The four small Maryland campaign offices could only hold two tables and twenty chairs. Not exactly a welcoming place nor conducive to privacy when volunteers phone-banked. To even further cramp our space, campaign literature filled each office including leaflets for canvassing, yard signs for polling sites, and placards for car windows. No phone lines to use, but a campaign printer and an extra computer fulfilled the basic fixed assets. Volunteers brought a mini-fridge, coffee maker, microwave, and minimal office supplies for us to borrow. Okay, fired up, ready to go.
Any successful campaign ground game, no matter what size I discovered, depends on volunteers. The paid field organizers may effectively coordinate their efforts, but the number, talent, and energy of volunteers drive this aspect of a campaign. The Maryland volunteers had been organized for one year and were extremely pleased to receive any campaign paid staff – this being the first time in anybody’s memory that paid staff worked the primary for this historically blue state. So, we found a solid core group of volunteers to launch this operation at all four offices. Volunteer phone lists were created for phone banking, canvassing, working poll sites, ride-to-polls, and watch- and/or debate-parties. Also, whenever an event was held (like when Hillary or Bill spoke locally), all attendees signed in and were thus contacted afterwards to inquire if they wish to volunteer during the campaign.
Once the volunteer base is estimated, a field office determines what type of activities can be planned. We started slowly with phone banks with just the two of us in our Severna Park office. As volunteers decided what activities they would agree to do, schedules formed in the usual minimum of two-hour shifts. They could phone at the office, use the phone bank lists at home from the Voter Activation Network (VAN), or – if experienced, and many of these volunteers were – they could use the Hub Dialer (an automatic speed dialer) to contact Democratic voters.
The main priority in this blue state focused on GOTV: getting out the vote of all those registered Democrats. If the core party members voted in high numbers, this should favor Hillary. Moreover, Maryland holds closed primaries, meaning only those people registered as Democrats can vote in the Democratic Primary. This state did not bode well for Bernie because many independents had been voting for him in prior states that held open primaries, where anybody can vote in any party’s primary. Marylanders had to register to vote Democratic last October, way before Bernie gained any momentum in this campaign. Independent voters could not vote. We hope they are there come the general election for the Democratic nominee. So much for the two-party system.
Most volunteers work during the week, so most volunteer during the weekday evening hours or volunteer more often on weekends. Our first big volunteer weekend started our canvassing efforts. Annapolis contained a large percentage of Democratic voters and thus targeted for heavy door-to-door canvassing. Before the weekend, I canvassed a few turfs to determine if they were cut efficiently. Let me explain. Cutting turf means dividing a targeted voting precinct into walkable sections where a canvasser can cover in approximately two hours 40 to 80 residential units, depending upon the density. The canvasser knocks on the targeted address asking for the registered Democrat provided on their turf list. If not home, a campaign leaflet is placed in the door, listing dates and time polls are open. If at home, the canvasser has a script, which includes: greet, introduce, and inform (about the primary); inquire whether the resident plans to vote in the upcoming primary; inquire whether the resident will tell which candidate he/she will support; if Hillary, thank them; if uncommitted, inquire if they have questions for you, or you may explain to them your personal reason on why you are supporting Hillary; and, conclude by thanking them for being involved in the election, whomever they may be supporting.
By far, Maryland provided the best canvassing experiences for me. The vast majority of Marylanders treated this Tennessean with courtesy. The typical response upon greeting the person was for the door to open six inches. Once I introduced myself as being with the Hillary campaign, the door opened two feet. After asking if this was not the craziest campaign they had ever witnessed, the door flew open and they were out on the front porch with me. The remaining conversation included statements like: “That Trump is dangerous.” “What do the other countries think of us acting like this?” “What’s this county coming to?” These statements were consistent regardless of the candidate that person supported.
My role with canvassing included acting as the launcher. Our office was 15 miles from Annapolis, and most volunteers lived in Annapolis, so I would take the turfs to them at a designated time and place (in this instance, a park-and-ride lot). I would launch the volunteers on their canvassing and after two hours they would return the completed paperwork to me. I launched different people in different shifts depending on when they could volunteer, usually 10:00 a.m. or 1:00 p.m. shifts. I would linger at the launch site in case the canvassers experienced problems or questions, or I would go canvassing myself. The spring time weather was delightful, the canvassers exuded enthusiasm, and I even discovered a farmers market nearby. One snafu became apparent when canvassers noticed that some of the turfs were not cut correctly and overlapped. Two canvassers ended up on the same street, which was not pleasurable for the residents nor productive for the canvassers. I decided I would cut the next turfs. I had not learned this technique but wanted the expertise for the remainder of the campaign.
The VAN software can be both clunky and powerful. Cutting phone banks and walking turfs exemplify its power. To cut a walking (canvassing) turf, one enters the county, voting precincts, and party registration (Republicans do this, too). Out spits a map of the precinct with street names and numerous dots – the dots representing Democratic voters in this case. When the dots are clustered, you click four times (to make a rectangular shape) surrounding that cluster and the box becomes a color (say, light red). Immediately you can see how many Democrats live there and in how many housing units within this area (say, 56 Democrats living in 40 units). That is called Turf 01. Turf 01 would be appropriate for one canvasser to cover in two hours. Similarly, Turf 02 can be drawn. If Turf 02 initially depicts 80 units (say, yellow) where registered Democrats live, you can click and drag the corners of your rectangle to half your turf to a more suitable size. If you are puzzled how many voters can live in one small area, the software offers the satellite view. This view may show an apartment complex, townhomes, or an apartment building and may assist in how to cut the turf more appropriately. Who needs video games?
After you have cut turf for the entire precinct (maybe 15 to 20 turfs), the precinct can be printed with all its respective turfs. Each separate turf packet (Turf 01, Turf 02…) includes instructions, a turf map, a list of all the voter’s names, ascending address numbers, and possible responses for all the questions. The map aids the canvasser in knowing where to park to access most of the addresses. Sometimes you may have five registered Democrats in one address, sometimes only one. The canvasser tries to get responses from all the listed names in each address. After completing the turf, that voter information is fed into the VAN’s Democratic campaign file for analyzing that may help make future strategic decisions.
I explained to Rebecca on our phone call that night my new skill of turf cutting. She sounded duly impressed and asked if that was somehow transferable. I cannot imagine how, but the tools available for campaigns to “move the needle” – thus far – always amaze me. How this translates to our republic form of government and its effectiveness, continually evolves as populations increase, technology advances, cultures diverge, and our world changes. For better or worse. Maryland, Part 3 to follow…