Laura Scudder/Fourth Estate


Pandemic causes huge decrease in on-campus voting on Election Day


Mason students trickled in throughout the day to vote for the 2020 presidential election on Nov. 3. The COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge decrease in on-campus voters. 

In the 2016 presidential election, 2,648 total votes were cast at Merten Hall. This year, only 347 people voted at the precinct — about 13 percent of the 2016 total.

University Precinct covers the geographic location of Mason and only administers elections in that specific area, according to Chief Elections Officer Donald Garrett. It was created in 2011 by a Student Government initiative, and was approved by the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors. No early or absentee voting occurs at the precinct. 

In this election, 79.25 percent of voters at University Precinct supported now President-elect Joe Biden, while 14.99 percent cast their vote for incumbent President Donald Trump. The remaining votes went to Libertarian candidate Jo Jorgensen and a total of eight votes went to write-ins. 

Junior Kathryn Cummings was one of the students who voted in person on Election Day. This was the first presidential election that Cummings was able to participate in. “It was really important to me especially to get out here to vote,” she said.

She continued, “That’s really the only way that you have a say in government these days. If you’re not taking that opportunity and pretty much the one chance you get, then I don’t feel like you can really complain too much about what’s going on.”

On-campus organizations were stationed outside of Merten Hall. Representatives from Mason Votes, College Republicans and GMU for Biden were present early in the day to encourage Mason students to vote.

“I think a lot of people think their vote doesn’t matter, but as we saw in the last election, and as we see in many elections with a really low turnout for young voters, your vote does matter,” said sophomore Ava Kuch, a member of GMU for Biden. “We have [the] potential as young voters and as college students to have a huge impact on the election. So I encourage everybody to get out and vote.”

Members of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, who handed out donuts to potential voters, echoed this sentiment, calling it a historical moment. “We just really think that it’s important to have your voice heard no matter who or what you’re voting, we just really just want people to come out and vote,” said fraternity member Justin Greene.

Ian Waite, chairman of the College Republicans, agreed that young people voting was important and touched on some of the key issues affecting college students today. 

“I think there’s a significant number of issues that affect our generation in particular, whether it’s the student loan crisis, climate change [or] wanting a viable economy when you leave college to get a job,” he said. 

Waite continued, “There’s any number of issues that I think affect everybody as a whole, but certainly affect us in a unique capacity. I think we’re all looking for the candidates that propose the best solutions to them.”

In order to prepare for in-person voters in the midst of the pandemic, there were a number of steps that the precinct took to make the process safer. Garrett touched on these safety precautions, saying he worked with both the county and Mason’s event services department to implement social distancing guidelines and other COVID-19 precautions. 

“I actually advocate for students to really vote at their college residencies because you live there nine months out of the year, essentially,” Garrett said. “And so you’re really impacted, especially by [these] local, state policies.”