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The Joys of Canvassing, pt. 1

14 July, 2004

The Joys of Canvassing, pt. 1

I was a little fearful of canvassing, because I’m not the world’s greatest Kerry fan, although I felt a lot more confident about going out and talking to strangers once Edwards was chosen. Unfortunately, the canvassing I remembered from my childhood is long gone, at least as far as the Democrats in this lovely western state are concerned. None of this silly door-to-door, talk about the qualities of your candidate stuff — we weren’t to concern ourselves with issues, just with converting likely Democrats to absentee ballot voters. Yup. Go to the people almost most likely to vote Democrat (people who have voted at the polls in 2 of the last 4 elections) and “convert” them to absentee ballots, so that they’ll be sure to vote.

We were given lists of addresses to visit, and some pretty inadequate street maps (i.e., mapquest maps without all the streets labeled, hand-highlighted to show us where to go — except that much of the highlighting was incorrect, since our town has tons of numbered streets that stop and start up again a couple blocks later, or in an apartment complex …). Each area covered about a square mile, with about 20 addresses. Since our lovely burg gives separate street addresses to each building in an apartment complex, we often had several addresses in one complex, but since the addresses were listed by street, it was impossible to tell which were together! With instructions to mark down people as not home, moved/deceased, or confirmed and/or converted, we set off. I paired up with someone who knew the ropes, and we drove around looking for addresses. Of the lists we were given, we were only able to confirm 2 correct addresses, and got quite a few “not homes” — not too surprising on a suburban Saturday morning.

After frustration and the 80-plus degree weather started to set in, we began to ignore our instructions a bit. We’d been told not to approach people likely to be swing voters or Republicans, because the point was to ensure Democratic votes, not to make it easier for undecideds and Republicans. We diverged a bit from the script — when the “wrong” person answered a door, we told them who we were, and if they didn’t say that they were voting Republican (one did, in very unpleasant terms), we said we were out registering people to vote. We ended up registering 10 people (the entire day’s work for the group was 24), of whom two were the conversions we were supposed to be getting, and a few were people who had just moved and wanted to get registered before the elections. Our district boss was not all that enthusiastic about the numbers, and tried to explain again that “we were targeting these addresses for a specific reason, and we don’t want to give the other side any help — we’re trying to get the disaffected voters back.”

Yeah, right. Well, if this kind of marketing strategy is the best we can do, I worry about losing. It’s so incredibly short-sighted. If Average Joe tends to think of Liberals and Democrats as elitist, how will this help capture the real swing voters? I do understand that the party thinks it’s just the first step in a greater marketing strategy, but in the long term (and face it, the elections are not that far away — if Kerry and Edwards don’t win, the Bush people will have another 4 years to try to convince the moderates that they’re really Republicans), you have to build relationships. How do you do that? By actually contacting real, live, people, I think. In the six hours we spent looking for addresses last Saturday, my partner and I could have knocked on a lot more doors and probably done more good for the campaign. Here are the party’s objections to doing that, and my rebuttals:

Party: If you go door-to-door, you’ll end up talking to Republicans and we don’t want to make voting easier for them

ADM: 1) if they know we’re from the K-E campaign, they probably won’t want to talk to us

2) if they want to talk to us, we don’t have to mention we’re registering voters

3) if they notice we’re registering voters, we don’t have to mention that the same form is used to register for absentee ballots as for regular registration — if they care, they’ll already be registered — why re-register?

4) even if they know all of this and want to register for absentee ballots, we don’t have to help them or tell them the deadlines to mail the forms — the worst thing that will happen is that someone who cares might send in the form but remember the Democrats who thought the political process was more important than partisan politics.

Party: We don’t want to make it easy for swing voters

ADM: If they’re swing voters, we should leave them remembering the Democrats as being helpful, pleasant people just like them, who aren’t elitist and who really believe in American democratic (sorry Bob) values. If people are going to vote Republican because they feel that Republicans are more in touch with the little guy, why not show them that’s bunk? It IS about salesmanship — people buy from people they like.

I got the distinct feeling that the party person thought I was a troublemaker. Me, I’d like to knock some party heads together, so maybe they’re right.

Any bets on how badly they can screw this one up?

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