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From a virtual 'support group' to getting some sleep, students plan for election night

<p>Duke Votes, Duke Students for Biden and Duke Democrats are finding creative ways to get out the vote during a pandemic.</p>

Duke Votes, Duke Students for Biden and Duke Democrats are finding creative ways to get out the vote during a pandemic.

Election Day is here, and Duke students have made their plans to watch the results—conclusive or not—come in. 

Some will attend a virtual watch party as they wait with bated breath to see what happens in the contest between incumbent President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden. Others plan to watch with smaller groups or do their best not to focus on election coverage at all.  

“I’m probably going to eat food and then watch it with my suitemate and maybe like one to two other people,” said sophomore Connor Haughey, who is hoping for a Biden victory. “And then depending on how it goes, be very upset, frustrated and cry, or hopefully support those who are needing support tomorrow, whatever that would mean to them.” 

Sophomore Adam Hahn said he has similar plans, watching the event with friends and “just hoping it goes well.”

Meanwhile, several student groups have teamed up to host a larger election-night event. 

Duke Democrats, Duke Students for Biden, Women in Politics and Swing N.C. are hosting an “election night support group and watch party,” starting 8 p.m. Tuesday. The people at the event will watch the results together on Zoom and talk or use the chat function to discuss. 

The organizers framed the event as a “support group” in part because students will be watching returns in a tense election taking place during a pandemic and a stressful semester, said Duke Democrats Communication Director Abigail Phillips, a sophomore. This stress is compounded by the possibility that results won’t be clear by the end of the night, Phillips said.

“This is going to be [an] at least somewhat drawn-out process, from everything we can tell,” she said. “It’s not going to stop being emotionally trying tomorrow night, and we’re going to need to continue working on getting through that.”

Voting changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic—including a rule that allows North Carolina to continue counting absentee ballots for up to nine days after election day—have raised uncertainty about when the presidential election and other races will be called. Duke professors told The Chronicle that, depending on what happens Tuesday night, it could be some time before results are clear. 

In 2016, students gathered in common rooms to watch coverage of Election Night.
In 2016, students gathered in common rooms to watch coverage of Election Night.
In 2016, students gathered in common rooms to watch coverage of election night. This year, four student groups are holding a virtual watch party and "support group."

Senior Rahul Krishnaswamy, Duke Students for Biden co-chair, said the event would provide a “community to kind of talk to and vent to and celebrate with” at the conclusion of an election with stakes including the pandemic response, health care, the environment and foreign policy. 

“I think it can also be seen as sort of a celebration for all of us, regardless of how the election goes, for all the hard work that students have done on campus,” Krishnaswamy said. Student political groups have continued their work during the pandemic, with Duke Students for Biden holding online speaker, voter registration and phone banking events. 

Sophomore Jack Kochansky, another co-chair of Duke Students for Biden, said he wished he’d had someone to talk to after the 2016 election, especially because the day he woke up to learn Trump had been elected, Nov. 9, was his 16th birthday. 

“I think that whether we are celebrating or mourning, then we’re going to want to have a community with us,” Kochansky said.

Kochansky isn’t the only Duke student to have a birthday interrupted by a contentious presidential election. Senior Grace Jeffrey was born Nov. 3, 1998, the day of that year’s midterm elections, and her birthday once again falls on Election Day this year. 

In the past, having her birthday near or on Election Day has been “sort of like a fun anecdote,” Jeffrey said, but this year is different.

“I don’t feel like it’s appropriate to really celebrate on a day when there’s so much at stake on … every level of American society, especially considering the tensions right now,” she said. 

Instead, Jeffery celebrated her birthday this past weekend with her parents and with her boyfriend on Monday. On election night, she said she’ll be in her apartment, maybe watching a favorite movie, checking election news from time to time. 

Similarly, sophomore Annie Sheeder said she’d spend the night doing work and trying not to worry about the election. Sophomore Angikar Ghosal wrote in a Facebook message to The Chronicle that he would go to bed, wake up and check his phone, hoping to see news of a Biden win.

“I am not American, can’t vote,” Ghosal wrote. “I am honestly tired after 4 years of Trump.”

Jeffery said that even if she’s devastated by the election results, she’ll still have to go to class and work afterward. She’d rather not put strain on her physical and emotional health by staying up  late to wait for results, so she plans to go to bed around midnight and wake up Wednesday morning to see what’s happened. 

If the race is called for Biden on election night, sophomore Daniel Marshall, also a Duke Students for Biden co-chair, said the mood on campus would resemble the atmosphere after the Duke men’s basketball team pulled off a stunning upset against North Carolina in February.

“After that crazy comeback, and you know, everyone went out to the main quad and people wanted to burn a bench but we didn’t have a permit to, all that, the COVID version—so the social-distanced version—of that will happen,” Marshall said. 

If Trump wins, Kochansky said it’ll make the support group and watch party “even more important.”

“If things don’t go our way, that’s when we really need to ground ourselves,” he said. “That’s when we really need to realize that just because things haven’t gone our way in this election, we can’t lose hope, we can’t lose the fight that we’ve had in us.” 

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

Matthew Griffin

Matthew Griffin is a Trinity senior and was editor-in-chief for The Chronicle's 116th volume.


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