Volunteers Can Be Key to Election Outcomes, Activists Say
Longmont Democratic activist Jake Marsing says he was only 9 when his mother, Amy Mann-Miner, recruited him to join her and other volunteers trying to convince people to vote for a political candidate.
That was in 2004, and the candidate, Loveland Democrat Stan Matsunaka, wound up losing to Republican Marilyn Musgrave in that year’s contest for Colorado’s 4th Congressional District seat.
But Marsing, now 23, said that outcome didn’t dissuade him from continuing to work in elections since then, which he’s done both as volunteer and as a paid campaign staffer.
He said unpaid volunteers, in particular, “are the backbone of any campaign. Without them, it is impossible to be effective in any election.”
Volunteers help candidates, parties and advocates of political causes with door-to-door canvass visits to voters’ homes, with telephone calls on behalf of their candidates and parties, by stuffing envelopes with campaign literature, by distributing yard and window signs, by getting people to register to vote — and then by getting them to vote.
Marsing said he, like other volunteers, sometimes gets a door slammed shut when the resident learns he’s calling on the home on behalf of a candidate.
But he said he keeps going because of the voters who turn out to be willing to have conversations about a candidate or issue of interest, he said.
Sharing enthusiasm for voting
Members of each political party echoed Marsing’s assessment that volunteers are key to candidates’ campaigns and to making organized pushes to get voters to entirely support a single party.
Boulder County Republican Party Executive Director Scout Ennis said Republicans are the underdog in local politics, where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans on the voter rolls.
She said that is why it is important for the GOP and its volunteer workers to “get out the message of conservatism, capitalism, freedom and liberty.”
That’s why Terri Dugas, a Weld County Republican who lives in Frederick where the GOP is dominant, decided to volunteer in Boulder County instead.
Dugas said she’d moved from North Carolina, where she said she’d done some volunteer work for the GOP in a state dominated by conservatives, only to find herself in what she called a geographic and political “flip-flop” upon settling in a part of Colorado she complained is dominated by liberals.
Dugas said she offered “to do whatever I can, to help” Boulder County Republicans after meeting Ennis, the Boulder County GOP executive director, at a Republican-sponsored movie night.
Ennis said she thought some of the recent GOP volunteers were inspired to turn out by Trump’s successful run in the 2016 election.
“Trump has showed how to win,” she said, citing his example of how “we should be unwavering in our platform and our vision.”
Boulder County Democratic Chairwoman Ellen Burnes said the number of people who have stepped forward to volunteer for her party’s candidates in this year’s mid-term non-presidential-year election have been amazing.
“Every time we ask,” Burnes said, “more people show up.”
Amanda Martin, a Democratic volunteer coordinator who assists that party’s leaders in five southeast Boulder-area precincts, said she’s new to political volunteering, but she’s excited about it.
“This is my first political volunteering experience,” said Martin, who said she decided to engage herself in this year’s Democratic effort after Trump won the presidency and the GOP maintained its hold on the U.S. Senate and U.S. House.
“I’ve just seen so many changes that are very scary about our democracy,” she said, citing her concerns about how a Republican presidency and Republican-dominated Congress might impact issues like civil rights, women’s rights and climate change.
Kenneth Bickers, a University of Colorado political science professor, said research on political volunteers’ effects on campaigns has suggested that volunteers’ door-to-door canvassing can make a difference in turnout — particularly in elections where turnout typically is low, such as those in mid-term election years that do not include presidential elections, like this year.
“The ground game in these elections is usually more important than the money,” Bikers said.
He said studies have shown, though, that telephoning people is a less effective voter-turnout device than actually knocking on people’s doors.
Bickers said volunteers’ enthusiasm also can make a difference in two ways, in convincing people to vote and in attracting even more volunteers to candidates’ and parties’ campaign efforts.
Bickers said that in mid-presidential-term election years — when most of the ballot choices are between candidates who are the nominees of specific political parties or who are unaffiliated with any state-recognized parties — one typically sees more stable Republican turnouts as compared to previous years, while Democrats show “greater variation” in turnouts from election to election.
He said studies have shown that Democrats are often more ideologically and sociologically diverse — and sometimes more divided — within their own party than are Republicans, which lowers Democrats’ turnout in some elections and raises it in close elections or those in which Democratic candidates are highly appealing to their party members.
Bickers said that in national pre-election polls published in August, it appeared at that point that Democrats are more engaged in this year’s elections than they were in the 2010 and 2014 mid-term elections.
Looking beyond the county
Recruiting, training and organizing volunteers’ door-to-door canvassing and telephone-bank calling is “the No. 1 job” of a candidate’s campaign coordinator, Marsing said.
Boulder County’s volunteers even include some county residents who have been working to convince people elsewhere in Colorado to vote for candidates who won’t be on Boulder County voters’ ballots.
Norma Moore, for example, has been holding weekly telephone banks in her Boulder home where she and other volunteers have been contacting residents in the suburban Denver-area counties who can vote in the 6th Congressional District, where Democrat Jason Crow is challenging incumbent Republican U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman.
Moore, who said she began volunteering in 2004, said she’s worked without pay previously for Democratic presidential and U.S. Senate candidates as well for Andrew Romanoff, the party’s candidate who lost a 2014 bid to unseat Coffman.
Now, she said, she and fellow Boulder County volunteers are “introducing people to Jason” through telephone and door-to-door canvassing.
Moore said that even though she lives in the 2nd Congressional District — where Democrat Joe Neguse, Republican Peter Yu, Libertarian Roger Barris and unaffiliated candidate Nick Thomas are competing for votes in this year’s contest — she said it appeared to her that Democrats will keep the 2nd District seat now filled by Boulder Democrat Jared Polis, who is running for governor against Republican Walker Stapleton.
Moore said she wanted to target her personal volunteer efforts “where I could make more of a difference” in the outcome in the believed-to-be close 6th District contest, and that a Democratic victory in that race could help her party’s national effort to capture a majority of seats in the U.S. House.
She said she and her fellow volunteers talk to a lot of people in the 6th District, Moore said, including Republicans, minor-party members and unaffiliated voters as well as Democrats, to familiarize voters with Crow and his stands on issues.
“We’re working very hard on” Crow’s 6th District campaign, said Boulder County Democratic chairwoman Burnes, as well as for Longmont veterinarian Karen McCormick, the Democratic candidate for the 4th Congressional District seat held by U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, a former Weld County district attorney who is running for re-election.
Boulder County Democrats are working to keep all three seats on the Board of County Commissioners, where Republicans and a third-party candidate are trying to change the partisan makeup of the board.
Democrat Matt Jones, Republican Gary Cooper and the Green Party’s Cliff Willmeng are competing to succeed term-limited Democrat Cindy Domenico in this year’s contest for the county board’s District 3 post.
Willmeng also is counting on the help of volunteers.
He said that in candidacies like his, people offer their unpaid help based on inspiration rather than party affiliation — an important distinction, he said, and that the role of volunteers on his campaign is important “when you’re fighting an embedded political system.”
Lafayette resident Marty Feffer said he’s been doing some door-to-door canvassing for Willmeng and also has been working as a volunteer for unaffiliated candidate Theresa Stets, who’s vying with Democrat Sonya Jaquez Lewis in this year’s contest for eastern Boulder County’s House District 12 state legislative seat.
There’s only one other Boulder County government office on this year’s ballot with competing candidates, a contest for sheriff. Republican John Bedrick is vying with incumbent Democrat Joe Pelle for that seat.
However, Republicans and Democrats are facing off with candidates for all but one of the state legislative seats that include parts of Boulder County within their boundaries — part of a statewide effort by Democrats to retain majority control of the Colorado House of Representatives and gain control of the state Senate.
Local volunteers also will be putting in time trying to get people sympathetic to their parties’ candidates — for governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, state treasurer, attorney general, University of Colorado Board of Regents and the Colorado Board of Education — to register to vote, if people aren’t already registered, and to get those people to fill out and return their completed ballots once they are registered.
GOP volunteer Marshall Dawson said that when Boulder County Republicans staff voter-information tents at various community events and visit with anyone who stops to look at campaign literature or ask questions about his party and its candidates, “we always make it friendly and inviting, even if people don’t agree with us.”
Dawson said that after talking to voters who may or may not be on the same political page as he is, he ends each day as a volunteer happy, “if we can clarify what our disagreements are and still walk away friends.”
John Fryar: 303-684-5211, firstname.lastname@example.org or twitter.com/jfryartc