In which I ramble about my job to distract from my misery

In case you wondered what I do all day:

Actually, lately I can’t do a lot of door-knocking because of my mobility issues, but I train interns and volunteers on how to canvass.  Occasionally I’m able to get out and knock doors for a little while.

I also do a lot of the organizational stuff behind canvassing.  Those clipboards in the video?  Someone has to assemble the packets that go on them.  First, I do what’s called cutting turf.  There are certain people that the campaign wants us to reach out to–they’re called targets.  They vary based on the stage of the campaign, the area, and the goals.  It’s always Democrats and sometimes unaffiliated voters who lean Democrat.  (Massachusetts has the greatest percentage of voters who aren’t affiliated with a party of any state.)  Sometimes we target people who almost always vote, but mostly we target people who vote sporadically so that we can urge them to vote.  (The perfect/excellent/likely voters are probably going to vote even if we don’t talk to them.)  So I get on Votebuilder, the data management system used by pretty much every Democratic campaign, and pull a list of those people.  Often, HQ will give us particular wards or precincts they want us to work on in particular towns, so I narrow my list to just those people.  Then I get a map, and each house is a little dot.  Depending on our goals and the number of canvassers we’re expecting, I have to cut turfs anywhere between 40 and 120 doors.  You want the houses to be close together so it’s easy for the canvassers to walk, and if you can, you want to avoid steep hills and long driveways because they slow people down.  In some places, you also have to beware of sketchy neighborhoods.

I can’t take a screenshot from Votebuilder because it’s got all kinds of private information, so I created a similar image.

This is what it looks like when I first start cutting a turf.  It’s a street map, and all the houses are dots.  (And yes, this is my town, and it really does have a park called Mary Brown’s Dingle.  I have not been able to find out why.  New England is weird, man.)


This is what it looks like to cut a turf, only in Votebuilder, the lines are nice and straight instead of looking like they were drawn by a four-year-old.  I’m not an artist, okay?  Basically, I have to make sure that each turf (one outlined in red, the other in blue) have roughly equal numbers of doors and are reasonably easy to walk.

I spend an absurd amount of time every day doing this.  It’s not difficult, but it’s fiddly and labor-intensive.  And don’t get me started on how labor-intensive it is to get our printer to work.

We also make a lot of phone calls, so I have to cut the lists for those, too.  That’s a similar process but without the maps, so it goes a lot quicker.

After canvasses and phone banks, all that data has to get entered into Votebuilder so all the campaign staff know who we’ve talked to and what they told us.  A lot of that gets done automatically–we try to get canvassers to use a smartphone app called miniVAN (VAN is another name for Votebuilder), which lets them record their results and instantly sync it to our Votebuilder database.  Most of our phone banks are done online, either through Votebuilder’s virtual phone banks or through an awesome predictive dialer called HubDialer, which lets us talk to 5-6 times more voters in the same amount of time.  But we do have canvassers without smartphones and phone bankers without laptops, so I end up with big stacks of data.  The results of each call or door has to be entered manually.  Again, labor-intensive and fiddly, but not difficult.

I also make a lot of recruitment calls (asking people to volunteer) and confirmation calls (calling people who’ve signed up to volunteer to make sure they’re still coming).  I collate data–campaigns are obsessed with metrics, and you have to report in frequently.  It wouldn’t surprise me if they added “milligrams of caffeine consumed” and “cumulative sleep debt” to our metrics–they want to know every single detail, as long as it can be numericized.  (Is that even a word?  Whatevs.)

Plus, because my boss’s boss knows about my hatred of lawn signs, he thought it would be hilarious to make me the “yard sign coordinator” for our entire region.  That means any time someone requests a yard sign, the call or email gets forward to me.  I have to act like yard signs are awesome and say how sorry I am that we just gave away our last one because they’re going like hotcakes.  “But there are lots of other ways you can help our Democratic ticket!” I tell them.  “One really great way is to spend a couple hours knocking on doors.  Would you be able to join us on Election Day?”  Inevitably, they won’t–they just want to “help” the candidates passively.  I swear to you, my boss did this entirely for his own amusement.

So yeah, this is the stuff I spend 14 hours a day doing.  It ain’t like campaigns on The West Wing or anything–not as romantic as some people think it is.  It’s probably not actually interesting to anyone but me, but I needed a distraction tonight.  So you get 1000 words about it.

(When will I ever not find an excuse for a Joe Biden gif?  Never, that’s when.)



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11 responses to “In which I ramble about my job to distract from my misery

  1. That Joe Biden gif just made my entire day. And tomorrow’s looking up too. With all the work you’ve put in, I really hope your candidate wins. How many campaigns have you worked for?

    Where I live, nobody goes door to door. They just send out mail and place those awful yard signs everywhere. Usually the races are between “TRUE CONSERVATIVES(TM)” and “OBAMA FIGHTERS(C).” Come to think of it, no politician down here actually runs on a ticket other than hating Obama and being a real conservative.

    • I grew up in Alabama, so I definitely understand politics where it’s just conservatives v. worse conservatives. There’s a reason I got the hell out of dodge. (A lot of reasons, actually, but that’s one of them.)

      This is my fourth campaign: Obama 2012, Elizabeth Warren, and Ed Markey were my previous campaigns. I guess technically this is 4 and 5 for me, because before we became a coordinated campaign, I was also doing some work for Maura Healey’s campaign for AG. And because I’m a glutton for punishment, I also made calls for Parker Griffith, who’s running for governor in Alabama. I probably need to get a life.

      If you ever have a bad day, do a Google image search for Joe Biden gifs. It will never fail to make your day better. (Somewhere, I have a similar gif, only it’s FDR and says, “New Deal With It.” That’s pretty fucking great too.) Let’s not even talk about the number of Joe Biden gifs I have on my computer. The CIA and the Secret Service probably think I’m some kind of fangirl stalker.

  2. I never thought about all the logistics behind it before. Thanks this post was cool and informative.
    What about people who vote by mail, do you have a different stead why for them? I ask because I’m a permanent vote by mail person and am curious.

    • Our system doesn’t tell us that, so we only know if we talk to the person and they tell us they’ve already voted absentee. MA doesn’t have a permanent absentee ballot law–you have to request an absentee ballot for each election. But we can mark someone as “already voted,” so then we don’t keep reminding them to vote.

  3. Wow! You do quite a lot! It’s interesting to read about details and logistics… We don’t really have such door-to-door political organizing in our country, and I find it all quite impressive!

    • Maybe this is just the exhaustion speaking, but I don’t actually find what I do all that interesting. It’s important, of course, but it’s mostly fiddly, detail-oriented stuff. I’d really like to work on the policy side of things eventually. That’s what interests me most.

      Honestly, I’d really prefer that the US spent less money and time (but primarily money) on elections. The amount that gets spent is insane. Our opponent has spent over $8 million (including superPAC money) in a state that only has around 6.7 million people. The lion’s share of that goes into attack ads. Other countries spend far less on political campaigns and have far higher voter turnout. For all that money spent, we probably won’t even get 40% of registered voters to actually get out and vote.

      • Yeah, I agree with you about the money spent – it does seem extreme!
        I wish there would be limited budgets and that people really had the chance to vote for programs not pretty (or mean) ads!

  4. This post was actually very encouraging for me. I’m permanently disabled, and unable to work a paying job, and at one time spent much of my time volunteering for a hospice group. Sadly, at some point, both my physical disabilities and my inability to afford the fuel for my car to get to various hospice locations around the city, caused me to have to suspend my volunteering activities.

    Your post helped inspire me, in that it opens up the possibility of volunteering for my own political party (which appears to be the same party you endorse). One, it could provide a stationary address from which to work, rather than the constantly migrating world of hospice. Two, it offers the possibility that even someone who has mobility issues might be able to provide useful skills that could help in a behind-the-scenes kind of way. And three, my own particular skill set would very likely align quite well with volunteer work for a political campaign, in that I tend to be very organized, comfortable with tedious and repetitive work that requires precision and accuracy, and it would fuel my desire to be of some sort of use to someone, rather than spending all my time filling up the day with mindless activity.

    I had never really considered volunteering in a political campaign, but the older I get, the more passionate I’ve become about the necessity that we encourage people to vote, especially the two ends of the spectrum (seniors, and young people who tend to be disillusioned and uninterested). You’ve given me much food for thought.

    Well written, and love the humorous twists, as well as the details that help the reader to envision what it really looks like to be working “behind the scenes.”

    • Most political campaigns are really enthusiastic about getting new volunteers, and with all the campaigns I’ve worked on, people have been very happy to give me rides. (I don’t have a car.) They’ve also been very accommodating of my disability–I canvass when I’m well enough to walk, but mostly I do phones, data, office management, etc.

      If you want to volunteer for the Dems, ask them to train you to use Votebuilder. That’s the data management system we use for voters, supporters, events, phone banks–basically, your entire campaign is in Votebuilder, so they LOVE people who know how to use it. It’s a clunky system but really great for data management. Basically every Democratic campaign uses it, all across the country. It’s a really good thing to do when you’re mobility impaired.

  5. I’m very interested in what you do Kyra. I never realised it was so time consuming and laborious! I applaud you, because I couldnt do that sorta thing for a long time every day. But I know you are passionate about your political work. Its great to have something to be passionate about, I’m like that about volunteering, or animals and animal welfare, or childrens rights. Xoxo

  6. 18mitzvot

    This is a very interesting post. I suspect very few people know what goes on behind the scenes to facilitate campaigning.

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