Two days ago, I helped Washington Citizen Action (WCA) register some voters in the International District of Seattle. I'm somewhat shy, but having a clipboard and a purpose in hand helped me overcome my unease about soliciting strangers in the street. In a little over an hour, I successfully registered 3.5 voters, which my trainer considered better than average for a first-time registrar.
A lot of organizations are registering voters. About 100 million eligible voters failed to participate in the 2000 election. When you consider how narrow the margins the were in Florida, it's clear that getting just a tiny fraction of them involved could swing elections. It seems like a better strategy than going after the tiny sliver of undecided voters. Right-wing organizations are registering voters (four million conservative Christians are thought not to have voted in 2000), as are progressive organizations like America Coming Together (ACT).
WCA is explicitly non-partisan and is aiming to register 60,000 new voters in Washington State before the November elections. So far, they've registered 35,000 people. Some are first-time voters, some are people who didn't update their registration after moving. As someone who became a U.S. citizen last year and who got to vote for the first time in seventeen years, the act of voting is important to me. Naturally, I'd prefer that all the new voters support a progressive slate, but I'm just glad to see them engaged at all.
The training was useful and left me better prepared to approach voters. Let me summarize what I learned.
First, approach the person in a friendly manner, making eye contact and showing a blank Mail-In Voter Registration Form on top of your manila folder or clipboard. Say something like, "Hi, we're registering people to vote today," or, "Hello, we're trying to register 60,000 new voters."
Next, ask them for their last name. This supposedly works better than asking them if they're a registered voter, because it requires them to stop and think just for a moment. A simple yes-or-no question like "Are you a registered voter?" is more likely to get a brushoff.
If they are ineligible to vote (too young, not a citizen, not a Washington state resident, or a felon whose rights haven't been restored), thank them for their time. If they are a registered voter, check that they're registered at their current address.
Some people are discouraged about voting and can't see any difference between the candidates. Encourage them to think about local issues: gubernatorial races, school bonds, ballot initiatives.
If the person still wants to proceed, start filling out the form for them. The WCA prefers that you maintain "clipboard control." There are some subtleties on the form. The half-voter of the 3.5 voters that I registered came about because one woman had to jump on a bus before I had finished her form, and I didn't think to hand her the form as she left.
The WCA encourages people to tick Yes on the Ongoing Absentee Request (would like to receive absentee ballots for all future elections). People who have absentee ballots are more likely to vote, because they don't have to make a special effort to get to the polls on election day, and they have more leisure to study the ballot. An absentee ballot also provides the much needed paper trail that makes many people so worried about electronic voting.
I'm going out again tomorrow to register voters at Seattle Hempfest.