RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, political parties are adapting their strategies for registering new voters and engaging with them on actually turning out to vote, recognizing the uncertainty many of them have about where they’ll be living in the coming months. 

NC State University announced Wednesday students living in university will have to move out beginning Thursday and continuing over an 11-day period due to a rise in COVID-19 cases. 

UNC-Chapel Hill and East Carolina University have suspended in-person classes as well, leading many students to pack up and leave those campuses. 

“We’re making sure people know how to vote by mail. We’re making sure people know how to sign up for early vote,” said Tom Perez, chairman of the Democratic National Committee in an interview with CBS 17. 

In a typical election year, college campuses would be a popular site to try to register new voters, especially in a critical swing state like North Carolina. With the pandemic, many students are uncertain how much longer they’ll be in their current housing situation. 

Perez said the Democratic Party tried to improve its digital strategy in 2018 when it purchased cell phone numbers to try to match those numbers with voters.    

Earlier this year, the party announced a six-figure purchase of cell phone numbers and that it had developed “a proprietary data science model (‘Sonar’) that helps campaigns prioritize calling numbers that will lead to successful phone contacts and reduces the likelihood of calling someone who prefers not to receive calls.”  

“We bought up 140 million cell phone numbers starting two and a half years ago because we understood you have to meet the voter where they consume their news,” Perez said. “This is the tool of engagement with the voters, and the fact that we have been buying up cell phone numbers, social media handles. We do a lot of SMS texting.” 

North Carolina Republican Party Chairman Michael Whatley said his party’s digital outreach efforts were key in 2016. 

“That digital edge that we had in 2016 is a major factor in how President Trump won all of those close battleground states because we took the natural enthusiasm we had for him and matched that up digitally with text or with email,” Whatley said. 

He said the state party is coordinating with party leaders at the county level to get updated information to voters as circumstances change approaching the election.  

“We do a fairly significant amount of mail on a county-by-county basis where we go into voters directly and give the message to them, this is where you can vote, this is how you can vote, this is when you vote,” he said.  

The NC State Board of Elections issued the following news release this week with guidance for college students:  

RALEIGH, N.C. – Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, students at colleges and universities who choose to vote by mail should request that their ballot be sent to an address where they know they will receive it. 

“We want to ensure all eligible voters have the information they need to successfully cast their ballot in this important election during these unique times,” said Karen Brinson Bell, executive director of the State Board of Elections. 

If you are temporarily living away or displaced from the residence where you are registered to vote and you intend to return later, then you are not considered to have lost your place of residence. It can remain your residential address for voting. 

If you are registered to vote at your campus address and have not requested an absentee ballot, you may request a ballot (North Carolina Absentee Ballot Request Form) and have it sent to an address of your choosing. This is the best option for students who are registered to vote at their campus address and know they will be leaving their campus address for the remainder of the semester. 

If you are registered to vote at your campus address and unsure if you are leaving campus, please wait until you know your housing situation before requesting a ballot. 

Students who have already requested a ballot but must leave campus due to COVID-19 or for any other reason may submit a new request to have their ballot sent to a different address. The first request will not be fulfilled. Students or others who submit a new form can make a note on the new form, such as “Updated” or “Changed” to alert county elections workers that it is an updated request. They can also email or contact their county board office to ensure the ballot is sent to the updated address. 

However, if you have abandoned your place of residence and intend to stay at your new address indefinitely, then you should register at your new residential address. 

If you will be away from your residential or mailing address, be sure to include the address where you want your ballot to be sent on your absentee ballot request. If you have moved within your county, you may use the request form to update your residential address and/or mailing address. 

By September 1, an online absentee ballot request portal will be available on the State Board’s website, NCSBE.gov. This will allow all registered voters to request a ballot online. Beginning September 4, county boards of elections will begin to send ballots to voters who request them. 

The deadline to request an absentee ballot is October 27, 2020. However, elections officials strongly encourage voters to request a ballot before then to ensure absentee ballot return deadlines can be met. 

As always, all voters may vote in person during the early voting period, October 15-31, or on Election Day – November 3, 2020. 

To register to vote, please complete a North Carolina Voter Registration Application. Existing N.C. Division of Motor Vehicles’ customers may use the online DMV service to register to vote or update their registration. The regular voter registration deadline is October 9. If you miss that deadline, you may register and vote at the same time in person during early voting.