Watch parties

Members of the Washington County Republicans Committee watch results roll in live on election night. The committee’s watch party, at Powerhouse Seafood and Grill, was socially distanced and invite-only.

Although election night watch parties looked different this year because of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, students and community members found ways to come together and celebrate the candidates they have been campaigning for.

For supporters of either candidate, watch parties are a place to celebrate and come together after what can be over a year of working, said Gracie Ziegler, president of Washington County Democratic Women.

“They’re tired,” Ziegler said. “That time to come together and celebrate the work that everybody has done to get voter turnout, to get messages relayed even before votes are in, is really powerful. It really helps kind of connect everyone in the party.”

While the Washington County Democratic Women did not gather like they normally would, members came together instead over text messages and Zoom calls with other groups and candidates.

Ziegler, 40, spent her night at home, hopping from device to device while trying to keep up calls and group chats with friends and fellow party members, she said.

“I had my computer and iPad and another computer and my phone all set up to watch returns and to connect with people,” Ziegler said.

Ziegler did not attend the statewide Zoom meeting held by the Democratic Party of Arkansas, but she did sit in on different Zoom calls hosted by candidates.

“It was really nice to be able to come together and not talk about strategy, to just be together— but apart,” Ziegler said.

That sense of togetherness was something that the Washington County Republicans Committee was able to capitalize on as well, even if it was in a more scaled-down way than in the past.

Members met at Powerhouse Seafood and Grill for an invite-only watch party, said Committee Chairman Jim Wilson, 68.

With a limited number of guests and tables set up to follow social distancing guidelines, the get-together was a far cry from parties of the past, Wilson said. Despite the differences, it was an exciting night for members to be together as the results rolled in, he said.

“What hasn’t felt different in 2020?” Wilson said. “It’s definitely different in 2020.”

Fredi Hayes, a junior and social media chair for UA Young Democratic Socialists of America, drove home to Arlington, Texas, to cast her vote, but kept up with fellow students through apps and text.

YDSA and UA Young Democrats collaborated on a Discord channel, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform. Hayes spent her night going from the Discord channel to electoral maps from The New York Times and Associated Press, she said.

Watching the results come in through the live maps made the experience less overwhelming, Hayes said. Instead of popular networks bombarding viewers with constant updates, it gave Hayes a chance to talk through the numbers with others.

“It wasn’t just people telling us how to feel,” Hayes said. “It was other people explaining what their feelings were. It made me feel not so alone and not so anxious.”

Abbi Ross is the Editor in Chief of the Arkansas Traveler, where she previously worked as senior staff reporter.

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