Monday, December 08, 2003

Cry vote! and let slip the dogs of precinct operations II

Alice Marie Marshall, a reader who sent in some dynamite stuff in the past, sent me a new piece on precinct operations and voter registration drives:

Voter registration is the single most effective thing we can do to win elections. (Well, aside from insisting on a full and accurate count of the vote, but that is beyond the scope of this post.) No other action is as effective in winning elections and no other activity better expresses what we stand for as a party. In that spirit I offer this primer on voter registration.

Republicans fear voter registration drives as they fear nothing else. If you are part of a successful voter registration drive in a tight election, you can expect the Republicans to manufacture some charge against you. ( ) I hesitate to write this as it will discourage some volunteers, but it is important to know with whom we have to deal.

To begin with, review the laws in your state. They are probably on the internet. Your state board of elections may have a page devoted to voter registration; review it. This is another reason to join your local Democratic committee. There will be experienced volunteers who can advise you and most likely a lawyer. If your local committee does not have a lawyer who is available to advise volunteers, your state party will.

Traditional voter registration drives employ what I call the honeybee method. The volunteer sets up a card table at the local grocery store, or similar venue, and asks people to register to vote. Sometimes there is a group of volunteers, one to sit at the table, the others to invite citizens to visit the table to register. In some localities the person sitting at the table can be deputized by the local board of elections to be an official registrar, but usually you just ask people to fill out the applications and then turn them over to the local registrar. I call this the honeybee method, because the volunteers are trying to attract new voters the way blossoms attract honeybees. It is labor intensive, and if you get five new voters in the course of an afternoon, you have done very well.

I prefer the tree pollen method. Volunteers distribute voter registration applications, along with a flier urging citizens to register to vote, in every doorway in a garden apartment complex, mobile home community, or anywhere that Democrats live. In a garden apartment complex, a volunteer can distribute 100 applications in the space of an hour. (Voter registration is very aerobic.) A small group of volunteers can take care of a large apartment complex in a single afternoon. If you distribute 100 applications you can expect five to twenty-five people to register to vote. (It depends on the apartment complex; it also depends on current events. The week the Republicans put Clinton’s testimony on TV was the best week for voter registration when I was chair of the committee. That was when I knew we were going to win the 1998 election.)

Roll up the application and place it between the door knob and the door frame, just the way the pizza places put their fliers in your door. Be sure to pre-address the application so all the citizen need do is fill it out, stamp it, and mail it in. Do not use a rubber stamp to address the applications, because often the address will smear and the application will not be delivered. You do not want a situation where the citizen thinks they are registered, but the registrars office never received their application. I suggest preprinted labels. If you use the tree-pollen method week after week, between now and autumn of 2004 you can, conservatively, bring in a net gain of 300 Democratic votes. We could turn this country around through voter registration alone, and I have never understood why we have not done so.

Always keep in mind that the Democratic party will be judged by the company it keeps. As a volunteer, you represent the Democratic party to your local community. This is especially true of voter registration work. You may very well be the citizen’s first personal contact with the Democratic party, in the case of many immigrants, their first contact with democracy. Conduct yourself in such a way as to give them a good opinion of Democrats and democracy.

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

Text of the Fairfax County Democratic Committee Voter Registration Flier:

Your county, your state, your country needs your wisdom. Only you understand how the economy, education, taxes and the environment affect your life and your neighborhood. Lift up your voice that the powerful may hear it; register and vote. If you are already registered or if you are not eligible to vote, please pass this to a family member or a friend who is.

This was translated into Spanish, Vietnamese, Korean, Chinese, Arabic, Russian, Farsi and Hindi. I give it here as an example. Be sure to put the authorization at the bottom of your flier, example:

By authority of Victoria Volunteer, Booster County Democratic Committee, Number 1, Democracy Place, Elysium Fields, Anystate, Phone-Number,


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