A bittersweet phone call and why you should talk to everyone you know about this election

13 Oct

A few weeks ago, I wrote about how it was so great to be phone banking again, and since then, I’ve been keeping it up, phoning about once a week for various campaigns. And last night I made the most fulfilling voter outreach call I’ve ever made, though on reflection, it was a bit bittersweet.

I was calling for Libby Schaaf, who’s running for Jean Quan’s City Council seat (I’m working on Libby’s campaign, though the calling was on my own time). It had been a bit of a frustrating evening. Most of the people on my list weren’t home and several of the people I did reach didn’t speak English so I had only had a couple of conversations with voters. I was starting to get a bit frustrated.

Then I dialed an 85 year old women. At first, she had a hard time hearing who I was calling for so I repeated myself slowly and then spelled Libby’s name. “Oh, Libby,” she responded, “I couldn’t find her on my ballot.”

I assured her Libby was on the ballot and that she just was a little ways down in the long list of candidates. She went to find her ballot and when she returned she still couldn’t find Libby. I told her to look below the mayor’s race, and she couldn’t find that either. She was certain that neither of these races were on the ballot and couldn’t understand why.

So I asked her to look at the second or third page. I explained it was a long ballot this year in Oakland. “There are three pages?” she asked, sounding perplexed, “I thought each page was for someone in my family, since we have three voters here.”

I walked her through the ballot and she was able to find and vote for Libby as I spoke with her on the phone. I encouraged her to look at the rest of the races and to vote the entire ballot.

She thanked me immensely and told me that if I hadn’t called, she might not have voted in Libby’s race or any of the races on the second or third page.

When I hung up, I felt incredible. It was so fulfilling to know that not only had I secured another vote for Libby but that I had helped a voter understand the new, long ballot, which is a real downside of ranked choice voting. I started dialing faster and was much more upbeat on the phone after this, and on the next call I got someone to sign up to volunteer for Libby.

But on my walk home from the phone bank, I thought about the call some more and though I still was overjoyed that I helped this woman vote, I started wondering how many other people are confused about the long ballot. Are others just filling out the first page and sending it in, neglecting the down ballot races, which are so incredibly important?

I really hope not, but if so, this makes phone banking, walking, and talking to friends, family, neighbors, and coworkers about this election even more important. Whether or not you’re not making a pitch for a specific candidate or measure, please talk to everyone you know about how ranked choice voting works and explain that the ballot will be several pages long.

Voting rates always drop further down the ballot, but let’s try to avoid a precipitous drop by spreading the word about the long ballot.


14 Responses to “A bittersweet phone call and why you should talk to everyone you know about this election”

  1. Dan Wood October 13, 2010 at 1:00 pm #

    Becks, that might be something to bring to attention to the registrar of voters or even our beloved Secretary of State. Confusing ballots are not a good thing!

    • Becks October 13, 2010 at 4:32 pm #

      But what could they do about it now that ballots have already been sent out?

  2. Hometown grrl October 13, 2010 at 4:35 pm #

    I haven’t seen the absentee ballot, so I have no idea what it looks like, but I know that in my phonebanking experience the degree of understanding varies greatly in the older (80+) demographic. So more than just simplifying ballots, we need to do our part to keep our elders engaged.

  3. Dave C. October 13, 2010 at 5:55 pm #

    At some point, when a ballot is confusing and/or complicated enough, we cross the line away from reasonable expectation of voter education and into unreasonable (and maybe unconstitutional) voter disenfranchisement. I hope someone is doing rigorous audits of the IRV system and the ballots that it requires, because anecdotes such as this one are pretty worrying, and seem to be growing in number. After a confusing ballot most likely tipped the presidential election in Bush’s favor in 2000, I would have hoped we had learned our lesson, but I fear we may not have.

    • Becks October 13, 2010 at 6:09 pm #

      I know that in SF, they didn’t have too many problems with IRV, but I can’t imagine they would have this same problem of voters being confused by multiple pages because they probably have had multiple pages for years with the amount of local initiatives on the ballot every year.

      Luckily, whether the Registrar does a rigorous study or not, much data will be available so others can look at it. It will be pretty clear that something is wrong if votes drop off precipitously after the first page.

      • Dave C. October 13, 2010 at 8:28 pm #

        If that were the only potential problem, it would be easy to measure, but some people might also skip races with more than two choices because they don’t understand the instant runoff process, or skip voting entirely because they are intimidated by the new system, or mismark (and thus invalidate) their ballots because they don’t understand how to fill it out properly. Disenfranchisement from each of these factors individually could be relatively insignificant, but they could add up to a non-negligible chunk of voters. That’s my fear, at least (I like to worry).

        I assume these issuess were all discussed ad nauseam when IRV was on the ballot. I can’t say I was paying close attention to the debate at the time, but I think I personally might have underestimated how confused some people would be by the process. I guess we’ll see.

        • Becks October 13, 2010 at 9:38 pm #

          They were discussed thoroughly then and again just as much this January when the Council was voting on implementing IRV. San Francisco’s the closest model we have and things seem to have gone smoothly there. The first IRV election was the bumpiest but most people still seemed to understand. I guess we’ll find out soon if the same is true in Oakland, and I do suspect there will be some serious analysis done on these issues.

  4. East Lake Rider October 13, 2010 at 8:50 pm #

    The race I’m most excited about, the BART Board, is at the end of the 2nd page on the ballot. I’m hoping voters know enough about that contest to look for it, and vote Robert Raburn of course.

    While phone banking for the Raburn campaign I usually get one worthwhile call per page, about 1 out of 20, where I connect with someone and get their vote.

    • Becks October 13, 2010 at 9:35 pm #

      Thanks for phoning for Raburn!

      The drop off in voting might actually help Raburn since I would imagine his supporters are more committed to him and care more about the race than people who automatically vote for the incumbent. But yeah, it’s clearly important to tell voters to look at all the pages and all the sides to vote on the down ballot races.

  5. Naomi Schiff October 15, 2010 at 9:20 am #


  6. Alan October 16, 2010 at 5:24 pm #

    This is a genuine question. I fear it may come off as negative but don’t mean it to.

    Does this incident cause concern among anyone of the minimum competence required to cast a meaningful vote? The task of filling out a “valid” ballot seems far less than what we should hope to get out of the citizenry in an election.

    I don’t want to encourage disenfranchisement but I am concerned that if people can’t figure out the basic mechanics of *how* to vote we can’t really trust them to give an honest assessment and opinion of the issues on which they’re voting.

    • Becks October 18, 2010 at 9:11 am #

      You have to keep in mind that this ballot is pretty different than past ballots. I think some voters who have been voting for a long time are being thrown off by the new ballot. Like the woman I talked to – she clearly knew the issues but was used to having a one page ballot.

  7. RdwithCypress October 26, 2010 at 5:27 pm #

    Michael Kilian Files Nepotism Complaint Against CEDA Top-Dog Antoinette Holloway-Renwick
    Michael Kilian, candidate for city auditor, reported to the Oakland Public Ethics Commission that Building Services Inspection Services Manager Antoinette Holloway-Renwick failed to report a close familial relationship with Arthur Young, who owns Arthur Young Debris Removal Service, the City’s number one blight abatement contractor.

    Kilian’s complaint alleges that this relationship costs the City millions of dollars a year because of the preferential treatment Young receives from Holloway-Renwick. Building Services records, as well as a deposition of Holloway-Renwick in an unrelated lawsuit, reveal that Holloway-Renwick was directly responsible for both contract and invoice approval for Arthur Young Debris Removal Service. The amount of those contracts exceeds $4 million since 2007.

    A 2007 audit of Public Works contract bidding process showed that Arthur Young Debris Removal Service was the number one Public Works contractor at that time.

    Courtney Ruby’s hiring-practices audit, dated October 21, 2009, does not include Holloway-Renwick’s relationship with Arthur Young.

    Holloway-Renwick retired several days after Kilian filed his complaint.


  8. RdwithCypress October 26, 2010 at 5:28 pm #

    Courtney Ruby fails to report preferential treatment given to a supporter and misses nepotism within CEDA

    Building Services records obtained yesterday show that in 2008 Ruby supporter Carlos Plazola, former Chief of Staff of Ignacio Delafuente, president of Terra Linda Development, and founder of the Oakland Builders’ Alliance, had a $10,000 fence erected at the City’s expense and paid for by Building Services from Fund 2415. The fence was erected by Arthur Young Debris Removal Service, the City’s #1 blight abatement contractor and, according to a complaint filed by Michael Kilian, a relation of former Buiding Services Inspection Services Manager Antoinette Holloway-Renwick.
    Building Services records reveal that Holloway-Renwick was directly responsible for both contract and invoice approval for Arthur Young Debris Removal Service.
    A 2007 audit of Public Works contract bidding process also showed that Arthur Young was the #1 Public Works contractor at that time.

    Courtney Ruby’s nepotism audit does not appear to have either detected or corrected the Renwick/Young nepotism.
    Renwick held the title of Inspection Services Manager from 2002 until October 15, when she appears to have retired five days after Kilian’s complaint was received by City staff.

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