With mere days left until Election Day, some UA students are using their spare time and resources to advocate for the candidates they are passionate about.
Though political beliefs vary among students, some student campaign volunteers share the motivation to learn more about the election process and encourage others to participate in voting. As COVID-19 has impacted the way volunteers can participate, the majority of their time is spent phone banking at home and indirectly canvassing with flyers.
Virtual outreach allows volunteers to reach more people, said Zach Fulton, a junior. He serves as a field director for the Bentonville County Victory Office, where he spends time campaigning for Arkansas House of Representatives candidates Delia Haak (R-91) and John Carr (R-94).
“We’ve been hitting some door knocking, but instead of canvassing, we just leave stuff on their door rather than having an interaction, so it’s been different than in the past,” Fulton said. “It allows us a lot more time, we get to hit a lot more voters. So I think we’ve kind of made up for it just by, maybe not making as much of an impact on people, but hitting more people than we would.”
Some volunteers have felt the loss of personal interactions while campaigning even though their time is spent reaching more constituents. Hannah Grace Kelly, a UA junior and intern for Democrat Celeste Williams’ congressional campaign, said volunteering has lost the communal aspect of working alongside others which she valued in past volunteering experiences.
“You don’t really get the fun of getting to surround yourself with other people who are like-minded and have the same values as you,” Kelly said. “You’re all working toward a collective goal, which is one of the really exciting things about campaigning, but because everything is remote and virtual, there’s kind of a divide.”
COVID-19 hasn’t deterred students from volunteering during this election cycle though . Motivated by educational benefits and personal beliefs, students like Nick Lange, a senior, chose to volunteer for the first time this year. Lange phone banks for President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign and for Geneieve Collins' (R-32) congressional campaign in Texas.
“I wanted to get more involved in politics because it’s something I’ve always been passionate about but quiet about, just because I have a family that tends to lean left,” Lange said. “I really wanted to learn more about how politics are done, like the whole voting cycle, the election process and just really learn more about how elections work.”
By volunteering, Lange has a greater understanding of not only the political process, but also how to engage with people in the community, he said. While not meeting face-to-face, Lange said the ability to phone bank from home makes volunteering more accessible.
This holds true for Kelly, who is phone banking for candidates in Arkansas and nationwide races from her home in Conway, Arkansas. While her political affiliations typically light up with one party, Kelly said she looks beyond her political party to find suitable options.
“I mainly want to look for who has a plan that aligns with a future that I want to see, especially for Arkansans, because I feel like Arkansas is one of the most written-off states in the entire country, so I try really hard to direct my energy toward leaders that are going to help benefit Arkansas and the entire country,” Kelly said.
Campaigning for candidates they feel represent them allows students to personally impact their society, said Zachary Lee, a junior, who volunteered for Bernie Sanders, Celeste Williams and judge Robert Depper.
“The biggest thing is if I can personally align with their values,” Lee said. “At the end of the day, I’m not going to care or work for a candidate if I am not passionate about them.”
While passion remains a leading factor in the decision to volunteer, free time also influences students’ decisions. For Lee, not having a full-time job or additional responsibilities allows him to be active in pursuit of his political beliefs, he said.
“This is kind of my time to get invested and involved, and of course in the future I’ll still try and do things, but for me to actually commit at a 100% level, it will be uncommon in the future,” Lee said.
Any election has the potential to alter the future, but these volunteers say they’ve seen an increased level of enthusiasm and motivation to vote this year. Increasing voter turnout has Fulton feeling hopeful about the future of voting in America, he said.
“I’d say up in Benton County and in Fayetteville, people are just ecstatic to vote this year because they know how important this election is,” Fulton said. “I think people are finally coming to the conclusion that their vote does matter.”
No matter the choice made at the polls, the goal of volunteering is getting voters there in the first place, Lange said. That sentiment is held by volunteers for candidates on the other side of the aisle as well.
“It’s very heartwarming to see people be passionate about voting,” Lee said. “When people take their futures in their own hands, it’s really great to see because it does matter.”