The United States has the busiest election calendar on earth. Thanks to the many layers of federal, state, and local government, Americans have more opportunities to vote each decade than any other nation has in their lifetime.
Thousands of Americans seek elective office each year, running for legislative, judicial, and administrative posts. Given the frequency with which elections occur and the mundane quality of most of the contests, those who report on elections tend to focus exclusively on the high-visibility contests for president, senator, or governor. This focus gives a distorted impression of how election battles are typically waged.
First, high-profile races often involve professionalized campaigns, staffed by a coterie of media consultants, pollsters, speechwriters, and event coordinators.
Second, in order to reach large and geographically dispersed populations, these campaigns often place enormous emphasis on mass communications, such as television advertising.
Third, the importance of these races calls press attention to the issues at stake and the attributes of the candidates.
The typical election, by contrast, tends to be waged on a much smaller scale and at a more personal level. Few candidates for state representative or probate judge have access to the financial resources needed to produce and air television commercials.
Even long-standing incumbents in state and municipal posts are often unknown to a majority of their constituents. The challenge that confronts candidates in low-salience elections is to target potential supporters and get them to the polls, while living within the constraints of a tight campaign budget.
A similar challenge confronts political and nonpartisan organizations that seek to mobilize voters for state and local elections. Making scarce campaign dollars go as far as possible requires those who manage these campaigns to think hard about the trade-offs. Is it best to assemble a local phone bank? Hire a telemarketing firm? Field a team of canvassers to contact voters door-to-door? Send direct mail and, if so, how many pieces of direct mail?
Campaigns vary enormously in their goals: some are partisan, some nonpartisan; some focus on name recognition, some on persuasion, and some on mobilizing their base of loyal voters. Some political organizations seek to educate citizens, some to register citizens, and some to motivate citizens. But varied as they are, political organizations and campaigns have important and obvious commonalities.
As Election Day approaches and campaigns as well as political party organizations move into Get-Out-The-Vote (GOTV) mode, their aims become quite similar and their purposes very narrow. A week before the election, they are all homing in on one simple task””to get their people to the polls. Each organization and campaign, no matter how big or small, struggles with the same basic question: How should remaining resources be allocated in order to turn out the largest number of targeted voters?
Ask around and you will receive plenty of advice on what is the best way to mobilize voters in those final days or weeks. You may hear that it is one part mailings to three parts phone calls for an incumbent race. You may hear that, regardless of the office, it is two parts television and radio, if you can afford it, to two parts phone calls. You may even hear that, for a nonpartisan GOTV campaign, it is four parts door-to-door canvassing, but you will never be able to get enough canvassers, so it is best just to make phone calls.
Voters have a responsibility this election season as well””Even if motivation and enthusiasm are low regarding the “bigger” candidates on the table. The obligation to vote is huge, particularly because there are other small-scale races which depend on a good turn out.
I cannot speak for every county in Oregon, but over the last few years the Lane County Republican Party has always placed huge emphasis on canvassing and phone calling. Volunteers from all over the county have stepped up to help walk for the candidates and even sit at a table for an hour or so a couple of times a week just to get voters to turn in their ballots. These phone banks and walking efforts would not be successful without the explicit help of the volunteers, and we still need you to help out any way you can.
If volunteering is not something that you are able to do, you can still contribute to the GOTV effort this election season by simply turning in your ballot. I am always amazed by the number of people who are irritated by receiving a phone call reminding them to vote.
The simple truth is if the ballot is not in the hands of an election office employee, any registered voter is likely to get a phone call and will continue to receive phone calls until their vote has been cast, because that one vote can make all the difference in the world.
So, call your local party office and ask how you can help out with the GOTV effort, and of course, make sure to exercise your right to vote by turning in your ballot as soon as possible”¦it’s that important, whether we like it or not.