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Friday, June 22, 2007

Pushing Absentee Voting

One of the big lessons I've learned for the Senate District 3 special election (which occurs on Tuesday), is the need for the Democratic Party, particularly local DECs to push absentee voting as early as humanly possible.

Republicans typically "out request" Democrats by around a 2 to 1 margin (sometimes even 3 to 1 or higher) in the absentee ballot column. At least this is the story in Marion County and most of North and Central Florida. This means that our Democratic candidates go into Election day with a vote deficit, which has to be overcome by both Early Voting (another area where Republicans tend to beat Democrats) and regular Election Day voting at the polls. And we wonder why we lose.

However, this was common knowledge in the Democratic activist community long before this special election - so why hasn't anything really changed? For starters, things have changed a bit in targeted races.

In the Special Election for House District 49 earlier this year, which was a race targeted by the Florida Democratic Party, heavy resources (phones, canvassers, knock and draggers, etc...) were spent on absentee and early voting. The Democratic candidate in the race, Darren Soto, won that election handily with 52.1% of the vote. Democrats bested Republicans in all three categories: Early Voting, Absentee Voting, and Election Day Voting. This was a district that was previously held by a Republican.

So its possible for Democrats to overcome Republicans in the critical absentee ballot column, but its not easy. Republicans have been training their voters for years to vote absentee, so this has become second nature to them. Democrats on the other hand haven't, and we're thus behind the curve. But, as HD49 demonstrated, Dems can do this.

How do we do this?

In Marion, for the SD-3 special election, we believed that converting our supervoters in absentee supervoters could be done. This was true to a degree. Some supervoters did make the switch, but most are very set in their ways. The Marion supervoter is a much older voter who has a long history of voting at the polls. So why all of the sudden should I vote by mail, regardless of whether it helps the party or the candidate? It doesn't make a whole lot of sense to them - a vote is a vote.

So a big lesson was learned: our recurring absentee voters probably won't be supervoters. Chances are, they're going to be younger and less frequent voters. These voters have jobs, families, lawns to mow, etc... Absentee voting (and early voting) is probably a lot more appealing to them.

I'll tell you by 2008 whether this strategy works...

In the meantime, DEC leadership should be stressing to party regulars, club leadership, and club members the importance of absentee voting. Here are the highlights I used to convert several dozen Democrats at the club level:

"Absentee voting is the most secure and safest method of voting." With the new law mandating paper trails, this statement is becoming less usable, but for the meantime it is. We're not sure how long its going to take the state to implement this new law. Until then, voting absentee guarantees a paper trail.

"Absentee voting = Votes in the bank."
If more Democrats vote absentee, that means on Election Day, the DEC, the FDP, the DNC, and the campaigns can spend their precious resources on voters who actually need a push (irregular voters, younger voters, disabled or elderly voters, etc...) Democratic voter turnout will be much better, and more Democrats can get elected.

"Absentee voting helps our hard working candidates." Based on the reasons I cited above, absentee voting will help our candidates by putting votes for them "in the bank." They can concentrate the resources of their campaigns to getting more Democrats who typically wouldn't have voted out to vote.

"Absentee voting helps you." Absentee voting, in addition to being the safest and securest method of voting, is also the easiest and most efficient. By calling the local Supervisor of Election's office and giving them your name, date of birth, and verifying your mailing address, a request is made. Voters are done is less than a minute. The ballot is mailed to you, and all you have to do is fill it out and send it in with standard postage. This is the way its done in Marion, anyway.

One final suggestion for DECs in encouraging absentee voting is to use their websites by creating a webform for absentee voting. Completed forms are emailed to the local Supervisor's Office, and requests can be made that way as well. Blast emails sent out from the DEC can push supporters to vote absentee by giving them an easy link to the webform.

Absentee voting is critical to future Democratic victories, and DECs must play their part by strongly encouraging it among their membership and support base as well as building absentee voting into their field and campaign plans.


Tally said...

How about interviewing someone involved in the HD49 campaign to find out who their absentee voters were and more about the details of their efforts.

Ray Seaman said...

Great idea. However, this special election is eating up most of my time. Possibly after next Tuesday. How should we do the interview, live blogging, or shall I enter the mystical world of podcasting?

Eddie said...

I heard that there is also a checkbox on the absentee ballot request form that would get the Supervisor of Elections to automatically mail an absentee ballot to the voter for every election through 2010. Our DEC's idea was to distribute absentee ballot request forms with this already checked.

Have you heard of this?

Ray Seaman said...

Yes I have. In fact, I've been told that by (I think) July 1st, once you request an absentee ballot, its automatic through 2010. So absentee ballot campaigns are going to be even more important in the upcoming months.