French ballot box 2007 | wikimedia
Our team of volunteers was like thousands of others around the country. During the two weekends prior, and during the four days of GOTV November 1-4, we sent out canvassers to knock on doors. We reminded people of their early voting opportunities and of the need to return their absentee ballots if they had one. We sent canvassers at 9, 12, 3, and 6. Some returned to our staging location with absentee ballots which we gave to our county auditor that day or the next.
Ours is a heavily Democratic county. Our tally of votes during the general election would help our candidates running statewide for U.S. Senate and Congress. The countywide results after the election showed our Democratic candidates received twice as many votes as their Republican opponents. We did our job well. Statewide, the results were disappointing for the Democrats. Iowa is a rural and conservative state with three or four pockets of liberal and progressive voters like most of those in our county. Voter turnout in general was low.
My role as a volunteer was to train canvassers to do their job politely and effectively. They were greeted after their shifts and asked about their experiences, positive and negative. Most people were not home. Some could be seen inside and chose not to answer the door.
There was a small amount of positive feedback from voters who appreciated the information. However, negative feedback was most common. Top on the list was how sick and tired they were of the long and non-stop negative campaign. Television and radio ads attacking each candidate were wearing the patience very thin on the voters we contacted. They also had complaints about the number of phone calls they had received. They were very eager for it to stop.
What was conspicuously missing from nearly all of the positive or negative feedback was any discussion about current important issues faced by the country. They weren’t discussed in the political ads. Instead, those ads attacked and took much out of context. The voters were fed up and disgusted. They were opting out of participation in the democratic process.
This isn’t a new problem. But, it does seem particularly intense now. Voters see their communities and neighborhoods made up of people from different walks of life, different cultures, education, religions, races, sexual orientations, etc. They generally get along. When problems arise, the people work toward a solution. Some progress is made. It isn’t perfect. But, there is an attempt to look past differences to try to reach compromise and make life better for the residents now, and in the future. They don’t understand or accept that politicians in Washington D.C. and statehouses are so dysfunctional. The voters are angry.
Another very large part of the negative feedback we heard was about the enormous amounts of money spent on negative campaign ads. Voters feels their voice is not important any more. They don’t feel their vote carries much weight and so choose to tune out. They feel they cannot compete with the dollars spent by secret groups and individuals. So, why bother trying?
This is a very serious problem. Our founders envisioned a republic supported by we, the people. The people we heard from don’t feel they are as significant as the powerful dollars spent by special interests. It seems to them a losing proposition. I watched a video on TED this week by Lawrence Lessig in which he specifically addressed this financing issue in 2013. This problem can be fixed. It is a problem which is easier to solve than many others our country has faced and solved. But, it will require major changes by everyone. I invite you to watch and comment.