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Friday, June 29, 2007

Decentralized GOTV

The other "innovation" to come out of the SD3 special election for me other than than using Streets and Trips for canvassing, was decentralizing our GOTV system.

This was a test of a get out the vote system which we would like to try and use for 2008, when more precincts and volunteers are in play.

Marion used a centralized system in past elections, as we only were were working a few precincts. Which was fine, being that's all the volunteers we had to spare. However, its major drawback was response time. Marion Oaks, a set of key Democratic precincts in the southern area of the county is around a 30 to 40 minute drive from Dem HQ. Silver Springs Shores, another set of key Dem precincts, is around 15-20 minutes away from HQ. It would take even longer getting lists back to HQ for data entry and evaluation after 5pm as the workforce heads back home. Traffic is terrible on some of the arteries that lead to these two key areas.

To be perfectly honest, decentralizing GOTV, is by no means an "easier" system. It takes more work and effort, but it all pays off in both reaction time and effectiveness. Also, think long term. If a DEC is targeting more than a dozen precincts, some of which may be in different corners of their respective county, is it logistically feasible to bring a dozen or so runners back to HQ periodically throughout the day. How about response? Does your HQ have the number of phone lines to call the thousands of voters that haven't shown up to vote yet? Does your HQ have the sheer space to handle all those callers, much less those callers who bring their cell phones? What about knock and draggers (canvassers)? How do we communicate with them and get them the resources (maps in particular) they need fast enough to have an impact? As you can see, it can get pretty sticky very quickly.

Looking at the long term picture, it seems more and more likely that GOTV systems will have to be more decentralized. What we did in SD3 is take three precincts and test out decentralization. We had mixed results largely because we couldn't get the half-dozen volunteers needed for each precinct in time. That goes to show you how hard getting volunteers was for us, particularly those who would be willing to knock and drag. Most had done calling in the previous week and didn't really want to do much more: aka "burnout in the first degree."

Ironically, while we never truly tested out the entire idea in one precinct, different pieces were tested out in all three. God (or coincidence for our atheist/agnostic friends) is a funny guy. The system itself worked. It didn't produce any noticeable results largely because of a lack of manpower.

Here's how it all works in a broad sense.

1.) You have poll watchers pre-assigned to your targeted precinct's polling places. They're sitting behind the poll workers with a poll list from VAN of all the Dems (and favorable independents if you've identified them) in that precinct who haven't voted yet.

2.) Each targeted precinct has a GOTV leader, who acts as the runner (picking up lists from the poll watcher at pre-assigned times throughout the day) and the "commander" of the precinct and its volunteers. This person is typically one of the precinct captains of the targeted precinct. They've been given training weeks or months ago about what to do.

3.) Someone's home in the precinct acts a field office, technically called a "Turnout Control Center" or "TCC". TCCs are designated months before the election. At the TCC, the GOTV leader uses VAN to enter in all the Dems who have voted so far. All Dems over the age of 65 who haven't voted yet get plugged into Streets and Trips and maps are given to individual canvassing teams. Dems under the age of 65 are given to volunteers with cell phones.

4.) This process is repeated a total of 3 times during Election Day. As data comes in from the precincts, folks at Dem HQ can monitor the results on VAN, and instruct GOTV leaders in the field on any changes.

Obviously we will continue to experiment with this method as more elections (aka opportunities) come down the line.

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