Getting Out the Vote

Lilian with cardboard cutouts of Clinton and Biden
Lilian with cardboard cutouts of Clinton and Biden

Lilian with cardboard cutouts of Hillary Clinton and Joe Biden at the Democratic Party headquarters in Milwaukee

In the 2012 presidential election, an estimated 57.5 percent of eligible voters in the United States cast ballots. More than 40 percent of voters stayed home.

This year, polls in swing states show a tight race between Democrat Hillary Clinton and Republican Donald Trump. The election may be determined by a few hundred votes in one of those states. As a result, volunteer efforts to “get out the vote” (GOTV) are going strong in many areas.

“We’ve found that it’s very important to establish a campaign across the state that reminds people to vote,” said Michael Duffey, Executive Director of Wisconsin’s Republican Party.

Wisconsin, which has 10 electoral votes, is among several “swing states.” That means it is difficult to predict whether it will vote Republican or Democratic. (A candidate must earn 270 electoral votes to win the presidency.)

Across the state, members of both parties are doing everything they can to get voters to the polls on Election Day. “We take our enthusiasm, and transport that into action,” said Jim, a Democratic canvasser in Milwaukee. Some volunteers leave information packets on doorsteps. Others make phone calls.

The most effective way to GOTV is through canvassing, which involves knocking on doors to speak with voters face-to-face.

“We connect with about 8 percent of people on the phones, but about 20 percent with canvassing,” Duffey said. Canvassing works best when it is done in the days just before the election because it can help people make a clear plan to vote.

The more specific information that volunteers have the better. Before knocking on a door, it helps to know what issues matter the most to a voter and how he or she may have voted in the past. As Duffey explained, Republican volunteers are often equipped with an iPad or an iPhone that’s loaded with an app that “tells them which doors to knock on,” Duffey explained. “We want to focus [our efforts] on the people who are undecided.”



I got a chance to watch Democratic canvassers in Milwaukee being trained and sent out. The volunteers received a packet and clipboard containing addresses, a map, and a script to share with voters who had previously voted Democratic.

The script enables volunteers to discuss the importance of voting and ways to help voters make a plan for Election Day. For example, does the voter know where his or her polling place is? Does the voters have a valid I.D.? A law in Wisconsin requires voters to present an I.D. before casting a ballot.

A cool wall in the Democratic Headquarters

Campaign signs at the Democratic Party headquarters in Milwaukee

GOTV campaigns sometimes try to register voters who would be likely to vote for their candidate. Sometimes, free transportation and child-care services are provided, making it easier for voters to get to the polls.

This election year is somewhat unusual because polls show that most voters do not like either presidential candidate. “This year is more important [for GOTV efforts] because we need to reach out to the people we can traditionally count on to vote for the Republican candidate and reinforce the importance of voting Republican,” Duffey said.

Will a GOTV volunteer come to your door? Keep your eyes out. Election Day is November 8. 


Photos courtesy of the author