Campaigning Locally

In lieu of writing a how-to-vote article this week regarding the presidential election that has taken more twists and turns than any board game most of us voters have ever played, I instead volunteered for a local election campaign.

Learning about the behind-the-scenes events that occur with running a campaign was all foreign to me. At Didi Barrett’s campaign headquarters, I took on a couple different roles in order to really understand how one campaigns during an election season.

Running for State Assembly, Barrett has been in the community for quite some time now fighting for the Democratic Party. She was elected to the New York State Assembly in a special election in the spring of 2012 and re-elected in 2014.

Barrett has been a resident of the Hudson Valley for nearly 30 years and has come to office with her experience in non-profit organizations, being a writer and a community activist.

The couple days I volunteered, the staff, which were all men from around New York State, immediately put me to the test by having me call potential voters in the community. Having never been on the other end of political campaigning, it was interesting and nerve-wracking to hear what people had to say.

Only when they gave me enough time to explain myself and why I was calling did I hear what people had to say. Some were excited to vote for Barrett on Nov. 8, while others wanted nothing to do with the election season and asked to be removed from the calling list.

For Riley and AJ, some of the paid volunteers at the campaign headquarters, calling people became just another routine of life, “after a while you develop your own script to say to voters and you become accustomed to what they may or may not say back to you,” they both said.

“The most important part of that phone call is not the phone script we have to read from but more so whether or not our callers are going to support her (Didi Barrett) on Election Day,” said another volunteer.

The scripts could include a variety of accomplishments that Barrett is responsible for during her career as a politician; each script is created to cater to different age groups and genders. But it is unlikely that a volunteer is going to get through the entire scrip before the potential voter reacts in some way.

There is a “sense of respect” you gain for the people who go on a calling list to gain votes and supporters for the election they work for. It can be extremely disheartening and difficult to pick up the phone over and over again after people hang up abruptly, ask to be left alone or even use explicit language to express their disinterest in the conversation.

Barrett did not come around during my time volunteering but I was told that in the last couple weeks of campaigning she spends most of her time ensuring people’s votes, while also doing all the other work she’s expected to do as member of the Assembly.

As state assembly member she serves on the Committees of Aging, Agriculture, Mental Health, Economic Development, Tourism, Parks and Sports Development and Veterans Affairs. According to her website, “Didi’s legislative priorities are to support the region and improve the quality of life for families and businesses in the Hudson Valley.”

Being that Barrett is such an advocate for women and girls, creating the Dutchess Girls Collaborative to support local girls and young women, it came was a little surprising that all her volunteers were men. But they were all there to support her cause and help the Democratic Party become more prominent in this area, especially with such little time to go.

Despite it being the last couple weeks of the election, which are used to “really ensure that the Didi Barrett supporters go out and physically vote” according to John, campaign coordinator, the headquarters did not necessarily have that sense of urgency or chaos, for someone who has never campaigned would expect it to be like.

My assumption was that if there would be more than three people volunteering, there would be an aggressive plan to get people to vote for Barrett, not just calling her voters from previous years and that the door-to-door campaigning would happen from morning to night.

Considering voters 65 and older are more likely to vote on a consistent basis, then voters under the age of 40, it is important for the campaign coordinators to ensure all her supporters are going out to vote.

John Midwood, another campaign coordinator said, “For us, this is crunch time, whether that means calling every last person, or knocking on every last person’s door.” The campaign headquarters looks to turn things up the last few days, build up the list of Didi Barrett supporters as much as possible and hope for the best turn out.

Barrett’s campaigners make it a point to highlight all of her achievements when choosing to discuss her over the phone with scripts or even going door-to-door. She has battled hard for Lyme-disease awareness and fought hard against taxpayers funding political campaigns.

Going door-to-door proved another challenge for someone who has never volunteered for a political campaign before. Over the phone there is a barrier that blocks out the face-to-face encounter that simply cannot be avoided when knocking on people’s doors. Part of me hoped that the homeowners would not be home and then the other part of me hoped that they would at least be friendly when they answered the door.

For the canvassing, Molly Hutcher a volunteer for the day said that “its encouraging to see the enthusiasm among the voting population, it seems as if people will be much more proactive this voting season.”

Hutcher made a good point in noticing that more voters will turn out this year, simply because of the presidential race happening as well, more voters are likely to turn out and vote for all levels of government. Many of Barrett’s volunteer’s feel that she has significant name recognition in the area, which makes it easier to go around and call around looking for voters support.

After getting past the initial trepidations of volunteering at a political campaign, it becomes more rewarding, more fulfilling knowing that maybe you made a difference in the outcome of an election. Every phone call made every door knocked, it could make a difference on Election Day, it is important to get at least an idea of what it is like for the volunteers who do it frequently.

While the presidential race seems to grab our attention on a daily basis, its important to not forget the importance of local elections in any community, and what effects they can have as well.