Taking Inspiration From the GA-6 Race

by | Sep 19, 2017 | Actions, Candidates, Elections

Photo Credit: Register to Vote African American 1960s sign from Kheel Center, Cornell University is licensed by CC BY 2.0, via Wikimedia Commons

When Tom Price was confirmed as Secretary of Health and Human Services, he left his seat representing Georgia’s 6th House district vacant. The Resistance acted quickly to mobilize for a tough special election in a district that has been represented by a Republican since 1979, when Newt Gingrich was elected. Although Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff was ultimately unsuccessful in winning the seat, he was backed by over 12,000 volunteers in Georgia and across the country who conducted a massive canvassing effort – knocking on doors and working phone banks to earn votes.

While Jon Ossoff succeeded in getting some votes from traditionally Republican and independent voters, Republicans matched the Democrats in early voting, and then turned out in enough numbers on Election Day to win. Even the relatively moderate message of Ossoff’s campaign did not persuade the great majority of Republicans to support what they perceived as an excessively liberal agenda.

The GA-6 election demonstrated that turning out the Democratic vote and expecting Republicans to waver by staying at home or voting against their political affiliation do not add up as a viable strategy for flipping Republican districts.  For those of us working toward the goal of Democrats retaking control of state and national legislatures, where do we go from here?  

CHALLENGES

Moving forward, two challenges need to be addressed. First, it is critical to expand the pool of likely Democratic voters. By focusing on turning out the Democratic vote, Ossoff surpassed substantially the 75,000 vote estimate of some analysts for winning the election , but the campaign was not as successful in registering new voters.. Registering new voters entails a sustained “knock every door” strategy of engaging citizens in conversations that reveal their concerns, explain the impact of their lack of involvement in the electoral process, and ultimately persuade them to register to vote. Such an effort is time consuming and requires a large number of volunteers, but is highly successful when carried out systematically.

Second, it is vital to improve the efficiency of voter outreach efforts. Ossoff’s campaign made progress in this area by switching from paper-based canvassing to using the MiniVAN app which provides map-based routes and records responses in a central database. While this use of technology saved time by eliminating paper forms, the potential of MiniVAN’s database was not fully realized. As a result, potential voters were bombarded with too many phone calls, texts and visits, even when they had previously indicated support for Ossoff and/or commitment to vote. This problem needs to be addressed by refining canvassing strategies in the future so that data from one action drives the follow-up action, as a flowing conversation.

LESSONS

  1. Challenging a Republican district starts with expanding the number of potential Democratic voters. Campaigns may not have the funding to focus resources on voter registration drives, making this an important role that could be filled by grassroots activist organizations.
  2. Once voters have been registered, it is important to coordinate between grassroots activist organizations and official campaigns to make sure voters get the right amount of contact. Too much can turn them off from a candidate, but keeping voters engaged with a campaign reminds them of how important their vote is.
  3. Technology is making it easier than ever for activists across the country to get involved with voter outreach, whether they live in a district that’s considered in play or not. Grassroots activist orgs can play a big part in helping campaigns win seats in November 2017 and beyond.

HOW TO HELP

Register Voters with a Non-Partisan Organization

Rock the Vote (young voters)

HeadCount (voters at music concerts)

#RespectMyVote Campaign – Hip Hop Caucus (voters who identify with hip hop culture)

Work Toward Automatic Voter Registration in Your State

Check the facts about your state

Go Door to Door and Engage in Conversation About Issues (Turn Minds Blue)

Knock Every Door

Organize in a Nearby Congressional District to Replace the Red House Rep With a Blue One

Swing Left

Organize to Flip State-Level Seats From Red to Blue

Sister District Project

Flippable

Victor Markowitz, a member of Together We Will Albany-Berkeley, is a retired computer scientist who lives in Albany, CA. He previously participated in Hillary Clinton’s 2016 Get Out the Vote campaign in Cincinnati, OH, and John Ossoff’s 2017 primary and special election Get Out The Vote campaigns in Georgia. He is currently involved in Swing Left’s voter registration campaign in California’s 21st Congressional District in the Central Valley.