Canvassing and phone-banking are time tested voter outreach activities, and new tools have made them easier than ever. Organizing for America has a iPhone canvassing app, and today’s websites let you host a calling party in your home, or even make calls in your pajamas.

Just don’t crunch Cheetos while you talk. (More)

Voter Outreach, Part III – New Old Tools (Non-Cynical Saturday)

As Democrats kick off our GOTV campaigns this week, Morning Feature will focus on voter outreach. Thursday we emphasized the importance of listening when we contact voters. Yesterday we discuss how to build and maintain our own enthusiasm when we meet rudeness or anger. Today we explore a sample calling script and how to use tools that make voter outreach more effective.

In olden days, after the discovery of fire but before the spread of the Internet, voter outreach was a laborious task. You went to a candidate or party office and met a staffer to pick up a list of addresses and materials for canvassing, or a list of phone numbers and a script. You then drove until you got lost, called the staffer on a pay phone for directions, drove again until you found the right neighborhood and began knocking on doors. Or you sat in a chair the campaign had rented from Torquemada, and made your calls. Either way, you took notes by hand or dictated them to a chicken. It was hard to tell which from your notes.

Finally you met the staffer again and handed in your lists and notes, ideally staying around to decipher the chicken scratchings (as if), which ideally went into the staffer’s file (uh huh), which ideally did not fall behind a desk (exactly), to be found when they closed the office after the election, or centuries later by archeologists (e.g.: the Rosetta Stone).

Okay, it wasn’t that bad, but it sometimes felt like it. Especially to the staffers. But with modern voter outreach tools, you can use your time more efficiently.

Canvassing by iPhone:

For example, Organizing for America now has an iPhone application for canvassing. President Obama told me about this yesterday on Twitter. Okay, someone on his staff tweeted it to 5,361,579 followers, including me. Its features include:

  • Lists of neighbors to contact.
  • Interactive maps so you needn’t get lost and call that staffer (yay!).
  • News, photos, and information to share with people at the door.
  • Real-time contact reporting, so you needn’t dictate notes to the chicken (bwawk!).

It also has tools that let you call your senators and representatives, learn about OFA events in your area, read the latest news, and get OFA’s issue discussion guides. If you canvass and have an iPhone, iPad, or iPod Touch, this app makes voter outreach easy.

Virtual Phone-Banking:

If you phone-banked in 2008, you may have already used VoteBuilder, the Democratic Party’s online voter database and contact tool. VoteBuilder coordinates outreach for the DNC and state and local parties. In many states that now also includes OFA. The software is easy to use, and allows targeted voter outreach without cumbersome lists that fall behind staffers’ desks.

When you volunteer, you receive a VoteBuilder ID. You can then login, select the My Voters tab, click Virtual Phone Bank, and up pops a voter’s name, number, and a script selected for your volunteer status: calls for a candidate, county or state party, etc. The call page has built-in reporting tools so you can record whether the voter answers the phone, as well as your notes of the voter’s responses. When you finish each call, check your notes and click Next. Up pops the next voter, and on you go.

Each call is updated in the voter database and the responses are available to the candidates’ and party staffers. So, again, you needn’t dictate notes to the chicken (bwawk!). And you can login to VoteBuilder at a party office and use the chair they rented from Torquemada (ouch!), or login and make calls from home (pajamas and Cheetos!). You can even set up a phone-bank party at your home (pajamas and Cheetos optional).

A typical script:

While each candidate and party uses a different script, and update their scripts as we get nearer the election, most scripts have some common elements. This year most candidates and parties have updates those to incorporate OFA’s lessons from 2008. More questions are open-ended, designed to elicit a conversation and personal contact rather than yes or no answers. Yours may read something like this:

Hi, I’m (Name) and I’m calling on behalf of (Candidate/Party). As you know, the 2010 elections are very important, and we’re contacting voters in your area to hear about your concerns.

Are you a registered Democrat? (In most cases the answer will be ‘Yes,’ as most of our voter outreach this year focuses on our own voters.)

Do you know your Democratic candidates this year? (List candidates the voter knows.)

What issues are important to you this year? (List the voter’s issues.)

Have you registered to vote by mail?

(If no) Would you like to know how to register vote by mail?

(If no) We also have early voting again this year, beginning (date). Do you know where to vote early? (The software should give you the answer.)

(If voting on election day) Do you know where your election day polling place is? (Again, the software should give you the answer.)

Will you need a ride to the polls?

Is there anything else (Candidate/Party) can do to help?

Thank you for your time today, and thank you for voting!

Note that the listening questions are at the beginning. The idea is to make that personal contact before you ask specific questions about voting. The more personal the contact, the more likely the voter will vote. Don’t worry if you’re nervous for the first few calls. If you stumble, just say, “Sorry, I’ve just started and I’m learning this as I go.” That will help turn the script into a one-to-one conversation, and that is the most important part of voter outreach.

Oh, and send the chicken to Sharron Angle (bwawk!).


Happy Saturday!