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Saturday, June 23, 2007

Introducing "Weekend Links"

Traffic tends to take a dive over the weekends - which makes sense being we're all out doing things over the weekend. But - I don't want to deprive our "hard core" fans (I'll give you a few minutes to stop laughing)... I've decided to start a somewhat regular tradition: Weekend Links. This is a compilation of all the interesting stories, reports, and posts made around the web in regards to the main topics we deal with here: organizing, training, and building the Democratic Party and therefore the Progressive Movement.

This weekend features three great links:

Mobilizing Young Voters: Ideas to Win Elections from Eddie at Grassroots Brevard

The Progressive Politics of the Millennial Generation from the New Politics Institute (NPI)

Organizing Online Workers from Shai Sachs at MyDD

Of course for finding great links to things happening in the Florida Progressive Blogosphere throughout the regular week, there's the tremendously awesome "5 to Read" at the Florida Progressive Coalition, not to mention the great daily news roundup over at FLA Politics.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Steve Schale on Absentee Voting

Steve Schale is the Political Director for Florida House Victory, the arm of the FDP dedicated to electing Democrats to the Florida House of Representatives. Steve was instrumental in Darren Soto's win in the special election in HD-49 earlier this year.

Successful absentee ballot programs require real resources. The Republicans
spend literally tens of millions each cycle on their program and have it
greased into a science. HD 49 was the first time we really invested a
substantial amount into a race like this for absentee ballots, and proved we
can go toe-to-toe when the resource ratio is closer to even.

In 2006, the FDP and the legislative caucuses also worked together on a
smaller program, which made a substantial difference in several races. It
is not like we haven't wanted to in the past, for example in HD 3, we did
not have the resources to run a comprehensive program, largely because we
made the decision in October 2006 that we needed to take advantage of our
chance to win now. Elections become about making the best decisions with
the resources you have available.

Volunteers can play an important role in absentee programs, but work much
better when added to the formula of paid phones, mail and staff. It is like
the old saying: Do not bring a knife to a gun battle--If we are going to
compete with them in the absentees, we have to do it all out.

Unfortunately, these days financially we cannot match them everywhere all
the time, which is why it is important to pick our spots, so where we do
play, we can do it right.

It will take time to train our supporters to vote by mail, but you are right
that it is important to start early. In addition, the new absentee rules
give local parties an excellent reason to begin canvassing voters,
especially in communities with lower voter turnout rates. This is where
your volunteer programs can make the biggest difference, because there is
the time to fully develop and execute a program.

One last thing on absentees, not even Katherine Harris could have stolen the
2000 elections if Al Gore had not substantially lost the absentee vote.
That may be the most important lesson to remember.

Some New Links

I figure every time I add something new to the "Useful Links" list, I should at least promote them a bit and let you know why they're important. The two I've added today are one's I should have added a very long time ago.

Florida Democratic Chair's Association: The name gives it all away: this the organization representing all of the DEC chairs throughout Florida. Its a relatively "new" group which was actually brought back into existence after its fading a few years back. They're really just getting going. Nonetheless, this group has a big role to play in trying to get DECs on relatively the same page.

Small County Coalition: This group has been around for a while. Their goal is to help the 38 small counties (by "small" meaning a Dem registration below 30K) throughout Florida to build these unique communities into Democratic strongholds. Smaller counties are where DECs often (though not all the time) need the most assistance. The Small County Coalition is there to help.

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.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Broward Rebrands from DEC to Party

June 19, 2007
For more information, contact Mitch Ceasar, Chairman, Broward County
Democratic Party
, (formerly the Broward County Democratic Executive
Committee) at 954-423-2200 or email

Broward County Democratic Executive Committee Rebranding Itself (Plantation, FL) The Broward County Democratic Executive Committee is rebranding itself the "Broward Democratic Party" as part of a new
marketing strategy designed to enhance the way it communicates with
voters. This initiative will serve to build recognition within the county
as to what the party´s role is, and strengthen public awareness about
local, county, state, and national issues and candidates in advance of the
next election.
"The use of the term `Democratic Executive Committee´ or
`DEC´ is common throughout the country," stated Chairman, Mitch Ceasar. "However, most voters don´t recognize it or know that it is, in fact, the official county party." "We want to call it what it is: the Broward Democratic Party."
Ceasar, who is also Democratic National Committee executive committee member, stated that this is the first step of an expanded communications strategy for Democrats, which will include an improved online presence and greater outreach to younger professionals.
"Broward County is vital to Democrats, and this next election has huge stakes for all Floridians. We´re determined to be proactive and bring more people into the process," he said.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Party Building Basics: Part 3

As discussed in Party Building Basics: Part 2, once your calling program starts running, you need to have some infrastructure in place (discussed in PBB: Part 1) to plug potential volunteers and activists in. Today's post will focus on how to integrate these folks into the Democratic Party so they can have the most enjoyment and be the most productive.

Its All About Community:
As "thekick" discussed in his comment yesterday in PBB: Part 2, Applebee's America is a must read for anyone working on organizing the Democratic Party and the Progressive Movement. The book stresses the current lack of community in the United States, and the fact that individuals are drawn to groups and organizations the fill that void. Megachurches are particularly good examples. There's a small group for everything: sportsmen Bible studies, a young mother's group, an athletic group, etc... Political organizations, like DECs, have to do roughly the same thing. If your volunteers don't feel they're valuable, if they're not rewarded, and if they don't feel a part of the group - they will leave. Of course, this speaks to the larger issue of how to DECs do their own small group thing to attract new activists and volunteers. That's another post for the near-future.

Have Good Training Programs: In my opinion, Democracy For America has the best grassroots training around. There's one in Tampa June 30th, if you're interested. I encourage you to go to one of these trainings and build off of the core ideas presented in DFA trainings as the foundation for your own. Every training should have practical, bullet-point like advice for people. It should be personal and give trainees an opportunity to do things hands on. For instance, do a phone banking training, and then actually give folks lists to take home and try out. Also, every good training has an evaluation form at the end for trainees to evaluate their trainers so trainings can be improved in the future.

Get People Moving Locally: In my opinion, the best way to keep volunteers is to make them feel that their time and talents are valued by the DEC. This means that we try and put new activists and volunteers into action as quickly as we can once they've been trained properly. I would also make sure that they're working in their own neighborhoods and communities as block captains, block leaders, or precinct captains. Getting to know one's Democratic neighbors can be a rewarding experience (hey! you're not the only Democrat on the block!)

Have A Plan/Program For Organizers:
Your local volunteers and activists should be given a flexible plan for organizing their communities. Of course, DECs shouldn't just throw them in and watch - they need to make sure there's a set of people at HQ who work hand-in-hand with them. These should be folks who aren't just going to talk over the phone with local organizers, but folks who are willing to come down for the day and take the time and effort to make volunteers feel valued and appreciated. This is how we can keep up the momentum.

Organizing Young Voters: A Must Read

College Progressive of Grassroots Brevard has written a fantastic post on the importance of organizing younger voters, and some pointers on how to actually do it. Read the post here.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Party Building Basics: Part 2

Thanks to all of you for your patience...

With the essential elements described in Party Building Basics: Part I, the big question remains: now what do we do? This post, like all posts here at Reform Florida’s DECs are full of broad overviews, big ideas, with some specifics thrown in for good measure. However, every county in Florida is different. Each county has its own constituencies, its own unique issues, and its own colorful personalities and institutions. There is no such thing as a “one size fits all” model for Florida’s DECs to effectively build themselves up to be effective political institutions. The following ideas I present in this post are meant to serve as an outline – not an exact blueprint for success.

Go Grassroots: In my opinion, the best way to ensure electoral success is through grassroots organizing. In an ideal and perfect world, every DEC would have precinct captains in every precinct, with block captains working with them. That is far from the truth today in most (but not all) DECs here in Florida and around the country. This should be the goal of all DEC organizing efforts. It may take the most work – but it will pay your DEC and your community HUGE dividends years and years to come.

Remember to Target: Chances are, your DEC doesn’t have the resources to launch organizing efforts into every single precinct in the county. Just like in any decision, the DEC needs to prioritize. My suggestion is to go to the areas which need the most help, that is Democratic precincts who vote heavily for Democrats, but have piss poor turnout.

Set Up A Calling Program: If your DEC is anything like mine, you know that most of your activists aren’t necessarily canvassing types of people. However, most make decent callers. Work with FDP and come up with a good organizing script. The script should ask questions to gauge the level of support an individual has for the Democratic Party and what issues motivate them. Don’t forget to try and collect email addresses – the cheapest and easiest way to stay in touch and disseminate information! Give out lists of 100 to each caller to take home for a couple of weeks – it’s a lot more effective than trying to pull people into a phone bank for one night and only talk to 10-20% of the people on your list.

Again, Remember to Target: It’s probably a bit of a waste of time to have callers call every single registered Democrat in your targeted precincts. Then again, if there’s only a few hundred – go for it. If you have a couple thousand – its time to target again. My suggestion is talk to the Democrats who vote often, particularly the ones the vote in primaries.

Think Younger People: If you’re using FDP’s VAN system, you’ll probably notice that once you pull a list of active Democrats, particularly ones that vote regularly in primaries, that the average age is pretty high. In Marion, it’s around 73. No offense to the Greatest Generation, but even if you do find a good number of interested people, how much use can they be? They’ll make good callers for sure, but what about canvassing and being able to use a computer? The older the volunteer the less likely they’ll be able to deal with such important tasks. This is a big problem with DECs today: there are not enough people below 60 to get major tasks accomplished. So make sure that in your targeted lists that you’re throwing in a number of people below the age of 60 – you might be surprised about the number of potentially interested people.

Listen for Activists: This is the main point of all of this effort. Each wave of calling should turn up a handful of potential new activists and volunteers to start building the up the network. If a caller finds someone who seems interested about the party, has concerns about issues, is angry at the way things are, and/or are interested in our candidates – this is probably someone who needs to be talked to again.

Plug People In Immediately:
Once lists are handed in, obviously data needs to be entered into VAN. In addition, all people listed as being potential volunteers should be handed over to the volunteer coordinator for immediate follow up.

Tommorrow will be final installment of party building basics: part three. That post will focus on the next level of party building: ideas for training and organizing new people as well as keeping up the momentum.