The Basics

What is a voting precinct?
A voting precinct is the area that votes at a particular location, usually a school or community center.
View the Riverside County Precinct Map

Why should we organize a voting precinct?
To win elections. Elections in Southern California are generally close enough that the winner is determined by whoever does the best job of getting folks to turn up at the polls. This takes a lot of knocking on doors, calling people and spreading the word. Organizing voting precincts ensures that we have networks of people willing to help out with this work in every single voting precinct in the country.

Wouldn’t it be better to focus on individual campaigns?
Leaving the work of political organizing entirely to the campaigns puts enormous pressure on candidates to create their own organization and infrastructure from scratch. This makes it hard to recruit candidates and puts them at a disadvantage in the election. Only the party can build and maintain an organizational structure that endures between campaigns.

Is precinct organizing the right way to win elections?
Organizing at the precinct level is effective because people are generally more willing to get involved in their own neighborhoods with people they know. The precinct system breaks down a potentially overwhelming project into manageable tasks. It also ensures that we have organized Democrats in every single neighborhood in the country, not just traditional Democratic strongholds.

Getting Started

Let’s take a walk (or ride)
Before you do anything else as a Neighborhood Leader, it helps to scout out your precinct from boundary to boundary. Even if you know the entire area like the back of your hand, take a moment to look at it with a different set of eyes.

Take notes about:

  • Density Which streets will be the most time-consuming when going door-to-door? Are there apartment buildings with lots of doors?
  • Accessibility Are there areas where you will need to reach voters in a different way because they are behind a gate or have dogs in the yard? Are there streets you’d rather visit with a team? Make notes of specific addresses or areas that seem problematic.
  • Landmarks Are there parks or businesses that are suitable for neighborhood activities? Are there easily recognizable spots to use as meet-up points when canvassing?

As you explore the area, try to break it up into smaller chunks that will be assigned to specific volunteers called Block Leaders. The size of these chunks will depend a lot on how many volunteers you can find within your precinct, but it is ideal to keep the chunks small enough that they include fewer than 200 voters. Approximately 100 households is ideal.

In addition to geography and density, consider other relevant factors. Does a certain area all fall within a homeowners’ association? That would be ideal to assign to a volunteer who is a member of that association – you might want to try to keep it all in one chunk.

Building a Team

Leaders need a team to be successful
The job of organizing a precinct and ensuring that every possible Democratic voter makes it out to the polls is too difficult to manage all by yourself. Your most important job is to find, train and manage a small group of volunteers that can help you organize your precinct and turn out your voters on Election Day.

At a bare minimum, you will need one reliable volunteer for each division you created on your precinct map to serve as its Block Leader. They will help you with a number of tasks, but their primary function is to ensure that every targeted voter in their area of your precinct makes it out to vote.

Finding volunteers
The best volunteers are people that you already have a relationship with that also live in your precinct. Next, you should consider friends who may not live in your precinct, but would be motivated to help you in your efforts. As you find volunteers, have each of them scan the list. People are most likely to join your efforts if they have been asked by a friend or acquaintance.

Next, plan an event where you will go door-to-door – or host a house party or phone bank – and reach out to all the potential volunteers you have identified to see who is able to help out. You may not find all the volunteers that you need on the first try, but repeat this process with each subsequent activity until you have a roster of Block Leaders and support volunteers that will allow you to be successful in your efforts. And don’t forget to have each person you find look through your list for friends – it should be one of the first things every new volunteer does.

Meeting Your Voters

Start early, repeat often
The key to being a successful Neighborhood Leader is to get to know all the potential Democrats in your precinct. That doesn’t mean that you literally know them all yourself, or even that you have met the majority of them in person. It simply means that through the activities you organize, you have amassed the data you need to know who our voters are and what will need to be done to get them to vote on Election Day.

The biggest mistake Neighborhood Leaders make is waiting too late to start the process of organizing their precinct and then disappearing between election cycles. Voters notice if the party only shows up when it wants something. If the party engages with voters all year long, it feels more like a relationship and less like a transaction. It also means that you have a lot less work to do in the already busy time before an election.

Door-to-door canvassing
The most common method of meeting the voters in your precinct is to knock on doors. Chances are, you’ve volunteered to go door knocking at some point in your life, but here are some tips that are helpful to remember whether it is your first time or thirty first time:

  • Wear something that identifies you Make sure every volunteer has something to wear that makes it readily apparent they are with the Democrats. We want Democrats to know why we are there so they are more likely to engage with us.
  • Ask for the voter Begin every interaction by asking to speak with the voter that appears on your list. If there are multiple voters, ask if “Dick or Jane So-and-So” is available. In all likelihood, you are either speaking to the voter or they have moved. Both outcomes provide very useful information. If the voter you are meeting is not on your list, make sure to get accurate information (write clearly) that can be put back into Votebuilder.
  • Be yourself You will often get a script (or write one yourself) when you go canvassing. Don’t be afraid to be yourself. As long as you cover the necessary information, you should feel free to speak as you would whenever meeting someone new from your neighborhood. Polite small talk can be very beneficial in getting people to respond candidly: “It’s so nice to finally meet you – I live right down the street and I’ve always loved your garden.”
  • Be prepared When planning a canvassing event, think through all the variables and be prepared to provide whatever might be needed. Do you have campaign literature? Voter registration forms? Stamps for the voter registration forms? Volunteer sign up forms? Literature about meeting times for the local party and clubs? If you are tech savvy, there may be options to provide sign up forms on iPads or other mobile devices. Check with the County Party if you are interested in a more digital approach.
  • Try different times and days You may find that you have the most success on Saturday afternoons – or it might be weekdays after dinner. Each neighborhood is different, so be sure to test out several different times before getting frustrated. Don’t expect to finish reaching all your voters in one try. It will take many, many rounds before you have reached most of your voters. Think of it as an ongoing process rather than a scheduled activity.

Neighborhood events
Does your area have a neighborhood association? Are there block parties during certain holidays? Pot luck dinners or fund raisers for the local school? All of these are key opportunities to meet the people who live in your precinct. If you are not a social butterfly, invite a volunteer who loves socializing to join you.

You’d be surprised how much you can discern about a person’s likely party affiliation from a lit
small talk. Even if you don’t discuss politics or issues, make sure to get an idea of where people live in your precinct so that you can be the person who knocks on their door during the next round of canvassing.

Hosted events
If knocking on doors fills you with dread, why not drop off invitations instead? Host a Democratic event at your house or a neighborhood park and be sure to invite every household you haven’t identified as Republican. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

  • Candidate Meet-and-Greet The County Party can help match you with a candidate or elected official
  • Potluck Fundraiser Host a small-dollar fundraiser for the county party, a candidate, or an issue that is important to you
  • Neighborhood Picnic This one is perfect for hosting in a park when the weather is nice
  • Community Meeting If there is an issue that needs addressing in your community, why not host a meeting to discuss it? Not only will you meet like-minded folks, you might even make the neighborhood a better place to call home.

Phone banking
Your lists will have the telephone number that was used to register to vote. In many cases, these numbers are land lines that were long ago disconnected or phones with Caller ID that never get answered for unknown callers. That said, you can still get lucky from time to time. Although phone banking is no longer a great primary strategy, it can be very useful for connecting with voters that you haven’t been able to reach through other means.

Social media
As phone banking is starting to become ancient history, social media is fast becoming the voter outreach method with the most promise for the future. Unlike phoning, however, it’s not advisable to go around “friending” every complete stranger you can find on Facebook who lives in your neighborhood. Social media requires some strategy and a bit of legwork. Although there is no straightforward method that will guarantee success, we have included a social media tip sheet in this kit. Here are some ideas that will get you started:

  • Pick the platform you’re comfortable with While it is true that certain platforms are better than others for the purposes of political networking, you are likely to have the most success on the platform you are most comfortable using. Just be sure it is capable of doing what you need it to do. Instagram might not be the best choice for a neighborhood chat group, for example.
  • Create a profile or group about your neighborhood or a local issue Don’t use your personal accounts for the purposes of networking. The goal is to get people to “follow” or “like” you without having met you. This is much easier to do with something like a “Park Circle Neighborhood Chat Group” on Facebook.
  • Promote your social media program Door hangers can be an easy way to promote door-to-door, just remember that it is illegal to post anything to – or place anything inside of – a mailbox. This can be a great thing to do as part of a traditional door-knocking activity that allows you to reach folks who aren’t home.

Staying Connected

Keeping up with your voters
As you can imagine, keeping your data up-to-date requires a lot of ongoing maintenance. Here are a few tips to help you be successful:

  • Plan canvassing during the “off-season” Not only does this make it more manageable to keep data current, it shows that the party is involved in the area even when it isn’t time to ask for votes.
  • Be a busybody (or befriend one) There are all kinds of clues that can tip you off to a change in your neighborhood’s voter rolls. A moving truck is an easy one. If you’re not the type to ask nosy questions, it’s easy to become friends with someone in your neighborhood who excels at it. They’re usually all-too-happy to share the latest comings-and-goings with a neighbor.
  • Be sociable Go to the neighborhood association meetings; chat up a neighbor on the street; make a point to stay involved in your community.

Keeping your voters connected to the party
Make sure your voters are invited to Democratic meetings and don’t forget to represent them at those meetings yourself. Report back to the other leaders in the party when voters in your neighborhood express ideas, requests or frustrations. A great Neighborhood Leader gets all their voters to the polls on Election Day. A legendary Neighborhood Leader gets their voters to become directly engaged with the party through meetings, events and volunteer activities.

Election Planning

Every neighborhood is different
Entire books have been written on campaign strategy for getting out the vote on Election Day. What works is different for every neighborhood because every community has its own unique set of advantages and challenges. The most important thing you can do is remain flexible and not be afraid to try different approaches. You may find that one approach works best for one part of your precinct and a completely different approach is required for the rest.

Think like a chess player
In chess, you have a limited number of pieces with their own strengths and weaknesses and the obstacles on the board are often unique to the game at hand. In fact, they change constantly as the game is played, as do the number of pieces under your control. This is not all that different from a political campaign.

  • Start with your volunteers How many reliable volunteers do you have at your disposal? What hours are they available on Election Day and leading up to it? Are they outgoing? What is their level of mobility? Does one of them have an asset that can be utilized to get out the vote? In one campaign during a presidential year, a volunteer had an RV with speakers mounted to the outside. We were able to plaster it with signage and ride around key neighborhoods playing music to remind people it was Election Day. As you start to make a plan, take into account every volunteer you have available and carefully consider what unique benefits they offer to your effort.
  • What are the obstacles on the board? Look at your data from previous elections. Are there obvious pockets in your precinct that had lower turnout than others? Are there neighborhoods that trend very Republican where it might be a bad idea to accidentally activate opposition voters? Are there areas with a large Spanish-speaking population that will require special skills to mobilize? Each precinct is different and it is essential that you know everything possible about yours to effectively plan for how to approach it.
  • Where are the opportunities on the board? Just as each neighborhood has challenges, they also have inherent strengths. A suburban neighborhood with lots of yards might be best targeted with yard signs. You’d be surprised how many Democrats come out of the woodwork when they see a friendly sign in a neighbor’s yard. If the area is urban with busy streets, it might be worth mobilizing volunteers along the sidewalk with signage during rush hours to remind people it is Election Day. Do folks sit on their porches a lot in the afternoon? Is there a park where everyone walks their dog? Any feature of a neighborhood that facilitates communication can be an asset.

Do your homework and be prepared
Study the last similar election. Remember that a presidential election is very different from a mayoral race. Pick the most recent election that is most similar to the one your facing to look at the best data. Do you have lots of unregistered voters? Do you have lots of Republicans? Make a plan based on overcoming the obstacles that are specific to your area based on the data you have. As you build your plan and execute it, keep in mind what resources you will need as you go. If your plan requires money to execute, consider taking donations at the next house party you are organizing. If your plan involves registering voters, be sure to dedicate the resources to turn them out on Election Day. If your plan involves printed materials like signs, secure those as soon as possible so the coordinated campaign has a sense of the demand and supply in time to be effective.

Get Out the Vote

Rule one: don’t try to do it all yourself
After all the planning and preparation, it is finally Election Day. At this point, you should have all your volunteers trained and ready to execute your GOTV strategy. Be very careful of the responsibilities you give yourself on Election Day. If you have more than a few volunteers, there is a good chance that you will be needed to answer questions and resolve the situations that arise as they go about their activities. If you are not free to deal with these situations, you can delay multiple volunteers from being able to do their important work.

As leaders, we sometimes feel guilty if we are not doing enough of the work ourselves, so we load ourselves up with tasks. Avoid that instinct. Your availability to address problems will pay dividends exponentially because you will be enabling everyone else to work efficiently. Find tasks for yourself that you can easily drop at a moment’s notice without causing disruption.

What are some good strategies for getting out the vote?
This is by no means an exhaustive list, and some strategies might be ideal for one area and completely impossible somewhere else. Feel free to latch onto the ones that make sense and disregard the ones that are not ideal for your situation.

  • Canvassing If an area has low turnout, keep knocking on those doors until each targeted voter has gone to the polls. Create a plan to track which voters have been reached so that efforts are not duplicated.
  • Phone banking This can be much more efficient than the phone banking efforts at campaign headquarters if you do some work in advance. Purge your precinct’s list of bad numbers in advance of Election Day and narrow it to targeted voters with working numbers.
  • Text messages If targeted voters have given you permission to text them (it is important to ask when you collect cell numbers), you can remind them to vote and ask them to please respond via text when they have done so.
  • Poll tracking This one requires lots of planning and volunteers, but it can supercharge your GOTV efforts if you can pull it off. Start by determining how many different precincts vote at your polling place, then determine how many check-in subsections there are (usually broken out by sections of the alphabet, like A-G, F-S, etc). Coordinate with your fellow Neighborhood Leaders to have one volunteer stationed at each check-in subsection with multiple copies of your list of targeted voters (or, even better, a digital version). As each voter checks in, they will be tasked with marking them off of their list(s). At set points throughout the day, the lists are picked up by your volunteer team so that they can focus their efforts where they are most needed. Depending on your precinct, the coordinated campaign may already be planning this activity, so work with them to not duplicate efforts and share results. Also, ensure that you follow the election laws that govern how many people may be present and what they are allowed to do at the polling place.
  • Holding signs If your area is heavily Democratic with lots of street traffic, its might be beneficial to direct volunteers to hold signs along the sidewalk, especially early in the morning when people are headed to work and it is too early to call or knock on doors.
  • Offering rides It may be necessary to give certain voters a ride to the polls. This is best done through advance planning as you identify voters. There may be a similar service offered by the county campaign headquarters, so be sure not to duplicate efforts and be prepared to direct your voters to the resources that are already in place.

Have some fun
Election Day is exciting, but it can also be stressful. If you seem to be having a good time, there’s a good chance your volunteers will, too. Find the fun in everything you do. We’re all working together to make our country a better place, and there’s a lot of joy to be had when you’re making good things happen.

Be ready for next time
As you manage the excitement of Election Day, don’t forget to keep notes on the things you learn. Share what has worked and what needs improvement with other party leaders. Maybe something you encounter will be part of the next version of this guide. Maybe you’ll move on to a different leadership role in the party and the next Neighborhood Leader will benefit from your first-hand experience.

Make a plan with your fellow Neighborhood Leaders to have a meeting to discuss what you have learned after the election is over.