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The local election landscape looks different for Evanston this season. COVID-19 has changed local elections and campaigning, limiting interaction and accessibility.

A total of 28 individuals are running for office in Evanston, and many of the races will be contested. Evanstonians lose the in-person forums and personal interactions with candidates, but organizations in the community are working to make sure residents remain informed virtually through online Zoom forums, discussions, and other forms of social media.

Meleika Gardner of Evanston Live TV said this election season for her has drastically changed, but her main goal is creating an inclusive news space where residents can hold candidates accountable and continue to feel connected to the community during a time often filled with isolation.

In 2016, Ms. Gardner would drive with candidates in her car and her go-pro camera would be on the windshield as she and the candidates drove around the city.

“Candidates often forgot the camera was even on, they would just open up and talk,” she said. “Now, everything is different.”

When she would drive with candidates, one thing she consistently noticed was how genuine her guests were.

“They were good sports, they had no idea what direction I would be coming from,” she said. “It could be a question about social justice, the budget, or something else. No one had done something like this in Evanston before me. If I had them in the car now, they probably would not come off as composed or ready. But they have to be prepared to speak on issues like social justice. They would look crazy if they didn’t.”

Ms. Gardner knew things would change with this election season. She decided to host forums in collaboration with other organization such as the NAACP, Alpha Kappa Alpha, Delta Chi Omega and Delta Sigma Theta on Evanston Live TV Facebook. After each live forum, she posts the video for the public to watch. Nearly 100 people called in to watch the Jan. 14 mayoral forum, she said, and then noticed the content traffic is steadily rising.

Ms. Gardner has received positive feedback from the community with many residents thanking her for her work.

“They [the residents] really need us right now and technology has been a life-saver,” she said.
It’s a new way of life, at least for right now.”

The League of Women Voters Evanston has been hard at work providing resources for Evanstonians that are easily accessible, in hopes to increase local voter turnout.

Jennifer O’Neil, president of the chapter, said the LWVE website has become “more dynamic than ever,” and is now updated frequently. There has been more attendance to their events and higher traffic on their social media which makes her hopeful about the turnout.

“I think turnout will be better than it has been previous years, just because of the year we are in,” she said. “We had a big turnout in November. There is a large number of candidates running and more primaries – all of this bodes well for voter participation. We want to make it clear how important local elections are and how much they affect people’s lives on a daily basis.”

Ms. O’Neil noted that even though the interactive in-person elements of the election season have shifted due to COVID-19, residents still have many opportunities to feel confident and informed as a voter.

“There are so many opportunities this year, there is no excuse to not know about these candidates,” she said. “Wherever they get their information, it’s important for people to listen to the candidates and view the content with other people like family and friends and have some discussion about it.”

The last day to register to vote by mail using the online application is Feb. 7. In-person voting begins Feb. 8 at the Civic Center, 2100 Ridge Ave.

Cook County Commissioner Larry Suffredin said there were no challenges as far as mail-in voting in the November election and he is sure this will continue in the primary and general election this spring.

Applications for mail-in ballots are available at https://www.cookcountyclerkil.gov/agency/vote-mail. The last day to request a mail-in ballot for the Feb. 23 Primary Election is Feb. 18, and the ballots must be postmarked by Feb. 23.

Mr. Suffredin said residents who wish to vote by mail-in ballots must request a ballot for both the Feb. 23 primary election and the April 6 general election.

By Sam Stroozas, RoundTable intern