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Every Campaign's Guide to Getting Out the Vote

Every Campaign's Guide to Getting Out the Vote
by Joe Garecht, Local Victory

There is nothing sadder in all of politics than to see a well-organized and well-run campaign fail because it let get out the vote activities fall through the cracks.  Worse still are those campaigns that think that they have so much support from the public they don't need to work hard on Election Day to get out the vote.  Nothing could be further from the truth.  Every single candidate and campaign manager should have this sentence printed on a plaque hanging on his or her wall:  An organized get out the vote operation is integral to the success of EVERY campaign.

What is Get Out the Vote?

Get out the vote operations (sometimes called GOTV) are those activities that the campaign performs to turn voters out on Election Day - those tactics and strategies the campaign will use to get supporters to get up, go out, and vote on Election Day.

Get out the vote campaigns need to be targeted - that is, you need to make sure you are getting your supporters, and only your supporters, to go to the polls.  GOTV operations are a waste if you are trying to move ALL voters to the polls, including your opponents'.

Simply put, every campaign, whether it is for the city council or for president, can and should implement a get out the vote effort.

GOTV Goals

The goal of your get out the vote campaign is to identify who your supporters are, and get as many of them as possible to actually go vote.  The GOTV team is not responsible for persuading people to support your candidate - that is the job of the rest of your campaign structure.  The get out the vote campaign need only identify who has ALREADY been persuaded to support your candidate, and then motivate those supporters to go vote.

Your GOTV effort should set a goal of ensuring that at least 10% of the voters you need to win the election actually go vote.  For example, if your campaign has looked at past election figures and realized that it needed 5000 votes to win the election, your GOTV goal would be to make sure that 500 known supporters make it to the polls on Election Day.

When to Get Started

You should begin planning your get out the vote strategy well in advance of Election Day.  Thirty days before the big day, you should have your get out the vote team in place and have your materials and systems prepared.  You'll need to appoint one person as "GOTV Chairman."  This person should over see your get out the vote activities in conjunction with the campaign manager.  The majority of your GOTV team can be volunteers, including members of your precinct, ward, and regional organizations and block captains.

The Two Phases

Get out the vote campaigns consist of two phases.  The first is the identification phase.  During this phase, your campaign should seek out and identify supporters.  This list will be used in the second phase, the motivation phase (sometimes called "The Voter Blitz.") During the motivation phase, which occurs in the few days leading up to the election, your team will try to motivate the supports you identified to go to the polls and vote for your candidate.

Identification, Please

The identification phase basically lasts the entire campaign, with the exception of the last few days before the election.  During the entire campaign, as part of every activity you conduct, your campaign must be keeping a list of supporters - along with relevant information such as phone numbers and addresses.

Your list should start with your own volunteers and staff - the people who are working to make sure your campaign succeeds.  Add to that list anyone who contributes to the campaign, people who attend your events, people you meet going door to door who say they are for you. In short, add everyone who says that they support you.

You can also add more people to your list of supporters by using classic voter identification methods.  By using voter ID (such as calling voters to ask who they plan to support), you make adding names to your list an objective in and of itself.

Your goal is to build a list that contains a number of supporters equal to at least 10% of the total votes you will need to win the election.

Contact and Re-contact

Several days to one week before the election, you are ready to start motivating your list of supporters to go to the polls.  Your ultimate goal is to make sure that every single person on that list actually goes to the polls on Election Day.  Of course, you probably won't get 100% to go, but you definitely come close.

The week before the election, you should contact each supporter to remind them when the election is, where their polling place is, and again ask for their support.  You should contact each supporter at least once.  If possible, contact each supporter several times. You can use several different methods to contact your supporters. They are listed here in order of descending effectiveness: . Door-to-door visits . Phone calls . Direct mail . Literature drop / door hangers

Election Day!

Your Election Day activities require organization, organization, and more organization.  Again, your goal is to make sure every supporter on your list goes to the polls.  In order to do this, you have to have someone at each and every polling place in your district (called "poll watchers.")

Check your local laws.  There are various regulations regarding what your poll watchers can and can't do.  Generally, they are allowed to sit close to the election judges at the polling place to quietly observe the voters as they come in.  Usually, they are not allowed to conduct any electioneering, or wear any campaign buttons or hats. In some states, poll watchers are required to get "poll watcher certificates" from the board of elections before going to the polls - check with the board of elections in your state or county.

Because your poll watchers won't be able to electioneer, they won't be able to get your message out one last time to the voters arriving at the polls.  Many voters decide who they will vote for in lower profile races when they walk into the polls.  Your campaign needs to have someone at the door handing out literature and asking people to vote for your candidate.  This means that you'll need to have at least two people at every polling place (one poll watcher, and one person outside communicating with the voters).

You'll also need to have a staff back at headquarters who can make phone calls and keep a master list of who has voted and who has not.

Ok, We're Ready

Once your team is in place (and they should be in place before the polls open, with each position staffed until polls close), you're ready to put your GOTV operation into Election Day mode.  Here's how it works:

Every time someone comes into vote, they say their name for the election judges, who determine if they are registered and eligible to vote. In many cases, the election judges will repeat their name loudly for the benefit of the poll watchers.  Each poll watcher should have a list of supporters that your campaign has identified and who are registered to vote at that polling place.  Every time a voter comes in, the poll watcher should look for the person's name to see if they are on the list, and if they are, cross them off.

Periodically, someone from the campaign should go around with a master list and copy down the names of those who have voted by crossing them off.  This master list should then be taken back to headquarters. The cycle should continue all day, with poll watchers crossing off names and campaign staff marking them off periodically on master lists.

(As a sidebar, you should also send around someone to give lunch and coffee breaks to your poll workers).

In the early afternoon, the campaign should begin calling supporters who haven't voted to remind them that it is Election Day.  If possible, the campaign should offer these voters rides to the polls if they need them.  If the campaign is flush with volunteers, it can also send volunteers out knocking on supporters' doors in targeted districts to remind them to vote.  If the person isn't home, they should leave a note on the door reminding the voter to go vote.  The cycle should continue into the night, with the campaign making phone calls and knocking on doors right up until the last minute trying to get supporters to go vote.

Of course, the whole time this is going on, the campaign has a worker outside of every poll handing out literature, asking for votes, and getting the candidate's name in front of the voters.

The Grand Finale

No doubt about it - the GOTV operation is the grand finale of the campaign.  It requires thoughtful planning, lots of leg work, and strong grassroots organization.  The time and effort get out the vote operations take are worth it, though.  A strong GOTV effort can put your campaign over the top, getting supporters to the polls that would never have gone if left to their own volition.  Take the time and create strong GOTV drive for your campaign.

Copyright 2002 by Joe Garecht

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