Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Dialing for Voting Rights

I'm finally putting my mouth where my mouth is: Last night I volunteered to call my fellow Minnesotans about the voter ID amendment.

I hate telephones, and especially using one to call someone I don't know, so this is a big mental challenge for me. It went about how I thought it would, though: Not fun, but not horrible either, once I got started.

After a 15-minute orientation, each of the 20 or so volunteers was delivered to a desk with a phone. The system uses an autodialer that calls the phone each time it gets a live answer. A script was provided, but we were encouraged to modify it or add to it as we saw fit. The autodialer tells you the name, sex, and age of the voter.

I called for about two hours and 15 minutes altogether. Not counting people who didn't want to talk, couldn't come to the phone, weren't home, or were no longer at that number, I talked to 29 people. These were folks in western Minnesota, which is generally the most conservative in terms of voting (except perhaps the northern suburbs of Michelle Bachmann).

Reading from the script, I would tell them my name and that I was a volunteer calling for Our Vote, Our Future. Then I would say "I'm calling about the constitutional amendment that's going to be on the ballot this November, the one that asks us whether the constitution should be amended to require all voters to present a government-issued photo ID in order to cast a ballot." Then I would ask them how they would vote on the amendment, if the election were held today. 

I had 10 voters tell me straight up they were voting no. This surprised me, because, as I said, I was calling one of the more conservative parts of the state, and the question tends to poll pretty well. I talked to another nine who were "soft" yesses and eight who hadn't thought about it at all, but who seemed swayed by the problems I explained to them with the law. Some said they would now vote no, while others said they were undecided and would look into it before voting.

Several people started out by saying they thought it was a good idea because it would prevent noncitizens from voting. I pointed out that noncitizens can get a driver's license, and so the law would not prevent them from voting. All it will do is prevent someone from going to a polling place and saying she's Jane Smith when she isn't. And that there are no cases of that type of fraud in Minnesota.

After that, I would talk about older folks who don't drive anymore and who've stopped renewing their licenses, and people who move a lot. About people who don't have their birth certificates or marriage licenses or divorce decrees. I talked about possible problems with the vague language in the amendment as it relates to absentee ballots (especially important, because many folks in Minnesota's small towns vote absentee). I would try to be sure to mention the fact that it's likely to cost somewhere around $50 million to implement the law, since the state has to give IDs for free, and that's our tax dollars.

There was one woman who said people should show ID but also that we shouldn't amend the constitution, which confused me a bit, but then she said she was on medication and apologized. I don't remember how I logged her response.

There were only two definite yes votes, both women. One said she was from Wisconsin and she knew for a fact that Democrats bused in people from Chicago to vote against Scott Walker this summer. Clearly, she was not going to come around to my way of thinking on the issue, so I let her rant on for a while and then thanked her for her time. But I've since looked into her claim, and found that it is (no surprise) unsubstantiated.

Basically, an unknown caller contacted an obscure rightwing radio show and claimed that people were bused into Milwaukee from Detroit. The caller, however, evaded questions from the host and didn't leave contact information, even though that was requested of him. The conservative site where I read about this concluded: "considering not one blog post or news article has been written about this bus in, when only fifty million, or so, people are glued to Wisconsin election coverage right now and this would blow the lid off the story, I have to conclude - along with evidence from the caller's lack of credible information - that this rumor is just that, not one ounce of fact."

I'm going to be doing some more calling this weekend, and in the evening a week after that. It's not too excruciating (although time did behave kind of oddly while I was alone in the room with the phone). If this stupid amendment passes, I won't have to wonder if I could have done something to stop it.

They're signing people up for a weekend of action October 5 - 7 at ourvoteourfuture.org, concentrating on phone banking and door knocking.


Ms Sparrow said...

I worked a phone bank as a volunteer for Al Franken's senatorial campaign.
Most people were non-committal and I had no indication that I had accomplished anything. Because of all the robo-calls I get, I've become very irritable about cold calls of any kind. I just say, "No thank you" and hang up. I support your efforts heartily, however. The law is incredibly needless and flawed!

Daughter Number Three said...

Ms. Sparrow, I completely agree about cold calls. I generally screen my calls to the point where, if I don't recognize the number, I don't answer it. So no one is reaching me in person on the phone.

Given that, I was surprised how many of the folks I called were willing to talk. There were only five or 10 who said they didn't want to take such a call.