Campaigning in the Age of Social Distancing

Monique Smith, running for state representative

The coronavirus pandemic has seriously altered the way all of us are working — whether it is trying to find the most productive way to hold meetings, or how to get anything done with a screaming toddler in the next room, or how to pinch our budgets. Things seem to be falling apart before us — and that alone is making it difficult to get work done.

Democracy is also going to pieces, as states continue to hold primaries, voters get conflicting information, and Boards of Election become bombarded with work. So how are local candidates coping? Get Out the Vote efforts are more necessary than ever as the failures of our government come further into the light, and momentum into the November election cannot stop.

I spoke with Monique Smith, who is running for state representative in house district 16, representing Rocky River, Westlake, North Olmsted, Fairview Park and Bay Village. She knows that the last few weeks have been chaotic — she and many of her volunteers have been forced to adjust to “a new normal” as schools closed. “I needed to prioritize my kids and be a parent,” says Smith. And many candidates truly did not know what to expect, anyway. The courts took their time to let us know if voting would be extended or not — so they were in limbo until recently.

And now Monique is hitting the ground running, just like before. Her focus is now on what she calls “ballot chasing” — this means that every day, she and her team check the BOE to see what voters have requested an absentee ballot. They take this list and do the follow-up: making sure the voter received their ballot, has a plan to send it in, and knows who Monique is & her platform. These mailers are easy to do remotely and can be the difference between winning or losing her primary.

Candidates are also using their platforms to uplift crucial services and inform the public. Tom Jackson, running for state senate in senate district 25, continues to encourage his base to support the Greater Cleveland Food Bank. Similarly, Monique Smith hopes to utilize Facebook Live to answer people’s questions regarding the pandemic. This is their first step in establishing their ability to be there for the voters.

Joan Sweeney, running in the 7th district for state representative, says, “The current pandemic changes the way we do business. It brings to the forefront the most important part of any campaign — the people. We will continue to get the information out while ensuring the safety of all involved.”

Individual help, be it phone and text banking, writing letters, or reaching your audience on social media, could get these Democratic candidates that much closer to unseating their opponents. Consider what you can do during this time to ensure our democracy does not go to pieces and these grassroots campaigns stand a chance.

Jenna Thomas is working towards her Master’s degree in Public Administration at Cleveland State University and hopes to bring her passion for systemic, purposeful change to the nonprofits and public entities in Cleveland. She is a current organizer with the Ohio Student Association advocating for more accessible and inclusive education at CSU. 

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