Pros and cons of campaigning online during the coronavirus

Published: Apr. 30, 2020 at 6:28 PM EDT
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A lot is up in the air this political season as candidates and voters comply with stay-at-home orders. Politicians are learning new ways to connect with Vermonters. And you might be able to cast your ballot without entering a polling place. But as our Dom Amato found, going online during Campaign 2020 isn't without controversy.

"As soon as I saw the line and the turn, I knew a swastika was coming," said Brenda Siegel, Democrat for Vermont lieutenant governor.

Zoom-bombers interrupted a lieutenant governor candidate forum Wednesday night on the video conferencing platform.

The anti-Semitic imagery has candidate Brenda Siegel, who is Jewish, calling on groups who hold online events to add more security.

"There are historically marginalized people running all over the state, and we have to the protections in place so we can have those voices in leadership," she said.

Siegel says pivoting to a digital platform wasn't a difficult transition. She, like many candidates, hosts a number of shows on Facebook connecting with voters.

It's the new way to hear directly from Vermonters according to Democrat/Progressive for Vermont Governor David Zuckerman. The current lieutenant governor says it's challenging not meeting voters face-to-face.

"In Vermont, where people really want to know the candidates get to know you in person, that's kind of wiped away," Zuckerman said.

But he says in some ways, an online campaign is allowing him to spread his message to more people.

"With remote and virtual opportunities, I can get anywhere in the state like that," Zuckerman said.

You may be able to vote the same way you now attend campaign events-- at home. Secretary of State Jim Condos says Vermont is leaning toward a vote-by-mail system in November.

It's something each candidate I spoke with supports.

"I think it's something we have to do," said Rebecca Holcombe, Democrat for Vermont governor.

The former state education secretary says despite the pandemic, voters are still engaged and are still looking to share their thoughts and concerns.

"They really feel that being present and having a voice in our political process is more important today than it's ever been in their lifetime," Holcombe said.

Officials believe if Vermont moves to a vote-by-mail system for November's general election, turnout would likely be higher than the usual 65%-70% of voters during a presidential year.

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