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Voting Early and Often

Nov
1
2006

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal contained a story that goes a long way to explaining why George Bush and Karl Rove have a spring in their step going into next Tuesday elections.The story talked about “absentee” ballots and advance voting and how Republicans have pulled more ballots in advance of the election than Democrats.
Long-time readers of this here website know this trick. It’s what got Gavin Newsom elected mayor of San Francisco. And it is – with the advent of Internet-based voting – the balloting wave of the future.
In 2003, Newsom’s campaign organizers – well funded and determined to “take back” city hall for moderates and the business community – used California’s absentee balloting system to register voters, get them to vote well ahead of election day and return those ballots to the polls. It was almost impossible to attend any large-scale Newsom event without someone asking you if you were registered (and giving you the paperwork then and there to do so) or asking you if you’d like to cast an absentee ballot (and giving you the paperwork then and there).
Jim Ross who was Newsom’s organizer during the election, even wrote about the strategy.


Ross isn’t as plainspoken in that piece as he could be – he’s got clients to help, after all. So let’s take a look at some of the mechanics of absentee voting. For starters, talking with absentee voters has a lot of advantages. You can chat with them – for as long as they like – about how they should, would or could vote. There are none of those pesky regulations about distance from polling places, etc. Two – and this, I think was the most important aspect of the San Francisco balloting – busy people, the very folks who often don’t have time to vote can be reminded to vote and in being reminded to vote – the Newsom folks took phone numbers so they could do this – you can talk to them about how to vote.
San Francisco’s population has undergone a pretty radical shift in the past 10 years. It is no longer a hippie village of tree-huggers; it’s a village of software geeks, start-up entrepreneurs and well, flatly wealthy people who did very well in the Internet boom. So, the city’s taxpayers are very much like Gavin Newsom. They are young, with an entrepreneurial bent, and an impatience for party politics, particularly the strident “progressive” politics of Newsom’s then-opponent. Once they were shown the most convenient way to cast their ballots – in California you can become a “permanent” absentee – they did so. Although polls showed the Green Party candidate for San Francisco mayor doing well going in to San Francisco’s municipal contest by the time voters got out of bed on election day in 2003, Newsom had won the election.
The outcome, as all of San Francisco’s Progressives painfully now understand, was determined by absentee voters. And those numbers, as we saw in California’s last election – that was the Spring primary – are growing. Something like 25 percent of all ballots cast across the country are now coming from absentees or advance voters, according to the Journal. That Democrats are late to this idea – concentrating on election day turn-out instead of newer ways to reach voters – is no surprise. Organizing voters, once the party’s most reliable asset and it’s fallback – using high turn out to win – have served it well. But, once again, looking back, not ahead, could cost them the election.

Share  Posted by Chris Nolan at 11:57 AM | Permalink

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