The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted this election cycle, with surges in voting by mail or absentee ballot, and the way conventions and debates are held. Even the candidates themselves are changing the way they engage with voters. Kateleigh Mills asked three first-time candidates about their experiences campaigning during a pandemic for Oklahoma Engaged.
MAUREE TURNER: My name is Mauree Turner. My pronouns are she/they. I am running for Oklahoma State House of Representatives in House District 88.
CHAD FERGUSON: Hi, I’m Chad Ferguson and I am running for Tulsa City Council, District 7.
DICK LOWE: My name is Dick Lowe and I’m running for House District 56 – a large area of it is agricultural – a tremendous amount of energy production also in the county. In the primary alone we knocked over 5,100 doors in this district which it really was an exciting time to do that. People were wanting to talk, come out and visit, shake hands. It was almost like an old time reunion and that went on all the way until about mid-March. When the COVID issue hit, ‘course not gonna be up knocking doors for not only my safety but also other people’s safety – and so there’s two areas that it really hit as far as campaigning – number one it was really hard to make contact because everybody was sheltered in place and you had no areas that you could go meet groups or even knock doors. Secondary – is raising funds. In late May there, with everything open – to a point – we decided it was time to get back because June 30th was coming quickly upon us. Everybody’s wondering ‘How are you gonna do that? Are you gonna mask-up?’ And that really defeats the purpose if you go in a mask. You want them to be able to read your face and be able to talk to them. I did not hit a single person in those 5,100 doors other than one that’s wearing a mask.
FERGUSON: So early in the campaign, you’re on the doorstep – you’re knocking doors, and that’s the kind of campaign that I wanted to have – and that’s what I did. I mean, we ordered some door hangers and we started knocking doors. COVID hit and I had to switch gears a little bit. I mean for the very first week we tried to kind of keep the same process going. It kind of freaked a lot of people out, especially with the uncertainty. So what we ended up doing was we shifted to some phone calls. We shifted to sending out text messages. A lot more social media presence. But once they reopened the state, we actually started right back on the doorstep and it’s been very well received. Any time you knock doors, you know, you don’t every stand right on the door anyways. So it was ring the doorbell and step all the way back to the end of the porch, so you’re practically, you know 8-10 feet away, and then you just kind of dealt with what you got when they answered the door. They’re glad to see people out – I think people are just glad to see people. I think we are starving for a connection right now.
TURNER: So we were scheduled to be on doors literally the same week that everyone started shutting down because of COVID. And so, I went out and I did a lit drop and so of course there were like some folks that were out and so I was able to talk to some folks in the community and they were really excited about the race. And one thing I also thought was kind of odd was once we started doing phone calls for the primary, the number one thing that I heard on the phone was folks just had like never heard from a political candidate on the phone – like had never had someone like – essentially like at their disposal. And so people really liked that part too – liked to be able to have someone that they could call, someone that called them and that they could ask any questions about if they had them. When were were calling folks we made sure that we were connecting them to resources. If they had been furloughed, if they had been zero-houred laid off, if they just needed a place to get testing – like connecting them to resources around the state. So that was also something that people really liked – knowing that it wasn’t just about like ‘Hey can I get your vote?’ but also like ‘I’m here to connect you to any kind of resources that you need at this point in time.’
This report was produced by Kateleigh Mills for Oklahoma Engaged, an election project by NPR member stations in Oklahoma.