Kira Tebbe, a freshman in business school at the University of Chicago, heard about a shortage of survey staff on TikTok. She has signed up to help out in Chicago and will be working at her polling station at the Drake Hotel. Tuesday, she will come armed with a KN95 mask.

“He was definitely motivated by, ‘If there aren’t enough poll workers, the polling stations just can’t be opened,” said Tebbe, 26. “What can I do for me? ensure that polling stations are open? I myself can be there physically. ”

To free up her schedule, Tebbe just emailed the teacher from her Tuesday class and told her she would be a poll worker. She then watches the recorded conference.

“Students are well prepared to become polling agents because we have flexible hours,” she said. “I haven’t given up a day’s pay. I didn’t have to use paid time off. It was weak enough for me to start working in the polls.

For high school students, working at the polls is a way to participate in politics, sometimes even before they can vote themselves.

Lucy Duckworth, a 17-year-old high school student in Philadelphia, said she got the idea to work on the polls through a friend’s Instagram story in July. She knows that volunteering comes with risk. But she does what she has to do.

“At the end of the day, the polls have to stay open and someone has to work on them,” she said.


  • Syracuse University could face a closure after several off-campus parties, university officials said.

  • Small mission-oriented colleges like Benedictine College in Kansas are doing relatively well during the pandemic, NPR reports.

  • Cases increase to Hartwick College, a private college in central New York State.

  • A good read: The Washington Post took a close look Penn State, where scientists are studying the virus as football goes on. “Inside the Pell Lab, there is little concern,” Kent Babb wrote. “There is protection. There is respect. It is, they know, the only place in Penn State where the coronavirus is truly contained.

  • An eighth grade student Missouri died of complications caused by the coronavirus. Peyton Baumgarth, 13, is the first person under the age of 18 to die in the state, KMOV.com reported.

  • After pressure from the teachers’ union, Washington DC canceled plans to reopen classrooms for some elementary students next week.

  • In New Jersey, state officials said the clusters in three schools could be linked to transmission to the school. Since the start of the school year, at least 122 students and school staff have contracted the virus during outbreaks at school, NJ.com reported.

  • The virus has hit educators in Arkansas hard. Since the end of August, more than 2,000 teachers and staff in public schools have tested positive and at least six have died.

  • Remember an educator: Choua Yang founded a charter school in Minneapolis dedicated to Hmong language, culture and heritage. A refugee herself, she used her personal story to explain the story to her students. She died at 53 from Covid-19.


College students, we know you and your families are facing a difficult decision regarding Thanksgiving this year. It’s a year where we want to be together more than ever, but the risks are real. Some public health officials fear that students may unknowingly spread the virus across the country.

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