(Note: EPLN is a non-partisan, non-profit, and volunteer news organization. As part of EPLN’s coverage of these historic 2020 elections we’re collecting stories and moments from across the political spectrum that are, in some cases, little known or understood aspects of the political process. Below is one such story. If you would like to submit a story idea, please send it to email@example.com.)
The formal title is precinct chair. A precinct is essentially a neighborhood. A precinct chair is the Get Out the Vote (GOTV) person for the neighborhood.
So how did I spend Election Day November 3, 2020? As a culmination of my activities over the past several months, I pulled out my precinct “walk lists” and spent a couple of hours phoning one after the other people on the lists who seemed likely to vote for my candidates.
The walk lists are lists by street of all registered voters in my party’s enormous databank. The service I performed was to remind voters that our polling place had changed. I then asked that the voters please consider voting for my candidates.
Decades ago I found that what voters want most is information.
For wonks like me a ballot reads like an album of well-known acquaintances. For the average voter a ballot can just be a pile of names with no details, no context. For elections I now prepare a precinct letter that shows each candidate’s name, the office the candidate is pursuing, a few biographical details, and candidate achievements and beliefs.
In 2020 I prepared a unique precinct letter for the presidential primary, the state primary, and the general election. For each election I mailed a precinct letter to 800-900 homes with registered voters.
Normally I would do door knocking on the streets of my precinct and hand my precinct letter (and candidate literature) to the home owner, but with COVID-19 alarms I chose to mail my precinct letter. Door knocking is definitely a better practice, and in 2020 some precinct chairs have done “lit drops”—not handing home owners the literature, but instead leaving the literature on doorsteps.
Precinct chairs decide how much they will be involved. Early in 2020 fellow residents in my condo community asked that I lead a discussion of the candidates. I also created a commentary newsletter which had fresh political commentary by local party notables for each of the three elections.
I conducted a training seminar for brand new precinct chairs. Traditionally precinct chairs have helped arrange fundraising get-togethers for each candidate, but COVID-19 has curtailed all of that.
When you knock on doors, for the most part people are not home. One time my knock was answered by an angry older man who told me I should not be bothering people, and then as I walked down the path from his home, he popped open the door and apologized for being so grouchy.
When you phone voters, you generally have to be content with leaving a voicemail. I did get one person who responded by saying, “You’re ridiculous!” A few calls later a voter praised me for working to get out the vote.
The truth is that I am indeed intruding, but hopefully performing a service.
(Frank Malley is the Precinct Chair of Minnetonka Ward 4 Precinct F. Malley has been a precinct chair or precinct committeeman in the Democratic-Farmer Labor (DFL) party since 1984 and has been involved in presidential campaigns since the early 1960s.)