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Student groups to host virtual presidential debate events in unusual election season

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In past election seasons, students have gathered in lecture halls and common rooms on campus to watch debates over shared food and lively discussion, but this year they’ll have to log on to Zoom to watch the debates in the company of classmates. 

With the first presidential debate less than a week away, Duke student groups that usually host in-person watch parties will switch to virtual programming due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Groups including Duke Democrats, Duke Students for Biden and Women in Politics will host watch parties over Zoom for some of the debates.  

Duke Democrats will host a general body meeting Sept. 29 preceding the 9 p.m. debate, wrote Communications Director Abigail Phillips, a sophomore, in a message to The Chronicle. The meeting will feature North Carolina State Representatives Marcia Morey and Sydney Batch, as well as Cheri Beasley, chief justice of the N.C. Supreme Court. 

For the debate itself, Duke Democrats and Women in Politics will co-host a virtual watch party, where members will help students register to vote and play election bingo. 

Women in Politics will host a virtual watch party for the Oct. 7 vice-presidential debate, wrote President Samhitha Sunkara, a senior, in a message to The Chronicle. After the debate, the organization will lead a discussion on how California Sen. Kamala Harris is perceived by the media.

Duke Students for Biden is organizing at least one debate watch party in collaboration with UNC Young Democrats, wrote Co-Chair Rahul Krishnaswamy, a senior, in an email. 

Other groups are skipping the debates in their programming schedules. 

Swing N.C. Duke is not currently planning on hosting debate events, sophomores Thomas Mande and Ryan Champaigne wrote in an email, but they’re helping students register to vote and get involved politically.

Duke Political Union does not have current plans, but junior Jia Dua, the group’s interim president, wrote in a message that they may begin some programming as the semester and election season progress.

This election season’s presidential debates will take place Tuesday, Sept. 29 in Cleveland, Ohio; Thursday, Oct. 15 in Miami, FL; and Thursday, Oct. 22 in Nashville, TN. The lone vice-presidential debate will take place Wednesday, Oct. 7, in Salt Lake City, UT. The events will be livestreamed and televised.

The debates will be held from 9 to 10:30 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time and broadcast on most major television networks, including FOX, CBS and NBC. They will be streamed on various news sites such as The Washington Post and C-SPAN, as well as YouTube and Twitter.

The Sept. 29 debate was originally slated to be held at the University of Notre Dame in South Bend, IN. Normally, many students would attend and host various on-campus events related to the election, but as this is no longer feasible due to COVID-19 the university decided to back out. Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland will instead host the September debate. 

The Commission on Presidential Debates, which oversees the planning of each event, has worked with the Cleveland Clinic to institute safety precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19. Both candidates will be on stage together, in person, with limited audience seating available. In a departure from previous election years, only one moderator will be allowed on stage.

Similarly, the Oct. 15 debate was scheduled to be held at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, MI, which decided against hosting due to health and safety concerns. The Adrienne Arsht Center for the Performing Arts in Miami will host instead, with a town-hall-style format for Miami residents.

The Oct. 7 vice-presidential debate is scheduled to be held at the University of Utah in Salt Lake City, and the Oct. 22 presidential debate will be hosted by Belmont University in Nashville.

For more election coverage from across North Carolina, visit One Vote North Carolina, a collaborative of The Chronicle and six other student newspapers that aims to help college students across the state navigate the November election.

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