Home Virginia Politics A Primer on Poll Greeting, or: How to Win Your Next Election

A Primer on Poll Greeting, or: How to Win Your Next Election

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by Kellen Squire

The other day, I wrote this story about my election day experiences being a poll worker, and I noticed a number of people had questions about poll greeting. I mentioned it as being an excellent way to move votes for your candidate of choice, and it absolutely is – a stunning number of people make their decision on who to vote for when they show up at the polls.

Decry that if you like, but let’s be honest: the folks who are here, reading this article (and me writing it), are downright weird. We are hyper-aware of politics, what’s going on, who the players on, etc., and most normal people have zero time or energy to be able to process all that. I can empathize with that – after I’m done working six, 12-hour ER shifts in a row, I don’t have energy for anything– and I still have a wife, three kids, a house to take care of, chores to do, etc, etc.

That’s why being a poll greeter is so powerful. If you catch these folks, who are taking the time to vote, you can move enough votes to influence an election. My friend Nancy Guy in Virginia Beach just won her election by a mere twenty-four votes. I know her field team – consummate and passionate professionals- and am familiar with their plan for poll greeters, and I promise you it was they who swung that election for her; easily.

So, let’s talk about the three main tenets I follow when working as a poll greeter:

OBEY THE LAW

This seems like something that shouldn’t need emphasizing, but, sadly, you’d be wrong.

Now, the first thing to note is that laws are different in every state, and obviously you need to follow yours. For instance, there is no electioneering within X amount of a polling place from 25 to 200 feet, depending on the state or locality – and you must obey it. Don’t engage voters, don’t bring campaign materials, don’t do anything that would qualify as electioneering.

Unfortunately, people will often ignore the law- such as in Madison County, Virginia, where Republican candidate Nick Freitas didn’t do his paperwork (being too busy plotting a run against Abigail Spanberger, the Congresswoman from Virginia’s 7th Congressional District). Apparently, his poll greeters handed out pens with his name on it. This is dubious- surely politically savvy, I won’t argue that, but then the voters were apparently encouraged to “accidentally” leave them in the voting booths.

If you asked the Freitas campaign, I’m sure they’d say “Oh, golly, those overzealous supporters, they definitely shouldn’t be doing that but what can you do, hyuck!” Regardless, it’s illegal at worst, and unethical at best, and if that’s what you have to do to win, you need to take a long, hard look at yourself.

If I went into the polling building at all on election day, whether I was going to the bathroom, to check on the tally numbers (the election workers will let you know how many people have voted if you ask them, which is useful for campaign staff), or to let the poll workers know there was someone who wanted to curbside vote, I studiously made sure to remove all my campaign paraphernalia. I didn’t even nod in a voter’s direction until I’d returned into the appropriate zone and distance away.

BUILD A RAPPORT

I always look to make friends with the Republican poll greeters I am working across the aisle from, or to be friendly to them. I often have fantastic conversations with them, even if we end up having to “agree to disagree.”  I’ve yet to have a cross conversation with one, and the only one who’s ever been short with me was the mother of the candidate I was running against in 2017- so I cut her a bit of slack for that, heh.

As an example of this, during a lull last Tuesday, a Republican poll greeter asked me politely how I could call myself a Christian if the Democrats “loved abortion.” I asked her if my having to do abortions as an ER Nurse made me evil, and she was taken aback. No, she said, of course not; who would think that?! I pulled up a news article on my phone of Republican politicians saying just that, and that if you can’t “move” an ectopic pregnancy, well, *shrug*. Not His fault you did something unGodly.

This was the first she’d heard of that, and she was flabbergasted. Truly, she seemed almost disgusted in a very visceral way. Unfortunately, she insisted none of “her” Republican politicians would feel or act this way, in a sort-of stereotypical “No True Scotsman” argument. I didn’t have time to chat with her more about it, as it was a high turnout day, but at least she’s been exposed to that idea now.

We also chatted about kids and her grandkids and traded stories; she left while I was busy or I would have given her a hug. It’s those sort-of personal connections, I think, that will help move things forward. And maybe the news story I showed her will sink in, and someday she’ll undervote her ballot for a Republican candidate because of it. Although, c’mon. A single vote? That doesn’t matter; everyone knows that a single vote doesn’t actually move an election.

But it will never happen if we don’t try.

KNOW YOURSELF AND THE CANDIDATE

A half a dozen times throughout the day, I would be approached by a voter and asked about a part of a candidate’s platform. This is in addition to a couple times people asked to troll us (“This flier doesn’t say socialism on it, which part is the socialist part?), which I would smile at and shake off politely. But the vast majority of people were sincere, and just wanted to know where our candidates stood on X, Y, or Z.

They might also say things like, “I heard (Republican attack ad talking points) but it sounded kind-of out there,” and being able to respond and politely correct them on the merits of where our candidates stand is immensely helpful.

A voter showed up and accused one of our candidates- Qasim Rashid– of having said on Twitter he wanted to “rip up the Constitution” and “enact Sharia law”. He was almost shouting; I presume to “warn” other voters of the imagined peril.

One of my colleagues immediately jumped in, and said, “No, sir, don’t worry- those are all lies. He never said anything of the sort.” Note, she didn’t tell him he was lying; instead, that he’d been misled. The voter insisted it was on Qasim’s Twitter feed, and so she looked back at me, to give me a non-verbal inquiry on whether I could “take the wheel” on greeting voters and handing out sample ballots. I nodded, and without missing a beat, she walked over and politely talked to him; pulled up her Twitter account to look through for it.

Of course, Qasim had never said any such thing. I didn’t catch all of the back-and-forth, but I think the voter grumbled that Qasim must have deleted it. Either way, he went back home, and all anyone watching saw was a polite response from our folks, a polite rejoinder that he’d been misled, and an unflappable demeanor. Anyone watching who truly was on the fence would have seen the dichotomy going on there and, well- in the absence of anything else, you tell me what side would have impressed you more.

Again, these folks haven’t had time to do in-depth research on every possible position a candidate stands on. My website for my current campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Virginia is comprehensive to the point of exhaustiveness; a current Virginia legislator laughed and told me I was a “redneck Elizabeth Warren”, which I thought was both hilarious and appropriate. But it’s specifically designed for an audience that wants that kind of wonk detail. As elections draw closer, it’ll grow into a multi-layered site where people who just want the highlights can get them- the exact “cliff notes” version a voter who is undecided at the polls wants to know.

Often, I would give a testimonial of why I supported said candidate. Not policy, but the “heart” answer, the things that I liked about them, and follow it up with “and that’s why I volunteered to be out here all day for them!” Working people, in particular, know the sacrifice that entails. I could have made 13 hours of pay working in the ER instead of standing at the polls; the fact I gave it up for these candidates is a powerful message.

And let’s be fair- even the wonkiest Warren supporter is probably supporting her on the strength of what they feel in their heart. There’s nothing wrong with that. And if that’s the best way we can connect with people, that’s exactly what we need to do.

When in doubt, I just made sure to know where on the candidates’ website or form to look, or, if all else failed, would simply say “I’m not sure! But we can find out for you if you need!”

BE POLITE AND POSITIVE!

In the story I wrote here about being accosted while poll greeting, I emphasized my positivity for a specific reason: because you are a reflection of the candidate you are there to support.

I left out an enormous amount of minutia about what actually transpired. It was not fit for repeating in polite company, or even amongst a group of US Navy Sailors. For instance one of the things this gentleman said to me made even one of the Republican poll watchers gasp involuntarily. It took that much to even get me to respond in the way I did, because, again, I am a representative of the candidates on the ballot, and my behavior will reflect them to anyone watching. I’d rather have to take it on the metaphorical chin than to risk looking bad, to end up on some Republican blog or Fox News hit piece about what “the evil Democrats” did.

Honestly, I’m surprised and disappointed the Republican poll greeters didn’t cut that gentleman off at the pass. To be fair, he made a beeline for me once he left the voting building, so perhaps they didn’t have the opportunity to. I’d like to think they would have, had they an inkling of what would happen.

But keep this in mind: the time I dedicated to responding to that gentleman took me away from greeting other voters.

What if the margin had been a handful of votes that had walked by while I was jawjacking with that gentleman? That’s why I let things go on as long as they did, because getting a “Gotcha!” rhetorical poke at him wasn’t worth losing even a single vote over because I was busy responding to someone who’d already voted, and clearly wasn’t going to vote for us anyhow.

In the same vein, we also had a Democratic voter who walked over and started accosting the Republican poll greeters about Trump being a dictator. One I figured out what he was doing, I gently coaxed him away from them and pulled him aside. I said I understood his frustration completely, but these poll greeters weren’t the ones to take that out on. The best thing he could do wasn’t boo- it was vote! That’s the best way we can exercise personal power; not by taking it out on our fellow Virginians, but by voting. He was still upset but he nodded, went in and voted, and came back out and tapped his “Just Voted!” sticker in the Republicans’ direction.

Another thing I do to make sure I stay positive and polite is to thank every single voter for voting. Yes- every. Single. One.

One actually was puzzled about that; I thanked him for voting as he walked by, and he stopped, and said, “You know, I didn’t vote for you guys, right?” I responded, “Well, sir, I’m disappointed about that, but at least now you can complain, right? Can’t complain if you don’t vote!” He laughed uproariously and clapped me on the back.

Those are the sorts of things that act like a time-delay bomb. It slides off him now, but the hope is that someday in the future, he’ll suddenly remember that- maybe as he’s considering a Democratic candidate, or listening to a Republican one go off the rails, and think, huh.

But it’s true. More voting is not bad. As much as we struggle with voter suppression, I will never, ever advocate for less voting. If there are more people voting for the folks I don’t like, I need to figure out how to convince them to vote the way I prefer- NOT hope, wish, or keep them from voting themselves.

CONCLUSION

People take note of those kinds of things – and they vote accordingly. That’s why we were calm, courteous, and energetic to everyone, standing out and ready to greet voters rain or shine. The poll greeters I worked with in Stafford County, Virginia this past November were professionals at it. Calm, collected, and dedicated no matter the circumstances – and there were definitely some tough circumstances.

And if you’re undecided about who to vote for, and show up seeing X candidate’s supporters politely and enthusiastically thanking you for showing up, offering you information, being able and willing to ask any questions you might have, you have a great chance to earn their vote.