It can be brutal. And it is not for the faint of heart. Political campaigns are by far difficult to wage under normal circumstances. Since the COVID-19 pandemic, campaigning has become much more challenging. Now candidates will have to get more creative to reach voters.

The Elections System of the Virgin Islands has shared its calendar for the upcoming election cycle that begins March 23, with a training for candidates in both districts on how to complete nomination/petition documents. If you are considering running for public office in the coming election, it is critically important that you keep a close eye on the deadlines. The common filing date is May 17. That date will arrive sooner than you think.

Will we, as voters, be ready?

The major challenges facing political candidates, again this election cycle, will be quite like the last one. The challenges include promoting the public image of each candidate, spreading message awareness, fundraising and getting the registered individuals to vote. Due to ongoing health protocols that we must all follow because of the pandemic, there are limited opportunities to overcome challenges such as social distancing and stay-at-home order that will test the fortitude of each candidate.

Let’s face it, in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as in other similarly situated small communities outside of our territory, politics is nothing short of a contact sport. Yes, it can be rough with candidates throwing proverbial “punches” at each other. But what about the traditional food sales, fish fries, boat rides — and now concerts? These activities not only raise funds, but put candidates closer to voters. On the U.S. mainland, millions of voters never meet their elected officials in person. In local politics, voters expect to have their politicians to be close enough to speak to them, to shake their hands, and to put a “bug in their ear.”

In the Virgin Islands, in addition to engaging in the aforementioned activities, candidates worth their salt must take their message on the road, with house-to-house and door-to door canvassing. But if candidates and their campaign teams cannot make these “house calls” and cannot afford to advertise, then what?

The answer cannot be, “That’s their problem.” All of us need to be concerned because we need to decide who do we want to keep in office and who should not be re-elected as we seek to either preserve or improve government services.

As a voter, you need to determine who you believe worked on the issues that mean something to you. Did senators offer meaningful legislation on the Senate floor that will make a difference in your life? Did Board of Education officials propose and enact meaningful changes that will benefit public school students and their learning environment?

What about Board of Elections officials? What measures have they brought forth to improve the way we vote — especially during these times of health protocols and space restrictions that the public must follow? All candidates for election are important, and must, therefore, be scrutinized.

I have posed a series of questions to assist in determining who you will vote for in the upcoming elections. This process will start for a handful of voters who will sign candidates’ petitions for nomination to be placed on the ballot. Before you sign that document make sure you know that by signing the petition, you believe that the potential candidate meets the basic requirements to run for office. That, too, is a grave responsibility.

There goes, however, another challenge. Amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, just how efficiently and safely will the candidates and their petition circulators be able to obtain the required number of signatures needed to file their candidacy with the Elections System?

Voters have a responsibility to stay informed about current events and regarding their candidates. Admittedly, this is not an easy task as there are so many residents in our community who are grappling with an enormous number of personal issues such as how they can afford to meet rising fuel, energy, and grocery costs; deal with rising incidents of violent crimes, and care for loved ones who cannot take care of themselves. Still, voters must make the extra effort to stay informed about who they are voting for by paying attention to what traditional news outlets report, to the candidates career records, and to what candidates are asked and what they answer at candidates’ forums, among other ways to track their positions on the pressing issues.

With a smaller amount of news outlets, it will be tough for political candidates to share their message with you the voter. Incumbents have the best chance of getting your attention because they are already in office. Consequently, they have access to a larger audience through their work and the media that report on them. But beyond candidates who you like, will you vote for them based on their records or because you like them personally? Do you know their records or how they voted on issues that matter to you? Do they represent you and your values? Do they show up for meetings? Do they vote on the tough questions on legislation? Have your local officials shown that they understand their roles as representatives?

I cannot stress enough that as a voter, you have a particularly important and critical role to play in any election. But in this upcoming election, your role as a voter will be intensified. You just might have to do more digging to figure out the answers to the questions posed.

Finally, elections do not come cheap, new candidates and the incumbents will need more than your vote this year. They will need money. Indeed, that may prove to be the greatest challenge during this election year.

Just how will candidates raise the funds to advertise? What type of creative public relations strategies will they employ? Will they print and give away T-shirts? What about their brochures? Everybody is not on social media. Will they be able to afford broadcast and print media advertisements to spread their message? And, even when they do, will you as a voter be paying attention while concentrating on life’s issues as they relate to the Coronavirus and other personal matters?

A message to new candidates: If you believe this is your year to “test” the political waters, go for it. It takes guts to put your name on the ballot. But as all candidates come to figure out, to win it will take ingenuity for you as a candidate to be seen and to be heard with the right message, as well as to maintain the emotional and mental strength to get to the finish line — Election Day, Nov. 8.

Janette Millin Young, St. Thomas, is former senator and can be reached at janettemillinyoung@yahoo.com.