A walk through WU on Election Day

Scene Staff

None of us knew what to expect. What would Election Day look like during a pandemic? Would 2020 have the same on-campus energy as pre-pandemic elections? How would people vote socially distanced at the Athletic Complex?

We finally have the answers. Here is a peek into Election Day for Wash. U. students—from the on-campus polling site to the South 40 dorms to taking it all in from home.

Morad Suliman | Student Life

Washington University students fill in their ballots on election day at the Sumers Recreation Center.

Voting inside the Field House

Seventy degrees and sunny, Election Day could not have been granted better weather.

As I made my way towards the Athletic Complex (AC) at about 11 a.m., I anticipated overwhelmingly long lines and lots of chaos. Instead, I was greeted with staffed tables of red white and blue balloons, voting stickers, music, snacks and smiling faces.

After verifying my daily screening green checkmark at the AC entrance, I walked down the flight of stairs to the Field House. Inside of the Field House was an arrangement of rope and floor markings for the line, various check-in tables and around 30 voting “booths” (or folded boards).

I waited in line for about 45 seconds before being motioned up to the next open check-in table. As my ballot was printed, I briefly made conversation with the two volunteers at check-in. I asked them whether they had been there since 6 a.m.—when the polling place opened—to which they laughed and responded that they had really been there since 5. From 6 a.m. through 8 a.m., they said, the voting lines went out of the Field House door. The length of a line becomes somewhat skewed in the context of COVID six-feet apart guidelines, but still, I beat the rush. This really reaffirmed my belief that I could perform my civic duty and still sleep in until 10:30.

I think that outlining the details of filling out my ballot is more or less illegal, but I’ll say it went pretty smoothly. I fed my completed ballot into the machine and “wait[ed] for the American flag image to show up on the screen” as instructed. I was officially a voter in the 2020 U.S. Presidential Election—and I have a sticker to prove it.

You know how a lot of things in life seem exciting when you are little but then come to disappoint once you actually experience them? To me, voting is not like that at all. The hype matched what I had always imagined, and I walked out of the Field House feeling like I did something right.

– Samra Haseeb, Staff Writer

The atmosphere

Off. That’s the first word that comes to mind when I’m asked to describe what the atmosphere was like on campus today. Seeing everyone headed in one direction, the presence of voting signs scattered near the sidewalks—all of it was off.

Maybe it was off because it seemed as though everyone was a part of something that I couldn’t be a part of. Not only am I not registered to vote in St. Louis, like the students I saw walking towards the polling location, but I’m not registered to vote at all. Being 17, I’m just shy of having this right.

It could also be off because I’m one of the seemingly few people who is actively trying not to pay attention to the election tonight. My suitemates are watching the results together in the other room, but I’m shut in my dorm trying to drown out the election noise with games and children’s television programming.

Hopefully, I won’t stay up worried about this election. I want to get some sleep and face tomorrow with fresh eyes. But I can already feel my anxiety levels rising, and I’m scared I may have to do my distracting activities until sunrise.

– Ryan Ricks, Contributing Writer

A digital change of pace

There really isn’t much to say when you are watching the election at home. It just feels like another day—that is, until you turn on the news.

My entire day felt like a great mood indicator. Sunny weather in northern California. No lectures to watch or quizzes to take. Even scheduled myself enough time to watch a replay of the Liverpool vs. Atalanta soccer game (yes, all 90 minutes). My Twitter feed was filled with a bunch of “+ Biden,” and honestly, it has been like that for at least a few months. 2020 was a hard-fought campaign season, one that at countless times seemed to indicate a change of pace from the past four years and a break from every single norm there ever existed, and frankly, I needed a change of pace after quarantining for eight months.

When I started watching live streams of the election and refreshed the web pages every 20 minutes, the mood seemed to tame. Unlike in the past though, there were no watch parties to try to make sense of what was going on. It was just me, my laptop, a bowl full of Halloween candies and the chemistry notebook on my desk that I was just way too lazy to stash away. All I could see, however, were my text messages. The “HAHA”s turned into “not great”s, and the “Virginia’s” turned into “Florida’s.” From high school buddies to college acquaintances, that swift intonation contrast was all it took to feel a change of pace, just not the one I was expecting.

– Anirudh Kesanapally, Contributing Writer

When the polls close

Full disclosure: I haven’t been on campus at night since the fall semester of 2019. But for some reason, when I visited campus on Election night at 8 p.m., I imagined people watching outside on a big screen. Or at the very least, I imagined people would be watching on the TV in Bear’s Den. None of these guesses were true.

Tonight, no one was working in the study cubbies on the Swamp or Mudd Field. Silence filled the South 40 (though I did see people playing ping-pong on the outdoor tables for the first time in my life, so that was cool). Only a handful of people were sprinkled throughout BD—so few that you could actually hear the background music playing over the speakers. As a matter of fact, I could hear almost every conversation within a 20 feet vicinity of me. And when one of the few people near me said “oh no” or “Trump” or “Biden” or “Pennsylvania” or made any sort of abnormal noise that probably didn’t mean anything, I instantly popped open The New York Times to see if they had released any news. Nothing.

There’s only one way to describe campus on the night of Election Day—dead. Part of this was definitely because of the pandemic. But the energy from earlier in the day, at least on the outside, had vanished. Instead, we are left with the lights of people’s rooms to remind us of life on the South 40.

– Benjamin Simon, Senior Scene Editor

In the dorms

I expected more intensity, to be honest. By the number of people that showed up (and showed up loudly) for the debacles that were the presidential debates, the election watch parties seemed low-key by comparison. Each floor’s common room had people, but everyone was quiet, watching, waiting.

I’m sitting with a few friends as I write this—all huddled around a few computers. Earlier in the evening, around 7 p.m., we were more jovial, making predictions about North Carolina and Ohio, hopping between CNN, MSNBC and even occasionally FOX News (before boos drowned out the talking heads). The third floor had a projector, cake and PJs, and the first floor had a group of very quiet students, mostly working on computers with the election on more as background noise.

By 10:30 p.m., state swings corresponded with mood swings. Ice cream breaks were taken. Walk-the-halls-and-try-not-to-panic breaks were taken (okay, fine, only by me). In one of those walks, I heard laughter and music coming from one suite and wondered what, exactly, there was to laugh at, all the while wishing I could find some much-needed levity.

Back in the common room, the ice cream has rejuvenated everyone, and we were back to waiting, and watching and crossing our fingers. Electorate map predictions are being filled in and rearranged. Someone makes a stupid joke about Kamala Harris winning California for Biden. Laughter ensues.

– Olivia Poolos, Contributing Writer

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