Reflections on Voter Outreach in the East Bay

2 Jun

Woo! Am I glad that we’re finally approaching June 3rd. Besides being tired of the pointless election mailers pouring out of my mail box every day, I finally feel like I can take a bit of a break and maybe get back to volunteering for some of the other issues I care about.

That said, these last couple of months have been a lot of fun. I hadn’t done any kind of campaign work since 2004 and it was great to get out there again to talk to voters. I passed out flyers at my local farmers market, phoned Oakland voters weekly, and finally got to do some door to door outreach this weekend in Berkeley.

Here are some my random thoughts and observations about voter outreach on election day eve:

  • Face to face contact works best. It’s a lot harder to slam the door in someone’s face than to hang up the phone. Also, after receiving so many mailers, voters seemed refreshed to finally see a real person in front of them and to have a meaningful conversation about candidates.
  • Even among the most regular voters (those who have voted in 5 out of 5 of the last elections), there’s an incredibly wide range of knowledge about candidates and a wide range of engagement on the issues. I’ve been phoning for Rebecca Kaplan for the at-large seat on the Oakland City Council and the responses I’ve received include the following:
    • “I’ve already voted.”
    • “What election?”
    • “Of course I’ll vote for Rebecca – I go to church with her and know her well.” (I swear, half of Oakland goes to church with Rebecca.)
    • “I got some mailers that I’ll look at. I haven’t really thought about it yet.”
    • “All the candidates are the same – I’m not even sure I’m going to vote this time.”
  • Nobody knows what the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee is or does. Really, out of every door I knocked on and every friend I’ve talked to about this race, not even one of them had the slightest idea. But everyone really appreciated that I gave them info on the race. I’m appreciative that a slate of activists – Grassroots Progressives – is running for the central committee to make our local party more active and engaged. Many of the current committee members have been on the committee for years or even decades and don’t do much. It’s time for this to change and if voters even knew about this race, I think they would agree.
  • Door to door canvassing is exhausting. I did door to door fundraising for the the DNC for 6 months in 2004, but I didn’t remember just how tiring it is. I was both physically and mentally exhausted afterwards. So if a canvasser ever shows up at your door, please show them the respect they deserve.
  • Mailers rarely work. They mostly just annoy voters and or get recycled.
  • Billboards for City Council races seem pretty pointless too – there’s not enough space to express a candidate’s perspective on complex issues and sometimes seeing such a large face staring down at you every day gets a bit creepy.
  • Robocalls are even worse. Does anyone actually listen through those?
  • Volunteering in a campaign office is invigorating. I love meeting others who are engaged in their local communities. I love showing up exhausted and leaving feeling exhilarated, knowing that me and my fellow volunteers talked to hundreds of voters about a candidate we believe in. It reminds me that not everyone in Oakland has given up and that many of us have real hope for a better future.
  • There’s never enough time to volunteer for the candidates you care about. I really, really wanted to volunteer for Mark Leno and even took the time to call the office to find out about phoning. But I never found it possible to make it across the Bay and to the Castro by 6pm on a weeknight.
  • I’d be completely lost in many races if it wasn’t for Oakland bloggers like V Smoothe and dto510, and of course the entire crew at Calitics.

Well, that’s about all of the reflecting I can muster tonight. I can’t wait to vote tomorrow for Rebecca Kaplan and the Grassroots Progressives slate, but I must admit that I’m still undecided in a couple races so I’m off to go do some more research.

Tomorrow night, I’ll be celebrating at Rebecca Kaplan’s victory party. Join me there:

Tuesday @ 8pm
Clancy’s Bar/Restaurant
311 Broadway (near Jack London Square)
Snacks included. Cash bar. Everyone is welcome.

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