by Michael Beer
Canvassing in neighborhoods has been different this year because of COVID-19. As someone in my 50’s, I was anxious to go door to door. Until this weekend, the Democratic campaign has just been leaving literature at homes without knocking. That’s been great! Now, however, door-knocking has started.
So today I went out to Manassas – Bull Run, to be exact – to volunteer for Qasim Rashid, a candidate who is in the hunt for an upset victory against Rep. Rob Wittman (R) in the 1st Congressional district of Virginia. Qasim spoke briefly to a crowd of 40 volunteers of various ages and backgrounds. Qasim is charismatic and well spoken and one of the most capable congressional challengers I have seen in years.
For those of you who have not canvassed recently, we don’t use clipboards with sheets and paper maps anymore. Instead, we download an app called MiniVAN on our phone and get a list of numbers to input from the campaign staff. We then pick up some literature, that today consisted of a combined campaign piece that includes Joe Biden for President, Senator Mark Warner, and soon-to-be Congressman Qasim Rashid. We also took a specific Rashid handout that we also gave to live voters.
Today there were three doors with first-time voters! They were asking me if they could vote by internet. I was confused and wondered if others have run into this myth. Is someone spreading misinformation that you can vote by internet? Some of the unusual questions were, “Do I have to tell them I am a Democrat?” and “are there candidates to vote for besides president?” Spending time answering these questions made me feel like I’m having an impact. Voting early was still possible (today was the last day), but everyone demurred.
Two people said they had returned their ballots in the mail. Because Mini-VAN app updates every night, noting those people whose ballots have been received by the election office and voted, I informed them that as of last night, their ballots had not arrived. I encouraged them to go to ballotscout.org and track their ballot.
Generally, everyone was friendly. Campaigns don’t send volunteers out near election day to knock on random doors. All of these people had been identified as Democrats or supporters of Qasim Rashid.
I expected more fear on the part of people because of Covid-19. However, door knocking was not a problem, and many doors were answered in a normal way. No one feared taking lit that I handed them. And yes, I was wearing a mask.
Let me share two tricks that I use. First, I write the first name of every person with an exclamation point at the top of literature. Thank goodness the combined campaign literature is on white card stock and has white space available. So bring a pen with you. Some years, I have left a longer message such as “Dear Glenda, thx for voting! Sorry to miss you.” I leave it ambiguous about whether it was the candidate themselves that knocked on the door.
Second, for people who answer the door, I start my spiel with “This is a courtesy visit to remind you that Tuesday is Election Day” (I use this for phone calls also). Adults don’t like to be told to do something or told what they should know. But they generally are fine about being reminded. So please feel free to try this language with your GOTV efforts.
With these tips in mind, just follow the script in the app and mark down what their plan is for voting, who they support, etc.
Many people have moved or are not home. I just leave the literature under a doormat. I click on the screen to note that they weren’t home or moved. Presumably, more people will come through in the next few days to follow up on those who were away. Today, I talked to a caretaker or sibling a few times and left a voice note in the app such that I learned from a nurse that “this woman is elderly and should be contacted again to offer her a ride to the polls.” My route took 2.5 hours and when completed, I hit the sync tab to make sure the updated information was relayed to the database.
Overall, the local Democrats are hopeful. Many have voted already. But they are not watching the news shows and paying much attention to the election. Few know of Qasim Rashid or Senator Warner. Knocking on doors, making phone calls, sending post cards and texts, makes a difference.
Turnout should be historic, despite the fact that Dems have only started door knocking this weekend. Based on my experience, it is fun and safe. Please get out (and away from your screens) and go to the contested congressional districts and knock on doors. Clicktivism and spectating will not lead to victory. Old-fashioned outreach is essential and you frankly will enjoy the exercise and social interaction.