Campaign volunteers can communicate directly with likely voters either by phone or in person. This allows the campaign to answer voters’ questions directly and offer a more persuasive personal contact. Canvassing and phone banking are also important for identifying supporters and getting out the vote. Most campaigns don’t have the resources to personally contact every registered voter. But building a field organization that can reach even a slice of the electorate with personal communications can make a big difference.
A face-to-face conversation is the most persuasive way to communicate with voters, particularly if you’re talking to people on your block or in your neighborhood. The goal of canvassing is to identify supporters or persuade undecided voters. Use your vote goal and likely voter list outlined in Goal Setting to determine how much canvassing you should or can do. Also assess your volunteer base — do you have enough people willing to go door to door for the campaign?
- Decide which voters should be the primary focus of the door-to-door effort.
- Organize voter target list by streets or neighborhoods to make it easy for volunteers to reach as many people as possible in a short amount of time.
- Prepare canvass materials, including endorsement forms, campaign literature, and frequently asked questions.
- Prepare a script for volunteers to use that is clear, concise, and incorporates the campaign message.
- Set specific canvassing events, where volunteers meet at a central location to practice the script and collect walk lists and materials. All volunteers disperse to canvass for a couple hours and then meet up again at a specified location to hand in walk lists and endorsement forms and tally the number of “yes” voters identified.
Provide printed materials to hand out, including door hangers to leave for people who are not at home. If houses are far apart or neighborhoods are unsafe, canvassing may not be feasible. Pairing volunteers can make canvassing more fun. Each person can canvass one side of the street. Plan for a volunteer to be out for two hours, no more than three. You want them to return for another volunteer stint!
In addition to doorbelling, consider tabling events at popular stores, shopping areas, and trailheads where you may connect with interested but uninformed voters. Be sure to obtain any necessary permission in advance.
If your community is spread out, neighborhoods are unsafe, or you have limited volunteer time, it may be more effective to contact voters by phone. A phone bank is an efficient and effective way to contact voters for both Voter Identification (Voter ID) and Get Out the Vote (GOTV). Phone banking is best done shortly after a mailing, to reinforce the message and give people a chance to ask questions.
Traditional Phone Banks
A classic phone bank includes a series of calling events, held at a central place with many phones (like a real estate or law office willing to donate the space and phone time), where volunteers come together to make calls for a set amount of time. You can also ask volunteers to bring their cell phones and chargers and hold phone banks in someone’s home. To organize a Voter ID phone bank:
- Use the list of registered voters who are likely to vote at your election. Add columns to the list for: YES, UNDECIDED, NO, and comments.
- Make sure the list is updated with accurate phone numbers. Some voter files come with phone numbers, but many don’t. In this case, have volunteers bring their phone books along.
- In small communities, it may be worthwhile to first review the list with all volunteers to identify people they know. Calling a friend, neighbor or other contact is usually easier than making a cold call.
- Pass out voter lists, calling scripts, frequently asked questions, and tracking sheets.
- Practice for a few minutes before getting on the phones.
- Set a collective goal for the night. Here’s how: 10 volunteers, 2 hours per volunteer, 8 contacts per hour; 10 x 2 x 8 = 160 contacts
- Call! (If you are running the phone bank, it’s helpful to circulate and provide positive feedback for callers. But you should spend most of your time on the phone.)
- When time is up, come back together and tally up results. Did you meet your goal for the night?
- How many more “yes” voters did you identify? How much closer did you get to your vote goal? Be sure to update your voter list with your “yes” voters!
- GOTV phone banks can be held in the days leading up to the election to see if people need help getting to the polls and simply as a reminder to look for your measure and vote “yes.” These can be arranged in the same way as above, except you only call the people who were identified as “yes” voters. If you didn’t have enough “yes” voters to meet your vote goal, you can call back the “undecided” voters with some of your most persuasive arguments and hope to turn them your way.
- Election Day GOTV phone banks are usually held in conjunction with poll watching or voter match-back operations. Poll watching means that volunteers are stationed at all polling locations with your list of “yes” voters. They sit behind the poll workers and listen for voters’ names to check off your voter list. In the afternoon, any “yes” voters who haven’t yet voted are called and encouraged to come to the polls. This process is repeated until the polls close. Match-back operations can be conducted by contacting the local election supervisor who can provide access to voting data which allows you to understand who has voted and who has not. Then you plan to contact those “yes” voters who have not yet voted.
Remote Phone Banks
The bottom line with a phone bank is to make sure the calls are made. Some groups choose to divide up the list and have volunteers make calls on their own time from home. This approach only works if volunteers are very dedicated, feel accountable to one another, and have clear goals for the number of contacts they’re expected to make. Someone should be in charge of following up with everyone to make sure the calls are being made.
For each voter called, volunteers should verify the address and record the results: Were they home? Did you recruit a vote? Should they be sent more information? If they opposed the measure, what arguments did they make?
Phone script from the Hanson, Massachusetts, Community Preservation Act campaign
Automatic or Robo-Calls
In large jurisdictions, where it would not be feasible to call enough likely voters to reach your vote goal, automatic calls can be made as another way to contact likely voters. These are not Voter ID calls; rather these calls are targeted to demographic groups that are supportive (identified through a poll). The message is most effective if recorded by a well-known and well-liked figure in the community, or possibly a celebrity. The Trust for Public Land Action Fund can provide robo-call vendor recommendations.
Auto-dialer from the Phoenix Parks Initiative campaign.