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Kevin J. O'Toole, the chairman of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey, is a former New Jersey State Senator. (Photo: Kevin J. O'Toole.)

The O’Toole Chronicles: The Get Out the Vote Program

By Kevin O'Toole, February 16 2021 12:01 am

Those of us who have tinkered with the Get Out The Vote Program (“GOTV”) have some sense of how difficult and labor intensive these efforts can be. I have had to manage a fair amount of these operations, from local to countywide, and the early planning and coordination of these efforts sometimes resemble the finished product, but not always.

This is supposed to be a relatively sophisticated audience when it comes to politics, so I won’t spend time explaining what GOTV is. Suffice it to say, we all know that if you don’t have a real GOTV, you won’t win. If you’re reading this and don’t know what GOTV is, time for a career change.

In the “gold old days,” we didn’t have early voting, or mail-in ballots. The ability to physically move voters was sometimes all the difference between winning and losing an election.

When we all first start out and are trying to make an impression on our bosses, we think we can organize and run a large-scale GOTV operation. As time goes on, and you progress through the campaign ranks, you try to test the mettle of your team by putting someone in charge of GOTV. Those of us that got smart, and budgeted throughout the campaign properly, outsourced this effort to companies that do this for a living. Those of us that have done it, know you don’t want to do it again. The planning, the logistics, the micromanaging, the stress, the candidate asking every 5 minutes what’s going on with GOTV – it all wears on a dedicated campaign operative.

Just so the younger readers don’t think this retired pol is totally out of touch, yes I know there are apps that do all of this now. I know that those apps outline your route on a map with pins for houses that need to be hit and that those pins tell you all you need to know about the household. I know the “good old days” of excel spreadsheets and MapQuest print outs are over. However, no matter how much technology helps make this process easier, some problems still remain:

  • Some workers fail to show up;
  • The opponents catch wind of your operation and try and infiltrate workers with their staff;
  • Some of the college age kids think it is funny to just dump campaign materials;
  • Some workers get tired after a few hours and want to be done;
  • Some workers trample on a voter’s yard and gardens and piss off a supporter;
  • A bus or two have a mechanical problem; and
  • Some individuals try and sneak in and get paid without the work.

When running these large operations, keep a few things in mind to keep yourself sane:

  • Don’t expect perfection – doesn’t exist;
  • Do not tell the candidate about each and every failure or every police action taken during your program;
  • ALWAYS have enough checks for workers at the end of the shift;
  • Have a group of lawyers handy to parachute in and handle skirmishes that always happen;
  • Spot check drop packages days before the launch – quality control never hurts; and
  • Appoint reliable and experienced adults to supervise.

If you want to get a sense of an Extreme GOTV — watch the Netflix documentary Wild Wild Country. In short, in the 1980’s, a group from India (with members all over the world), led by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh (later known as Osho) decided to relocate their operation from India to 65,000 acres in Oregon.  They literally took over a town with a then-population of 40 people (yes, 4-0). When they first wanted to exert more control over their town, they registered their members to vote in their commune and took over the Mayorship and governing body. Then, feeling they were being stymied by county officials, this group imported 6 to 9 thousand homeless folks from other states and attempted to register them to vote. It is definitely worth watching, especially on a snow day since they seem to be every day lately.

Keep up the good fight and Get Out the Vote.

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