GOTV Nov 2018 redux: helping voters vote, NOT canvassing/phoning
August 30, 2018 5:27 PM   Subscribe

So, based on my last “I want to help Get out the vote for the upcoming midterms” question, I registered for The Last Weekend. It doesn’t appear to do what I want……

After clicking through their cheesy video, the last weekend efforts appear to be: volunteers canvassing and relentlessly harassing voters by phone and in person (door to door), and making sure 'they have a plan'.

Direct quote : "The more times a voter is contacted the more likely they will vote".

Nope. Don't want to be a part of that model.

There are lots of people for whom all the contacting & plans in the world won't help them vote.

Who out there is helping people who want to vote but can't get to polling stations....
driving them to polling stations for free, or covering for them in their work - childcare - elder carer lives so they can make time to vote?

These are the people I want to help.
posted by lalochezia to Law & Government (16 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
not to harsh your great intentions but:

driving them to polling stations for free

EVERYONE wants to do this. wrt the other stuff, I can imagine it'd be difficult to find a child/elder care situation that's going to let a stranger pop in for the day to offer their services.

Have you checked out Postcards to Voters?
posted by lalex at 5:49 PM on August 30, 2018 [5 favorites]

In the interest of not trying to shut down very good intentions, a couple of non-canvassing, non-talking on the phone options that might be of interest are sending texts to voters, volunteering to screen and/or mentor candidates with an organization like Run for Something, and the aforementioned Postcards to Voters.
posted by fancypants at 6:05 PM on August 30, 2018

There are a number of different organizations working to register new voters. In many areas the League of Women Voters is the most active group, and their members are also aware of other allied efforts. Check out your local chapter, ask how you can help with registering voters.
posted by rockindata at 6:12 PM on August 30, 2018

Contact a specific individual’s campaign (in your neighborhood or elsewhere) and get in touch with the organizers and make sure to make any relevant special skills you have clear. Just keep in mind that “being an attorney” or “having important and relevant contacts” is a special skill, being able to babysit or drive people around is not.

Just keep in mind you’ll be in line for any non-canvassing/outreach gigs behind people with those same skills who are also doing canvassing. I’ve been involved in two campaigns now and canvassing is the one thing expected of everyone involved who is able-bodied (whether they actually do it is a different question.)

Good luck and plz keep us posted bc I would give a pinky finger to never have to canvass again.
posted by griphus at 6:16 PM on August 30, 2018 [3 favorites]

I appreciate everyone giving me advice about the difficulty of doing this through peoples campaigns ....whether "everyone wants to do this" or not.

however, whether everyone wants to do this or not, we are failing at getting people to the polls who can't get there!

From 2016

"Finally, there are several non-legal obstacles that stop millions of Americans from voting. The US Census Bureau asks adults why they didn’t vote – the reasons from November 2012 are diverse. They include illness or disability (14%), registration problems (6%) and transportation problems (3%).

A reason given by 19% of non-voters is often treated with an eye-roll, as if it’s always an excuse: “too busy, conflicting schedule”. But for the millions of Americans who can’t arrange childcare or work in jobs where clocking off for a few hours on a Tuesday isn’t an option, that answer is not an excuse, it’s a reality."


There is a surplus of need that is independent of having to motivate/canvass/remind people to vote....

Which organization is helping meet this specific need? If there is no-one, or it's reserved for those who "do canvassing" ..... I don't know what to say.
posted by lalochezia at 6:31 PM on August 30, 2018

From what I've heard, campaigns and other organizations don't organize volunteer rides to the polls, because it's a liability nightmare. If they have the money, they'll hire a car service or taxi company to do it, but they're not going to have random people volunteer to drive voters, because they could get sued out of existence if there were a car accident or a driver assaulted a voter (or vice versa). I assume there would be similar issues with childcare and eldercare, plus there might be background-check requirements. For that reason, I think your best bet is to tap into informal networks or organize something yourself. Put out the word that you're available to drive people to the polls or that people can drop their kids off at your house and you'll provide supervision, snacks, and coloring books while their parents go vote. (But make sure that you're capable of handling it.) I have a friend who isn't a US citizen, and she had a caucus-night party for all her friends' kids, so her friends could go caucus. You could do something like that.

The other thing you could do is have a fundraiser and donate the money to formal efforts to drive people to the polls. But those formal efforts are probably going to involve hiring professional drivers with commercial insurance.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 6:38 PM on August 30, 2018 [4 favorites]

You could try contacting your local NAACP branch. They often do a rides to the polls operation. Lyft is also partnering with Voto Latino, local Urban League affiliates, and the National Federation of the Blind to offer free and reduced price rides to the polls. Most of these volunteer operations will also involve talking to voters and reminding them to vote, not just driving them to the polls.
posted by fancypants at 6:53 PM on August 30, 2018

or it's reserved for those who "do canvassing"

Canvassing (or phoning) is how a campaign IDs their voters, and decides who they WANT to turn out in the first place. In many states, absentee or early voting is preferable to attempting to literally drive thousands of people to the same place on the same day. A well-run campaign will have a field operation that is working on and prioritizing all these things -- voter ID, persuasion, and planning for GOTV -- at the same time. A well-run campaign will also trust their known volunteers to help turn out key voters over a stranger, especially if that volunteer has been working with/talking to these same voters for weeks or months.
posted by Ignatius J. Reilly at 7:01 PM on August 30, 2018 [7 favorites]

Assuming you're interested in doing this locally, I think a good first step would be to know which schools might be closed for the day (particularly elementary schools), and ask those schools if there are childcare options in place on election day for the children who normally attend them. If yes, work with them. If not, there's a specific population that is likely to need help and you can canvas existing local childcare/after-school program places or community spaces to see if there's anywhere that could be set up for the day - and I would probably plan to pay licensed childcare professionals and expect it to be far more work than it sounds like. So I think it's a great idea and ideally you'd get a local non-profit group involved so people can donate to cover costs.

You could also contact NYC council member Daniel Dromm, who is featured in this old story about difficulty getting to polling places, where he says he had driven voters to the polls when their polling place was moved.
posted by the agents of KAOS at 11:57 PM on August 30, 2018 [1 favorite]

We have an absentee ballot program to try to address some of the barriers you listed. It’s especially targeted to college students and the elderly, but when I have been out canvassing (i don’t enjoy it either, but people seem receptive this year) some people have asked for ballots if they know they will be away, etc.

I think it depends on the state since many states have early voting or vote-by-mail, but if you contact your state level party they will likely have a program to tap you into. In PA the state democrats are organizing coordinated campaigns with dedicated organizers for each county. In terms of what you might be asked to do - in our absentee ballot program we need to actually mail the ballots, then follow up with phone calls to remind people to send them in. Donations of postage are likely very welcome too.
posted by rainydayfilms at 3:37 AM on August 31, 2018

One person with what I assume is a regular sized car can't really transport that many people back and forth to the polls in a single day -- are you only going to drive people to one polling place? If not, how will you make sure you're there to take them home when they're done (however long that takes, given unpredictable wait times)?

Given that, you could probably entirely fill your capacity just by starting to get the word out now among your extended social network that you want to drive people to and from the polls. Tell all your friends and coworkers, post on your local neighborhood Facebook group, post flyers with tear-away slips at local coffee shops and other hangouts. If you're doing this purely for love of the democratic process that is great, but if not, know in advance how you feel about driving people to the polls to vote for candidates you don't support.

Finally, keep in mind when estimating the scope of this problem that the people who don't vote because they "can't get to the polls" often have that challenge because getting into a regular car and out to the polling site is the challenge itself, e.g. due to mobility or other disability-related concerns (e.g., I was only able to vote in the 2012 election because my parents scoped out our polling place all day and drove me when the line was shortest; I could not have even waited in line).
posted by telegraph at 6:44 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

A barrier to voting in some areas is long lines at the polls, which increases the logistical difficulty of voting. If this is an issue near you, you might consider working with the Board of Elections to volunteer as a poll worker and/or do other things that would improve that situation. (Also, lobbying your area to move toward vote-by-mail would be a great use of your time.)
posted by metasarah at 8:06 AM on August 31, 2018

Echoing what other people are saying, the canvassing that I'm doing right now is contacting registered Democrats and helping them sign up to vote by mail. Once the ballots are mailed out, I'll go back to remind them to fill out and mail their ballots. I can also pick up competed ballots and take them to the auditor's office. (I'm always amazed at how many people turn their completed ballots over to me. I guess I look really trustworthy!) Compared to offering lifts to the polls, this is a vastly more effective way to help voters who have barriers to getting to their polling places. It also locks in our votes, so that people won't forget to vote or be distracted by a last-minute family or work emergency.

Even if it sounds like the worst thing in the world, I would really recommend trying canvassing once or twice. The overwhelming majority of my conversations are perfectly pleasant. Some of them are kind of inspiring. I talked to a woman on Saturday who told me that she had always considered herself apolitical, and now she realized that she couldn't afford to ignore politics, and asked me how she could volunteer to do what I was doing.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 8:26 AM on August 31, 2018 [3 favorites]

Echoing what metasarah said above, I'd really urge you (and anyone else reading) to consider being a poll worker to help shorten the lines for everyone.  I tried it for the first time for the primary last spring, and holy hell is that one important job that needs more people to do it (at least here in Chicago, your local elections may vary).  The precinct I worked had no coordinator, no language assistance judge (despite a huge number of voters with limited English), and was also short a regular judge or two, depending on how you count the one judge who was purely there to collect a paycheck and take up space.  We managed to not get too backed up, but we would have been crushed by a heavy turnout.  It was also difficult to correctly help people with registration issues because we were so busy and stressed out, and didn't have anyone experienced to help sort things out. There were just so many things that came up that made me realize, it doesn't matter how early/late your polls are open, how permissive your same-day registration rules are, how many accommodations you make for people with special needs, voters are still going to slip through the cracks if you don't have competent poll workers to run the show on election day.
posted by gueneverey at 9:09 AM on August 31, 2018 [1 favorite]

Yeah, this will definitely be harder (although maybe not impossible) if you're totally unwilling to do the important work of canvassing as well (which research shows is effective in increasing voter turnout.) In many cases, the way this works is you're a canvasser, you go through your list of folks to turn out and knock on their doors, and when you talk to them on Election Day to remind them to vote you ask if they need a ride to the polls, and most of them say no, but sometimes they say yes and then you take them. And then go back to knocking other voters' doors.

You can certainly try calling campaigns and offering to do driving-only and see what they say, though.
posted by EmilyClimbs at 8:27 PM on August 31, 2018

You sound like you may object to canvassing on principle, but if I’m wrong about that, what about hosting a phone bank? Where I live the local indivisible needs people to open their homes to phone canvassers. So you pick a few hours some evening and people come over with phones and laptops and you give them snacks.
posted by hungrytiger at 12:21 PM on September 1, 2018

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