A Peek Inside the Political System — The Ground Game

Since things have (hopefully) cooled down from this election by now, I want to tell you about something I did for the first time in my life — I was a local volunteer for one of the major political parties.  Which party I worked for is not important because this is about the process — what they call “the ground game” to get out the vote.

I decided to get involved this time by answering an email.  (I’m so “well known” I was getting multiple political emails a day.)  About two months before the election, I was invited to come to a local restaurant to make phone calls.  We were given printouts from the county’s election officials of voters registered to our party with about 20 names per sheet.  Beside the names and phone numbers, there were little boxes to check about how the call went — no answer, refused, moved, disconnected, etc. — and boxes about who this person was supporting and how strongly.  This round of calls was simply to find more volunteers and ask for support.  We were given a detailed script, but it sounded too formal to me and I put things into my own words.  (Near as I could tell, others were doing the same.)  Cell phones were available, but I used my own.  We were told to put in a code so our number would be kept confidential and no calls could be traced back to us personally.  We were also told not to leave messages, which was a shame because few people answered their phones.

I got through three sheets in about one and three-quarters hours — 60 names.  Of those, I actually talked to only a handful of people and got no offers to volunteer.

The real action came later.  Three weeks before the election, I spent a Saturday going door-to-door for direct contacts.  I reported to the house of the precinct captain (or whatever the official title was), which turned out to be only two blocks from my house, and was given an packet with a neighborhood, another set of printouts with little boxes, and a map (which wasn’t very good).  I was given an unfamiliar part of town, and I discovered some of these residential streets weren’t even in my car’s navigation system, but I found all the addresses eventually; it took about four and a half hours.  I had about two dozen addresses in all, some with multiple names at the same address.  We were asking for support, providing information (we had some cards listing all the candidates), and trying to get people to vote early (we had a few absentee-ballot applications).  We were told not to enter anyone’s house (for our protection) and not to touch anyone’s ballot.  If no one answered the door (which was common), we had informational stickers to leave.

Having a list of people registered to our party was no guarantee of a cordial reception (I’m actually registered with a different party).  In my first fact-to-face contact (after three no-answers), I had the flyer thrown back in my face.  One woman wanted to debate (which we were told not to do), refuted everything I said, then admitted she’d already voted.  A woman saw the button on my coat through the front window and immediately waved me off (I quickly left).  One man said he voted for the party which contacted him the fewest times (and I began to discretely back away).

Then came election day.  I went back to the precinct captain after having voted myself.  As it turned out, our area was well covered and I was sent to another part of town to help out.  This group was based in a church.  I went through two packets in about six hours.  This area was easier because the addresses were closer together, although one packet had a lot of incorrect information (from a trailer park).  I turned in my packets, grabbed a slice of pizza (there was some food brought in) and went back to my own area to make phone calls for another hour.  This time I did leave messages reminding of polling locations and closing times.  By that time, the polls were only open for another half hour and I figured I’d done all I could.

Did I do any good?  I did meet one woman on election day who said she wasn’t voting.  When I reminded her of this election’s importance, she asked if she could just vote for president?  Sure, but then she needed a ride to the polls.  I promised to get back to her.  At the next address on my list, her neighbor across the street, a group was just leaving to vote.  I told them about this woman and asked if they could give her a ride.  I don’t know what she finally decided, but I did see them talking to her at her front door.

Such is how real democracy works.

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