Jeff Blodgett Tells All (...About How To Get
Out the Vote)!
"Volunteering in the final weeks of a campaign is enormously
important.... Itís also a lot of fun. Thereís nothing quite like
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
If you’re not already busting your ass to elect John Kerry, it’s
time to start. Now.
I want you to write on your calendar a countdown until election day and ask
yourself every morning when you wake up, "What am I going to do today
to help elect John Kerry and take my country back?" I want you to imagine
the collective energy of thousands of Americans volunteering, making phone
calls, knocking on doors, and getting out the vote. There is going to be a
party in the streets on November 2nd, and let me tell you, you’re not
going to want to miss it.
Is the hair standing on the back of your neck yet? The energy you’re
going to feel and witness over the closing days of this campaign is something
you’ll never forget. But you have to get involved to be a part
We asked none other than Jeff Blodgett, the campaign manager for the late Senator
Paul Wellstone’s campaigns in '90, '96, and 2002 in Minnesota, to answer
some basic questions about volunteering to help get out the vote (GOTV). Jeff
knows a little something about energizing thousands of volunteers and how to
After the tragic plane crash in the fall of 2002 that killed Paul and Sheila
Wellstone -- as well as their daughter Marcia, three campaign workers and the
pilot and co-pilot -- Jeff Blodgett, along with Wellstone's two sons, Mark
and David, decided it was important to keep fighting for the ideals and values
that separated Paul Wellstone from other elected officials. So, they created "Wellstone
Wellstone Action is a non-partisan, tax-exempt organization that works with
progressives around the country. Blodgett, the Executive Director of Wellstone
Action, has held dozens of "Camp Wellstones" across the country teaching
the Wellstone approach to leadership, organizing, campaigning, and getting
out the vote. Wellstone Action provides an incredible online resource about
Jeff Blodgett's comments draw on his own personal views and experience and
are not the views or position of the organization Wellstone Action.
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BuzzFlash: Jeff, thanks so much for speaking with
us again. We want to focus on what volunteers can and should be doing
in the closing weeks before the elections. Senator Wellstone’s
campaigns were ingenious at energizing thousands of people to volunteer
and help with "get-out-the vote" or GOTV activities. And I
want to acknowledge you as Paul’s campaign manager and how instrumental
you were in his victories and teaching progressives how to win. And that
is exactly what is going to happen on November 2nd -- we’re going
to win and American is going to win.
We want to educate and demystify the process of "get-out-the vote" and
give people a sense of what really goes on, the strategy behind the closing
weeks and days from a campaign manager’s perspective, and give people
ideas for what we all can do.
First off, when would you say "GOTV" officially starts for most campaigns?
When do you think it will or should start in this election?
Jeff Blodgett: Although GOTV is often thought of as the last 72 hours
or so of a campaign, I really believe that GOTV actually begins on the first
day of the campaign. We always took that approach on Wellstone’s campaigns;
we saw GOTV as the culmination of a process of base building and mobilization
that started at the earliest stages. Too often, campaigns leave voter mobilization
to the end, and fail to engage base voters and constituencies in the campaign
and include them from the very beginning.
A successful GOTV effort should include strategies for building a network of
supporters over time and then mobilizing that network in the final 2-3 weeks.
By that time, the network is both large and engaged, and ready to turn out
voters. On our campaigns -- from the earliest days all the way to the end --
we asked our volunteers to do three things: volunteer regularly, donate money,
and at least take election day off from work. This was important for two reasons:
first, we needed to create a massive ground operation on election day, and
that meant enlisting our volunteers to drive people to the polls, do visibility
on the streets, and monitor polling places. Second, this drove home the message
to our supporters and volunteers that the way to win is to have a massive organization
on the ground on election day.
Having said all that, I think GOTV specifically begins when the campaign stops
trying to persuade undecided voters and focuses entirely on getting its supporters
out to the polls. It might still have advertising up and running, but the ground
game is all about turning out the base. That final push begins in the final
3-7 days of the campaign.
BuzzFlash: Right now we’re just under three weeks away from
Election Day and X number of days from when "GOTV" begins. What
should volunteers know about what is happening in the campaign three weeks
out? What is the campaign itself focusing on and how can volunteers help?
Jeff Blodgett: Well, most people who have volunteered on a campaign
in the final three weeks know that it can be incredibly exciting and energizing.
The campaign is charged with an energy that is unlike any other -- it is
a feeling of, "We have to work like there’s no tomorrow." The
reason, of course, is that there IS no tomorrow after election day. Win or
lose, everything is riding on one day, and all of the campaign’s energy
is focused on that one day.
In the final three weeks, a campaign is really focusing on direct contact with
voters. That requires making phone calls to base and undecided voters, going
door-to-door in targeted areas, dropping literature on people’s doors,
sending targeted mailings, creating visibility on the street and holding rallies
that energize the base. The vast majority of this work depends on volunteers.
There is a huge need for volunteers in these final weeks.
For your readers who have not volunteered on a campaign before, I strongly
recommend it. Volunteering, especially in the final weeks of a campaign, is
enormously important for the success of the campaign. It’s also a lot
of fun. There’s nothing quite like it. Volunteers can expect to make
phone calls, hit the streets as part of a canvassing team, stand on street
corners doing "visibility" by holding signs, or attend rallies. In
the process, they meet a lot of like-minded people who share their values and
their commitment to progressive politics.
BuzzFlash: Are there any significant changes two weeks away from November
2nd, other than more excitement and anxiety?
Jeff Blodgett: There is definitely more excitement and anxiety in
the final two weeks. A sense of urgency is a great motivator. The most significant
change is the shift of focus from persuading undecided voters to turning
out the base.
BuzzFlash: Do campaigns generally need more or less help on weekdays
Jeff Blodgett: BOTH! Especially in the final weeks and days of the
campaigns, volunteers are needed all the time -- weeknights for phoning,
and all weekend for door knocking. By the way, Sunday afternoon and evening
is one of the best times to find people at home.
BuzzFlash: Let’s talk about the last week -- in this year starting
on Sunday, October 24th, through Friday, October 29th. I want to talk about
Saturday and Sunday separately, especially since Sunday is Halloween, although
most people will be celebrating on Saturday. Walk us through what you, as
a campaign manager, want to see happening from volunteers starting on Sunday
the 24th through Friday, October 29th?
Jeff Blodgett: Whether one is persuading undecided voters or turning
out your own voters, the name of the game is direct voter contact on the
phone, at the doorstep or in places where people gather. So all efforts are
focused on these activities. Weekends are the time to be out doorknocking.
We would ask volunteers to spend at least 3 hours at a time out doorknocking.
During the week, phoning is the best tactic. You want your phones filled during
the 5 pm to 9 pm period.
A key strategy in Get Out The Vote efforts is to make contact multiple times
with the more sporadic voter -- one who infrequently votes. This voter requires
more attention and urging than someone who votes all the time.
BuzzFlash: Do you want volunteers to take their own initiative with "GOTV" or
do you prefer them coordinating with the campaign?
Jeff Blodgett: It is far more effective to coordinate GOTV efforts
with a campaign. This increases efficiency, harnesses the collective power
of the volunteers, and allows for precise targeting of the right voters.
Good campaigns will have very advanced targeting information and know exactly
where they need to go to turn out voters. It is much more efficient to plug
volunteers into these efforts than to have them go out on their own.
BuzzFlash: What are the things that volunteers can do by themselves
without calling or e-mailing the campaign and saying, "This is what
I’m doing to help get out the vote."
Jeff Blodgett: People can talk to their friends, family and co-workers.
They can send notes to their holiday card lists.
BuzzFlash: Okay, let’s talk about Saturday, October 30th. It’s
the last Saturday before Election Day. I think volunteers should dress up
as if Bush and Cheney got a second term and scare the living hell out of
people. Do you think volunteers should not do "GOTV" work on Saturday
evening since most people will be celebrating Halloween and families don’t
want to be bothered? Is this a concern? Obviously campaign staff will be
working. Should the "GOTV" work be focused during the day instead
of at night?
Jeff Blodgett: I would work all day Saturday and then stop for Halloween.
The costume idea is a good one, but be careful not to make the children cry.
BuzzFlash: Okay, Sunday, October 31st. Any major changes from Saturday
other than volunteers still dressing up as if Bush and Cheney had a second
term to scare people and get some candy out of it?
Jeff Blodgett: Sunday would be a day filled with phoning and doorknocking
in the areas where your vote is concentrated. Try to reach out to those sporadic
voters to give them that extra push.
BuzzFlash: What are the campaigns doing the final weekend? What are
they hoping to accomplish? Is this when campaigns are energizing the base
or are they still targeting "swing voters?"
Jeff Blodgett: The goal during this weekend is to reach anyone who
is, or is likely to be, a supporter. They need to be reminded to vote, and
they need to understand the value of their vote and the urgency of the situation.
At this point, a campaign is done trying to convince swing voters.
BuzzFlash: I hope I’m not being too tedious, but I just want people
to have an accurate picture of what will likely happen. It’s Monday,
November 1st, the day before the election. What should volunteers be doing?
Should they take this day off?
Jeff Blodgett: Monday the 1st is a day of visibility during rush
hour along with phone banks running much of the day and into the evening.
After 9 pm when the phone banks close, we send people out into our high voting
neighborhoods to put one last piece of literature on the doors or on people’s
BuzzFlash: If volunteers can only take one day off, is it better to
have them take Monday, November 1st, or Election Day on Tuesday?
Jeff Blodgett: It’s definitely better to take election day off.
On election day you want to try to re-contact everyone you talked to in the
last week. That requires huge numbers of people in a very concentrated effort.
That means that phone banks run all day and doorknocking efforts go on in
targeted precincts. Visibility this day is also important.
BuzzFlash: It’s Election Day, Tuesday, November 2nd -- or as
we call it at BuzzFlash, Independence Day. What time does "GOTV" start?
Jeff Blodgett: It starts before dawn, when volunteers go out en masse
to hold signs at major intersections and highway bridges, doing visibility.
BuzzFlash: One of the most important things you want is for everyone
to take Election Day off, get their friends and families and neighbors to
take the day off right? Why is this the single most important thing volunteers
Jeff Blodgett: Because this is the last chance to have an impact on
an election and make sure that everyone who should vote, votes! On election
day in Minnesota we send large teams of door knockers into precincts that
have a high concentration of Democratic voters, but where turnout is not
always great. So we go door-to-door in these precincts multiple times, not
letting up until we’ve tried to convince every person to go vote. And
if they need a ride we give them one. If they need someone to watch their
kids we do that, too. Whatever it takes.
BuzzFlash: When should volunteers vote themselves? First thing before
they start volunteering or later in the day? Many polls don’t open
until 7 or 8 am in the morning and many "GOTV" are already in full
Jeff Blodgett: Volunteers should vote as early as possible. If that
means they vote after coming in from visibility after rush hour, so be it.
It’s always better to vote early. In fact, some of our staff and volunteers
will vote absentee before election day so they are free all day.
BuzzFlash: Explain what "poll watching" is and why it’s
important? Do you recommend that people who are not lawyers participate in
poll watching or are volunteers more useful in some other capacity?
Jeff Blodgett: First of all, election law that guides poll watching
varies widely from state to state. There are two kinds of poll watching.
One kind is to check for voting irregularities and one kind is to check off
who is voting against your lists of supporters in a given precinct. There
are organized voter protection efforts going on in all battleground states,
and I would recommend that people interested in poll watching for voting
problems work through those programs.
BuzzFlash: At what time of day does "knock and drag" start--which
is basically knocking on doors and asking people if they voted, and if they
haven’t, then getting them -- dragging them if need be -- to the polls.
What should people know about this "knock and drag" stage and what
advice do you give people?
Jeff Blodgett: We start knock and drag work at 9 am. To me this is the
most important work that can be done on election day. The key point about this
work is that it should be done in areas where you can count on a large concentration
of your supporters, but where voter turnout lags behind other areas.
BuzzFlash: Are there any "legal" concerns that volunteers
should know about or common mistakes we should be aware of? I know we can’t
cover everything, but what are the most important things volunteers should
Jeff Blodgett: Election law varies state to state and it is important
to familiarize yourself with the basics. People should carry with them the
phone numbers of people to call if they have questions or problems about
BuzzFlash: Explain briefly the idea that GOTV activities should focus
on the voters that are the least likely to vote but who are the most supportive
of your candidate? In other words if you’re pretty sure someone is
going to vote, volunteers shouldn’t waste time calling or meeting with
them, and they should go find someone who is registered but won’t likely
vote, isn’t that right?
Jeff Blodgett: I believe in making sure all supporters -- both consistent
and sporadic voters -- should hear from the campaign in the final days. It
creates momentum, excitement, and you can instill a sense of urgency ("this
race is too close to call and your vote will matter"). Once you’ve
contacted everyone at least once, you then want to redouble your efforts
on the more sporadic voter. Marginal voters need a lot of encouragement and
reminding to vote.
BuzzFlash: How does a volunteer know how to identify the supportive
potential voters who are unlikely to vote? Does this information come from
Jeff Blodgett: You can usually find out a voter's history from the
voter registration lists. Parties also keep databases of voters and their
histories. Voting history is public information.
BuzzFlash: Jeff, my last question: Would you encourage voters who
live in a state that will definitely go Democratic, such as California, New
York, Illinois etc., to travel and volunteer the last weekend and election
day in a battleground state?
Jeff Blodgett: Yes, as long as there are no important other races
going on in your area and you’ve voted absentee first.
BuzzFlash: Jeff, thank you so much for speaking with us.
Jeff Blodgett: Thank you.
A BUZZFLASH INTERVIEW
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Wellstone Action "Get Out the Vote" info
Sign-Up to Volunteer for John Kerry
Paul Wellstone’s Legacy Lives On -- Jeff Blodgett, Former Campaign Manager
for Paul Wellstone and Executive Director of Wellstone Action, A BuzzFlash
"Speak Up, Keep Fighting," BuzzFlash Editorial on the Wellstone Memorial
Event in Minnesota