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2020 is looking to be a pivotal year in politics. But this year's elections are about much more than the race for the White House. And the coronavirus pandemic is proving to be a complicating factor. WKSU, our colleagues at public radio stations across Ohio and the region and at NPR will bring you coverage of all the races from the national to the local level.

During COVID-19, Campaigns Get Out The Vote From A Distance

When you’re a down-ballot candidate — that is, someone not named Joe Biden or Donald Trump — you might spend the summer reintroducing yourself to members of the local Democratic or Republican clubs.

This year, you’ll have to make sure you’re not on mute.

Cleveland’s Ward 17 Democratic Club has been meeting on Zoom, broadcasting the video on Facebook to neighbors who otherwise would be meeting in person. Last month, the club laid out plans to get out the vote remotely.  

Summer is typically the season for political candidates to march in parades, meet voters face-to-face and maybe kiss a baby or two. But the coronavirus pandemic has put a stop to that, forcing campaigns to find more physically distant ways to reach voters.  

Ward 17 covers part of West Park and boasts the city’s highest voter turnout. The Democratic Club doesn’t plan to bend the ears of voters on their doorsteps this election.

Instead, they’re putting their hopes in phone calls, text messages and postcards, club member Nora Kelley said, and teaming up with Democrats in neighboring Ward 16.

“We think that the real impact that we can have as the two ward clubs is really encouraging everyone in the neighborhoods, to the extent possible, to vote by mail, so that folks are going to be safe,” Kelley said.

The club printed door hangers with absentee ballot request instructions and the message, “Vote Early, Flatten the Curve.”

Ohioans can mail in absentee ballots or drop them off at county boards of elections to avoid potentially crowded polling places.

Still, it’s a big loss not to meet in person, building camaraderie and enthusiasm, Kelley said.

“Just to feel the energy of other folks and the commitment that other folks have, I think it’s really important in terms of breathing life into a campaign, but also keeping people nourished and engaged in the process,” she said.

The Biden campaign has sworn off big rallies. Instead, it’s holding smaller events and beaming the former vice president’s speeches and conversations to voters’ computer screens and smartphones. The campaign plans a series of virtual events with Ohio Democrats this week.

Trump, meanwhile, hasn’t held an arena rally since Air Force One touched down in Tulsa June 20. He spoke to crowds of supporters at Phoenix church a few days later, and on a tarmac in Florda last week. The president is also calling in to phone rallies with his supporters.

On the ground, the Ohio Republican Party took its campaign digital this spring, keeping in touch with voters through phone calls, video chats and mobile apps, Chairman Jane Timken said. In June, the party ventured out to knock on doors while taking precautions, she said.

“The reports I get are that people have been pretty courteous and polite,” Timken said. “And our field staff wear masks and they stand back and they’re able to ask the voters questions about the upcoming election.”

Timken said the party is trying to staff up with poll workers for Election Day. But she expects an increase in requests for absentee ballots this time around.

“We are out arming our field staff with absentee ballot requests, we’re talking to our voters,” she said. “I’m grateful for the technology, but we have a top-notch field staff, and we like to call them the ‘Buckeye Battalion’ and there’s none better.” 

Another hallmark of campaign season may be different this year, too. Trump and Biden will debate in Cleveland Sept. 29. But with so much unknown about the pandemic’s future, it’s not certain whether they’ll face an audience, or an empty hall.

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