If you’ve knocked on doors late in a campaign, you’ve probably experienced it.
You knock on the doors of house after house. Two voters in one home. Three in the next. Back to two. Down the street, you go.
But then you approach a larger apartment building. Far more residents clearly live inside. You look down at the canvass list you’ve been given….and hardly any (if any) of the residents appear on it. So you skip the whole building because that’s what you’re told to do. You go to the next home—2 voters, maybe 3 or 4.
Why do we skip all those potential voters?
Largely because it’s late in the race, time and resources are short, and so to maximize the result of that canvass, we are given the lists of the most reliable and consistent voters. So that’s who we talk to. And those apartment residents, who vote far less frequently if they’re even registered, don’t make the cut.
Makes sense, right?
From a bigger picture perspective—and from a democracy perspective—it makes NO SENSE at all.
Because systematically skipping all those infrequent voters ultimately rewards the intense voter suppression and purging that has removed many of those voters from the rolls to begin with.
Look at this chart (from my new book):
It represents the disaster that results from skipping all those voters.
The other side has dedicated years of effort to shrinking the size of the electorate—targeting through all sorts of cynical ways the very people who live in those apartment buildings. And it’s worked!
The mass purging of voters, voter ID laws, and other measures have worked to great effect. So guess what? Those voters end up not being on the list of regular voters because they’ve been intentionally removed from the electorate over time.
So…when all we do is knock on the doors of those who have not been removed from the electorate (the arrow on the right), leaving out the “suppressed electorate,” we are accepting the post-suppression electorate as the new electorate—rewarding their bad behavior by intentionally removing from our democracy conversation the voters they targeted.
In this way, we are letting those attacking democracy reshape the electorate in their favor. We’re letting them succeed!
What should we do instead?
Or how about this:
The truth is, there are so many ways to engage and empower the folks caught up in these suppression tactics. As well as the voters who have decided that voting regularly won’t make a difference in their lives.
But most of those ways do NOT involve all-too-desperate door-knocks in the final weeks of a campaign. That’s too late, will never reach the scale we need, and doesn’t build the type of conversation that feels meaningful to folks who have been disengaged from the political process for some time.
Instead, most of the ways that we’ll effectively engage these voters will be using the parts of our collective footprints that interact with these voters on an ongoing basis: non-profits, local government, resident councils, other community-based organizations and businesses, and the like. As well as ongoing and effective precinct organizing. (And more effective messaging to mobilize, of course)
We have to harness them all to do the critical work of engaging this suppressed/disenfranchised/disengaged part of the electorate on an ongoing basis.
And there is so much opportunity to do this that is largely untapped in communities around the country. I walk through far more specifics of how to do all this in my book, including best practices and organizations that you can work with.