How to Stay Civically Engaged During a Global Pandemic: A Student’s Guide to Stay-at-Home Voting

By Olivia Terrazas

Picture this: It’s election year. The minority party is gearing up for the general election: holding debates, campaigning across the country, and doing everything it can to win the damn White House.


If you’re anything like me — a nerd for politics who plans to stick that “I Voted” sticker on her HydroFlask until it falls off in a couple months — then going to the polls on Super Tuesday and Election Day is an exciting thing to look forward to, maybe even thrilling. 

The idea that you can change the world with one vote is an appealing one. Though this is hardly true, we — us political junkies — like to believe that it’s possible. More than that, we feel a sense of pride in our civic duty and a need to contribute to the political decisions that will impact our futures. 

Every year since I was 18, I look forward to election time when I can head to the polls and cast my ballot, but 2020 isn’t like any other year. COVID-19 has overturned all of the normal proceedings in life. We don’t go to the grocery store, or anywhere for that matter, without wearing a mask and washing our hands as soon as we get home. We don’t see our families for fear of infecting them, and we don’t get to see the friends we’ve spent four years building relationships with. As a graduating senior, this has all been very hard to come to terms with, but as a civic engager, I had another concern: 

– How will voter turnout be affected by the coronavirus?

– And how can I do my part to stay involved in the democratic process, and vote safely in 

November’s general election?


Voter Turnout 

States across the U.S. have initiated stay-at-home orders that generally began in March and extended through April or May. For us UC students and the rest of California, Governor 

Newsom has made this order indefinite. Though California’s Super Tuesday just missed the mark before stay-at-home orders began about two weeks later, other states weren’t so lucky. 

Certain states like Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, and Illinois continued to hold primaries on their originally scheduled dates in March and April, during the peak of COVID-19 in the U.S. This incited nationwide concern for large congregations of people gathering at polling places, and thus risking the spread of the virus. 

Surprisingly, in-person voter turnout in these states remained relatively robust and dropped very little, contrary to what had been expected. Though this may be a sign of rising political enthusiasm heading into the 2020 presidential election, it paints a different picture of the U.S.’s lax response to COVID-19. 

Most other states erred on the side of caution and chose to postpone their primaries until after June 9th. What’s more, they extended the deadline for mail-in ballots to encourage people to vote from home. This is undoubtedly the safest, and easiest, option. 

While us UCSB students didn’t have to make the critical choice between our personal health and our civic duty on Super Tuesday, Election Day in November may be a different story. Even as states begin to reopen, no one truly knows how this global pandemic will play out. Fears of a “second wave” are more real than ever, and whether or not this will actually occur can only be revealed with time. 

How Can I Vote Safely? 

So in order to safely prepare for that day in November, I urge you all to follow these steps: 

1. Register to vote in the city you will reside in on November 3, 2020. 

Because UCSB may be offering remote instruction during Fall Quarter of 2020, many of you may be living off-campus in your hometowns. Online or print-and-mail options are available for all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Both of these methods are stay-at-home friendly and 

safer than registering in person at your local DMV. When you register, be sure to opt in for an absentee ballot. 

● Online registration: 

○ If you live in California: 

■ Deadline to register: Tuesday, October 20, 2020 

○ If you live in another state: 

■ Deadlines to register vary among states 

■ Link to find your state: 

● Print-and-mail registration: _ENG.pdf 

■ CA deadline: Tuesday, October 20, 2020 

■ Deadlines for other states: use above link 

2. If you are unfamiliar with the party platforms, do some research to see which aligns with your beliefs the best. 

● A few helpful links: 

The Democratic National Committee has compiled a list of its issue preferences and pledges to: 

1. Raise incomes and restore economic security for the middle class

2. Create good-paying jobs

3. Fight for economic fairness and against inequality

4. Bring Americans together and remove barriers to opportunities

a. This includes embracing diversity and fighting for the rights of all groups

5. Protect voting rights, fix the campaign finance system, and restore democracy

6. Combat climate change, build a clean energy economy, and secure environmental justice

7. Provide quality and affordable education

8. Ensure the health and safety of all Americans

a. This includes securing universal healthcare and ending gun violence

9. Support our troops and keep faith with veterans

10. Confront global threats (i.e., terrorism, cybersecurity, climate change, nukes)

The Republican National Committee (or GOP) has also compiled a list of its issue preferences and pledges to: 

1. Restore the American dream by creating jobs, promoting economic competition, and

abiding by fair tax policy

2. Foster the rebirth of constitutional government by adhering to the 27 Amendments

a. This includes the right to bear arms, and the protection of human life including

children before birth

3. Utilize America’s natural resources through agriculture, energy, and the environment

a. This includes the protection of extractive industries and environmental progress

through innovative, economic growth

4. Reform government

a. This includes making the government work for the people, preserving Medicare

and Medicaid, and immigration policy that protects domestic workers

5. Promote great American families, education, healthcare, and criminal justice

6. Contribute to a resurgent America with a strong military and great international influence

3. Once you’ve done your party research, take a deeper look into each of the presidential candidates and their policy preferences: Donald Trump (RP), Joe Biden (DP) 

● Link to Trump’s website: 

○ Another useful link: 

● Link to Biden’s website: 

Incumbent President Donald Trump is running on the following platform: 

1. Immigration: reduce illegal immigration, reform the legal immigration system

2. Economy: lower individual and corporate taxes, cut regulations, end trade deficits

3. Healthcare: undo Obamacare, cut drug prices, reform Medicaid

4. Foreign policy: challenging international alliances, embracing adversaries

5. Social issues: limit access to abortion, ban on transgender troops in the military

6. Energy and climate change: withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, boost fossil fuel development

Democratic Presidential Nominee Joe Biden is running on the following platform: 

1. Immigration: border security, reinstatement of DACA

2. Economy: free trade, higher taxes on the wealthy, tax relief for middle-class families 

3. Healthcare: support for Obamacare, oppose Medicare for All

4. Foreign policy: limit Iranian nuclear proliferation, support for NAFTA and the TPP

5. Social issues: legal access to abortion, support for LGBTQ+ rights and same-sex marriage, lift ban on transgender troops in the military

6. Energy and climate change: withdraw from the Paris Climate Accord, boost fossil fuel development

The above policy preferences are not all-encompassing, yet they do provide a general picture of each candidate’s platform and address key issues that have historically been important to American voters. 

4. Finally, mail in your ballot for the 2020 general election. 

Current COVID-19 developments have pushed a number of states to allow mail-in ballots for the November election. Governor Newsom announced that California will be conducting an all-mail ballot election, meaning that all registered voters will receive a vote-by-mail ballot prior to the election. As we near Election Day, more states are expected to join the vote-by-mail trend to protect and ensure the health and safety of their citizens. If you are from out-of-state and plan to be living at home in November, be sure to keep up with your local news to see the adjustments your state is making in response to COVID-19. 

As college students, we are living in unprecedented times during a major transformative period of our lives. Switching from in-person to remote learning has been a challenging adjustment to make, but our generation is resilient and can adapt to anything that is thrown our way. The same is true for our civic engagement. In past decades, youth in America have had low turnout relative to other demographics, but today, young people are voting in larger numbers than ever before. As students at one of the top public universities in the nation, we must use our versatility and knowledge to good use, and mail in our ballots in November. 

The power of our generation is underestimated. As the innovative, free-thinking minds of the future, we must take this election seriously and contribute to the decisions that will impact the rest of our lives. 

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