Check out the video, and narrative with photos that follows about PowerPAC's early voting outreach in Ohio:
On Saturday morning I joined about fifteen people gathered in an office on 40th Street in Cleveland for the first of two scheduled visibility-and-canvassing outings. These events are part of a project sponsored by PowerPAC, aptly named "Vote Today!" The purpose of the project, as explained to me by organizer Cliff Albright, is to get residents in Cleveland's downtown neighborhoods excited about voting, and to encourage as many of them as possible to vote early. "Because of the issues we experienced in 2004, with long lines and other problems under the Secretary of State we had then, we are encouraging people to avoid the lines and the chaos by voting early," Albright said. "We're just trying to get the vote out, and get as many people as possible to early vote, which is a challenge here in Cleveland because it's the first presidential election that they're doing early voting."
I talked to a few of the participants while Albright printed out name tags and walk sheets. A woman named Mary told me that this was her second time participating in the project. People are "pretty responsive," she said. Residents in city neighborhoods are very aware of the historic nature of the election -- in fact they are "obsessed" with it. "They are watching CNN all the time," she said. "I've never seen anything like it." Another participant, Shirley, explained that although people are focused on the election, they still need to get the information about voting early. "We need to get the word out to the people any way we can," she said. "Whether it's going to their doors or talking to them on the street."
For the morning shift, the group would break into teams and perform two tasks. As long as the Board of Elections was open for early voting downtown (until 1:00 p.m. on Saturdays), participants would engage in the visibility or "human billboard" campaign, displaying big red-and-black "Vote Today!" signs in high-traffic areas and urging residents to go vote immediately. Addressing the group, Albright emphasized this effort as an opportunity to reach a large number of voters quickly, and to generate excitement while distributing information and answering questions about early voting. After 1:00 the participants would switch to door-to-door canvassing, asking residents whether they will vote early (or have already voted), and whether they need a ride to the polls, as well as delivering fliers about early voting. Albright explained that the idea is not to say who anyone should vote for, but only to let people know that they can vote early and to make sure that they know how to do it.
I followed one of the teams to the busy intersection of 105th Street and Superior Avenue in a predominantly African American part of Cleveland. Sign-wielding participants occupied all four corners, calling out "Vote Today! Go to 30th and Euclid, you can cast your vote today!" They passed out fliers to pedestrians and people waiting in the bus shelter, as well as motorists stopped for the traffic light.
It was apparent that many people were confused about the procedures for early voting. Several had to be assured that it wasn't too late, and many were unaware of the location and hours of the Board of Elections. The new weekend hours for early voting seemed to come as a particular surprise.
After a few hours of visibility work the team climbed back into the van (emblazoned with "Vote Today!" signs on the doors) and drove to the Columbia neighborhood for door-to-door canvassing. It was distressing to see how many of the bungalow-style houses were for sale, including many standing vacant with boarded-up windows -- victims of the housing crisis. The canvassers appeared to be finding residents at home in about a third of the occupied houses, many of which had Obama signs in the yards or in windows. I heard several residents thanking the canvassers for stopping by and wishing them a blessed day. One resident had been registered to vote for many years but was concerned that his name may have been dropped from the voter rolls. Albright explained that in such cases he can take the voters' information, check registration status online, and call the voters back with the information.
Although there are many voters still unclear about voting procedures, efforts to promote early voting are clearly having a big impact. Secretary of State Jennifer Brunner announced yesterday that almost 1.5 million Ohioans had requested absentee ballots (whether in-person or by mail) through October 24th, equal to almost a quarter of the expected turnout of 6.5 million voters. She expects early voting to account for as much as one third of overall votes cast. An Ohio poll released by Survey USA this morning confirms that report, indicating that 22% of respondents had already voted, and that Barack Obama leads John McCain among early voters by 13 points (56% to 39%). Although overall turnout is expected to reach the historic level of 80% of registered voters, the pace of early voting promises to reduce the actual turnout on Election Day to levels that have been accommodated without excessive problems in prior presidential elections.
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