Monday, July 07, 2003

My first guest post

Reader Alice Marie Marshall sent in some interesting suggestions for Dean supporters:

Cry vote! and let slip the dogs of precinct operations

As so many Dean supporters are new to active politics I thought there might be some interest in a primer on precinct operations.

I encourage Dean supporters to join their local Democratic committees. Especially those living in New Jersey and Virginia. Both state legislatures, along with municipal governments, are up for election. Because these states are located right beside the nation’s media centers, New York and Washington, and because these are the only elections this year, results will be closely watched by the nation’s power elite. I can tell you, there are few things more satisfying than beating Ken Starr in his own precinct.

If you have the skills to be a volunteer webmaster for a campaign, or assistant webmaster for the local committee, that is the same as donating $1,000 to the candidate or committee. If you have data base skills, and can maintain the list of identified supporters, that is the same as donating $10,000 to the committee. That is how valuable such skills are and I encourage the digirati to donate their time and skill.

Local Democratic committees consist of precinct captains and at-large members. I want to talk about the work of precinct captains because no other individual has more impact on election results. Precinct work is year-round and driving up the Democratic vote begins months in advance. If you want to shift your precinct by November 2004, you need to begin now and devote not less than one hour a month to political work.

Study your precinct. Learn what the precise boundaries are, if necessary get a precinct map from the local board of elections. Study your precinct’s voting history. How did it vote in the last two elections? Does it have a high turnout? (Sadly in this country, any turnout of over 50% of the registered voters in a presidential election constitutes a high turnout.) You will quickly discover that precincts that vote 60% Democratic or better have low turnout. If you live in such a precinct you already know what your priorities are, voter registration and turnout.

Walk your precinct, if it is too large to walk in one day, walk it sections at a time. Only by walking the neighborhood can you get a feel for your precinct’s character. What kind of people live in your neighborhood? Do they have preschool children? Elementary school or teenagers? Are the children away at college or in the armed forces? Are there many retirees? Is it mostly young adults not yet married? This will tell you which issues will resonate and which will not.

There are three kinds of neighborhoods, new neighborhoods, established neighborhoods and high turnover neighborhoods. Precinct operations must be geared to the character of the neighborhood. (Notice I did not say anything about the ethnic demographics. Precinct operations are, by their nature, about treating people as individuals, not stereotypes.)

New Neighborhoods

New neighborhoods are new real estate subdivisions that have been developed within the last ten years. This is where we have lost too many elections. By getting to these new residents first, before our honorable opposition has had a chance to contact them, we can bring them into the Democratic fold. At least most of them.

Contact your local grocery store or library and arrange to distribute literature. (I think this is easier for volunteers than knocking on doors, but you must judge for yourself) Human beings are social creatures, and the physical presence of a campaign, by itself, can sway voters our way. And physical presence must include personal contact with campaign volunteers.

Established Neighborhoods

These are neighborhoods that have been around long enough for mature trees and to develop some social cohesion. They are more likely to have lists of identified Democrats and even volunteers.

Try to find out who has volunteered in the past and work with those Democrats. Organize a strategy meeting, invite local Democrats to your house, reserve the meeting room at the local library, find somewhere you can meet and BRIEFLY (don’t let this meeting go past an hour) discuss what you think would work best for the next election.

High Turnover Precincts

These are precincts where apartments, condos, and townhouses are predominant. Voter ID in such neighborhoods is nearly impossible. Try to identify the long term residents and locate the Democrats amongst them. These precincts are good prospects for voter registration drives. Try to distribute literature twice to the entire precinct, once in September, and once the weekend before the election.

Is there a bus line that goes through the neighborhood? Waiting for a bus is dull and riders are likely to be willing to look at literature if it is presented to them in a soft-sell, friendly way. Get a bus schedule and arrive five minutes before the bus is scheduled to arrive and hand out literature to anyone who is willing take it. Just walk from one bus stop to the next, until you are ready to walk back home.

Self government means do-it-yourself government. This cannot be said too often. Volunteers win elections, not candidates. It’s wonderful when outstanding candidates like Bill Clinton come forward, but we cannot just wait for dashing knights on horses to come forward to save us from electoral defeat. We need to take charge of our precincts.

Alice Marie Marshall Volunteer Coordinator, 2003 Joint Campaign Past Chair, Precinct Operations Committee Past Chair, Voter Registration Committee Fairfax County Democratic Committee Fairfax, Virginia