Over the years I've tried many strategies to influence people's votes. Sign waves? Done 'em (lots of sunburn to prove it). Writing letters? Yep, and it is cool when one get's published. Posting notes to Facebook and emailing friends? Yes, and who can resist the internet!!
But here's the one that has worked for multiple decades and always will: Getting a map of your precinct along with voter records from your local Supervisor of Elections. Armed with these two powerful weapons you'll learn more about politics and political behavior then anywhere else.
Let's start with the basics. On election night we are glued to the screen as the votes role in. They're presented usually with the adage: "With 12 percent of the vote counted, Harry Houdini leads his opponent by 11,000 votes." Most people assume that all the votes cast that day are stacked up in a huge pile and counted one by one. Nothing could be further from the truth (and more misleading).
What really happens starts long before election night and even longer before a candidate even enters the race. It's all based on something called PRECINCTS. These small squares drawn within each county are the building blocks of the candidate's district. To put it another way, before a candidate can win an elected office he must win a plurality of precincts.
Precincts have a long history attached to them which is easily seen from records obtained from the local supervisor of elections. In my precinct (#319 in Orange County Florida) there are about 1000 houses. That's a lot of houses (not to mention most houses contain at least two adults).
But thanks to the meticulous record keeping of the Orange County Supervisor of Elections, I (or more precisely my candidate/chosen political party) can ferret out all sorts of info to help me be more successful in shifting electoral outcomes.
Right off the bat they will tell me which houses to go to that have REGISTERED voters. Would it surprise you to know that about half the adult population is not registered to vote? So all those sign waves, emails, and letters to the editor fall on deaf ears so to speak since 50% of the folks you reach can't vote even if they wanted too. Voter registration is an altogether different subset of what I'm trying to explain and won't be delved into here.
But here is where it really gets interesting. The records from the Orange County Supervisor of Elections span decades. And the particular candidate that I'm volunteering for is interested in only reaching Republicans and those registered Independent. So with this criteria I now have a print out with a map showing me that there are just 327 houses that I need to contact. A much more manageable number!
There are a lot of other data that a campaign might choose to use in precinct walks. For instance when I go to someone's door I would know how often they vote, what party they are registered with, etc. Some software will tell me if they are gun rights supporters, their age, and just about anything else.
Here's the real kicker: how often have you ever wondered 'were those sign-waves really that effective? Was it really useful to attach brochures to cars in Publix parking lots?
Answer: YOU'LL NEVER REALLY KNOW, because elections aren't done in parking lots or on street corners.
Precincts are the only place you will know proof positive whether you're efforts really paid off! That's because the hours you spend leafleting in precincts, knocking on doors in precincts, and making calls into precincts; all can be quantitatively measured on the night of the election.
A simple process of comparing a precinct that has been 'worked' with one that hasn't will teach invaluable lessons. You'll see how 'real' voters (not political junkies and activists) vote. Nowhere else will you get clear feedback on the viability of a given candidate and their message. Nothing affected me more than when a candidate I worked my heart out for still lost despite herculean effort on my part. These are lessons I have learned well and draw upon all the time in political debates.
One more thing about precincts. Professional political consultants and candidates count precincts like Vegas gamblers count cards. They constantly scrutinize trend voting in precincts to determine likely hood of which party and candidate would win. Key: running a Republican in a district composed of trending Democrat precincts is a fool's errand.
I could go on and on about the underlying forces that determine and shape the political landscape.
But here's one tidbit of information. If just one person in each precinct determined that they would knock doors and make phone calls for a chosen candidate or cause, THEY COULD AND WOULD CHANGE THE OUTCOME OF ELECTIONS!
Think about this when you decide how to use your time! Meanwhile, I'm still going to hangout on Facebook (friend me under Nick Egoroff). But now through the 2010 election I'll be volunteering some of my time 'out in the field' to really affect change.
See you on election night, where I'll be either crying in my beer or gloating over a job well done. I'll compare my efforts to those other precincts and know for certain what really happened.
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