By ALICIA KRUEGER
November 2020 marks the beginning of most local elections, and during a normal year, fundraising and campaigning would be a pressing part of any candidate’s schedule, yet COVID-19 put a screeching halt to the candidates’ normal campaigning season. This leaves California Central Coast candidates and voters alike in the dark as to what to do next.
“We are in unprecedented times, and we are watching the entire world pivot to online and electronic tools, including campaigns,” says Plasha Will, the founder and CEO of PFW Consulting, a consulting and political frameworks firm. “We are just taking a pause and focusing on helping our local communities right now–it just doesn’t feel appropriate to be fundraising or campaigning at this time.”
As the statewide shelter in place continues, so does the public’s inability to engage in political opportunities as they normally would.
“The ability for the public to interact with a candidate more personally is part of the public process, and I would hate to see that go away,” Carmel Mayor Dave Potter says. “These forums are valuable ways for the public to see what the candidate looks like and understand where they’re coming from. If this continues, it may eliminate the effectiveness of public forums.”
To Potter, the loss of face-to-face interaction between candidate and voter would eliminate a certain key aspect of understanding who you are voting for.
“By the time the season actually starts, I would hope we would have the ability to meet in smaller groups or something, but there really is no guarantee,” Potter adds.
On top of not meeting candidates in group settings, local municipalities are asking California Governor Gavin Newsom to hold a mail-in ballot this November rather than have groups of people flock to the polls. Eighty percent of Monterey County voters already receive their ballots by mail, so getting ballots to the other 20 percent will be crucial to ensuring the current population of voters continues to vote.
“I think that everybody should have an extended option for mail-in ballots during the pandemic,” says California State Senate Democratic candidate John Laird. “Even if we can have a measure of face-to-face contact by voting day, there will be thousands of people who will still feel unsafe voting in person, and nobody should have to risk their health in order to exercise their franchise to vote.”
Laird’s campaign has been put on “sleep-mode” as he waits to see how this pandemic will play out as the voting season for him doesn’t start for another couple of months.
“The success of an office holder and the success of a campaign is reaching people,” says Laird. “So we are going to have to reach people. It is just a question of what is the system and how do you do it effectively. There is just uncertainty right now. Through it all, there will be a commitment to hear people and a commitment to hear them and serve them. The question is how will we do that.”
Democratic Congressman Jimmy Panetta will be running for his third term in the House of Representatives. As his campaign gets put on pause, he makes trips back to Washington D.C. to provide relief and resources to help fight the pandemic.
“The main focus right now is on dealing with this pandemic and providing the funding that is necessary so that the states and local entities have the resources,” explains Panetta. “We are trying to adjust and adapt, continuing to make sure our democracy works.”
Panetta goes on to explain how one of the most important ways of making sure democracy remains intact is ensuring the right to vote: “Voting by mail is secure, it is valid, it is legitimate,” says the congressman. “The president votes by mail, and I believe every American should have that opportunity, so that’s something we’re going to continue to work on.”
“In terms of a mail in ballot, we need to be prepared,” says California Senate Republican candidate Vicki Nohrden. “I think our voice needs to be heard, and if there is some reason we can’t go to the polls, then a mail-in ballot is our next best bet. But there are definitely people who want and like going to the polls for the sense of community. It could be a harder new normal.”
Nohrden is basing her campaign on the idea of being one community working for common good. She’s hopeful that COVID-19 will ultimately bring the community back together.
Despite the current strain put on by COVID-19, candidates and delegates continue to provide for their represented regions.