Sunday, October 19, 2008

Together we can:
Obama campaign makes voting a social experience

Sitting with a group of women friends last night, we talked about voting. I've already done it. I became a permanent vote-by-mail voter as soon it became legally possible because I'm always working on some campaign on Election Day. Several others had received their ballots, were working as volunteers on various facets of the Obama campaign, and intended to send them in soon. And the inevitable person said, "I know it is easier to vote by mail, but I want to go to a polling place on November 4. I want to feel like I'm doing it with everyone else."

There was a lot of agreement with that nostalgia -- and awareness that this wasn't the way the world seemed to be going. Californians all, we wondered at the fact that all elections in Oregon are by mail. But we too have long had the option of voting by mail if we choose without giving any reason at all.

The growing predominance of voting by mail scares me. It's all very well for habitual voters. But for folks who are just getting into to the process, first timers, or people who because of their race or income aren't so sure they belong in our democracy -- they get a boost from feeling Election Day as a sort of civic participation festival. I've seen this in action while canvassing low-income Latino precincts in California's Central Valley and the sometimes mean streets of impoverished Oakland. I've written about what researchers call "convenience voting" here and here.

Given these misgivings, it is exciting to see the Obama campaign creating situations that overcome the isolated individualism of the early and vote-by-mail voting experience. Obama supporters aren't expected to do their pre-Election Day voting alone. In states where there are "early voting" polling places, Obama organizers are bringing a party to the voting area. As reported by Sean at

Obama for America [West Virginia] State Director Tom Vogel told us that during the GOTV phase, all 55 counties in the state will have early voting and weekend GOTV rallies. In Charleston on the 25th, for example, the campaign is holding a live music street fair just two blocks from an early voting location.

This week, the New York Times reported how the campaign is getting it done in Colorado. Obviously campaigns love early voting. The Colorado campaign is hoping to get 50 percent of voters "banked" before November 4. This guarantees that no late news can sway weak supporters. Further it will mean only half as many people have to be found and pushed to the polls in the last twelve hours. And voters get to avoid inconvenience and long lines. But the campaign also knows it has to give voters something back -- the feeling of collectively practicing democracy!

FORT COLLINS, Colo. -- The presidential debate had barely ended Wednesday night when Kristin Marshall had her ballot on her lap, pen in hand, ready to vote. Three friends, all supporters of Senator Barack Obama, the Democratic nominee, had their ballots, too.

"Obama's the second one down -- don’t accidentally pick the first" said Ms. Marshall, 27, a reference to the ballot placement of Senator John McCain, Mr. Obama's Republican opponent, as her living room of Obama supporters erupted in laughter.

The traditional American vote -- a solitary moment behind a black curtain in a booth, civics in secret -- was never thus. ...

In coming up with strategies to get out the mail-in vote in Colorado, both campaigns have focused on making the mail-in voters feel part of a bigger movement. The Obama campaign's debate-and-vote parties, for example, were intended to create a feel of civic participation.

Awesome organizing this -- what a campaign can do when it has 3.1 million donors and vast sums to spend on facilitating people to people contact, in addition to making its essential advertising buys. Bravo!


Darlene said...

Obama has run a well organizes campaign and I think this is an indication of the kind of presidency we can expect from him.

Jane R said...

I would add that this is an example of good liturgy!

Thanks for this post.

Kay Dennison said...

I just received an offer I can't refuse today and I'll be telling about how I'll be spending Election Day soon.

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