Prior to the emergence of the coronavirus in March, thousands of Georgetown University students were looking forward to casting their votes via absentee ballot from the Hilltop come November. After eight months of uncertainty, many found themselves not only voting from home, but taking on an increased role in the democratic process as well.
As a result of the pandemic, many students took advantage of being home for the semester to engage with local polling places and ensure voting proceeded smoothly. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, students were able to work at polls across the entire country instead of only in Washington, D.C, getting to interact with many different types of voters from all around the United States.
Students interested in contributing to the democratic process decided to work to check people in at their polling place, monitor precincts for irregularities, report issues or give rides to people who were not able to get to their polling location on their own. Taylor Kahn-Perry (COL ’23), who is currently taking a gap year, worked as a nonpartisan poll monitor in Charleston, S.C.
As a poll monitor, Kahn-Perry was responsible for watching her precinct’s operations throughout the day, looking for any signs of trouble or attempts to commit fraud or intimidate voters.
Her previous experience organizing with the Poor People’s Campaign, a movement dedicated to ending poverty in the United States, inspired Kahn-Perry to get involved in poll monitoring to help prevent the suppression of marginalized voters, she wrote in an email to The Hoya.
“Since I’m in South Carolina, which has historically dealt with issues of racist voter suppression, it feels especially important to volunteer as a poll monitor this election,” Kahn-Perry wrote. “It’s been energizing and important to be in a community and in solidarity with folks across South Carolina who know that voter suppression is violence and are willing to take an active role in ensuring justice in our elections this fall.”
Voter turnout for people aged 18 to 29 increased significantly for the 2020 election, a marked improvement for a group that saw drastically lower turnout in the 2016 election compared to every other age group.
This increase in youth turnout has been attributed to the Black Lives Matter protests that took the country by storm over the summer in the wake of George Floyd’s killing in May, as well as President Donald Trump’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic that has alienated many young voters across the country. Many millennials and members of Generation Z see these issues as ones that made the 2020 presidential election the most important of their lifetimes, boosting turnout accordingly.
On-campus organizations working to energize voters voiced support for the students. Although GU Votes could not register voters on campus like it usually does, the organization, which is part of the Georgetown Institute of Politics and Public Service, encouraged members of the Georgetown community to sign up to work at election sites across the country.
“Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s more important than ever that young people serve as poll workers to help ensure that our election will be fair, safe, and secure. GU Votes is excited to see Hoyas getting involved in the election process by serving their communities and helping others vote this election day,” a spokesperson for GU Votes wrote in an email to The Hoya.
After signing up to check people in at a polling site in Miami, Julia Damski (SFS ‘24) participated in trainings and simulations to reduce the likelihood that voters might experience difficulties come Election Day.
“One of the main reasons that I wanted to get involved was so that I could help facilitate democracy in this election while also protecting the thousands of senior citizens who need to stay home because of the pandemic,” Damski said in an interview with The Hoya. “I’ve also been concerned that there would be a severe shortage of poll workers in this election and felt that it was important to get involved during one of the greatest threats to our democracy that we’ve ever seen.”
Although Trump has repeatedly claimed the election was fraudulent and has sought to challenge President-elect Joe Biden’s victory, neither Damski nor Kahn-Perry saw any instances of voter fraud or illicit activity while working at the polls.
Although being a poll worker or monitor could be stressful at times, the experience was worth getting a firsthand glimpse into the voting process, according to Damski.
“At my training, I was really inspired to see how diverse the group of people was, and I’m really encouraged that people from all kinds of age groups and ethnicities care deeply about this election and are trying to get involved,” Damski said.
Kahn-Perry said the involvement in this election was as exciting as it was necessary.
“I’m made incredibly hopeful by all the folks I’ve seen step up to be poll workers, nonpartisan poll monitors, and organizers during this important time, but I know that the work must continue to build a more just future,” Damski said.