While there are many reasons to celebrate the Month of May, (see list below) including the fact that it’s National Salad Month, I would like to suggest a new one of extraordinary significance: Get Out the Vote Month
Traditionally, Get Out the Vote (commonly referred to as GOTV) efforts focused on the final weekend prior to election day. And, that made a lot of sense since it used to be that the far majority of voters voted on the first Tuesday of June during primary elections. In fact, in 1966, only 1.89% of California voters used vote by mail ballots in the primary election and 3.35% voted by mail during the general election. Now that mail ballots are no longer just for those who will be out of town or unable to get to the polls on election day, mail ballot use has soared to 65%.
As a voter, voting by mail has some distinct advantages. You can take your time filling out the ballot, and, as campaign materials flood your mailbox and ads take over mass media, you have an opportunity to carefully evaluate each measure and candidate to sift through the embellishments and platitudes to get to more concrete information regarding positions and voting records.
Also, I believe voting by mail provides a wonderful opportunity to get the family together and review the ballots and discuss the items together. Of course, savvy voters also recognize that the earlier they mail in their ballot, the sooner the gargantuan sized mail pieces and chipper volunteers at their doorstep find other mailboxes and front doors to invade.
Now, the fact that a huge percentage of voters are now voting by mail should not necessarily be equated with them voting early. In fact, in the November 2012 general election, of the 458, 205 ballots returned in Santa Clara County, over 177,000 of them were turned in on election day and approximately 314,000 were mailed or dropped off within a week of election day. So, although there is no doubt the voter outreach process needs to begin sooner for campaigners, it still skews heavily towards election day.
In terms of demographics, we know that a higher percentage of primary voters tend to vote by mail. This is also a markedly more conservative part of the electorate and a more reliable voter. Now, what should the data suggest to those interested in encouraging greater turn out amongst progressive voters?
It is clear that we need to focus more attention on those who we consider reliable voters for progressive causes to vote by mail and turn in their ballot as soon as possible. This has a dual effect. It reduces the cost and energy that volunteers and progressive organizations expend in getting their base out. Secondly, it frees up those same groups to attract more supporters as Election Day approaches. This is critically important in a low turnout primary with a more conservative turnout.
So, a simple message to all of you who are in full campaign mode, chugging coffee and scarfing down cold pizza: get every positively identified voter to turn in their ballots as soon as possible. And, get everyone you know to sign up for a vote by mail ballot.
This is not only essential for you to get your numbers up but may make the difference between your candidate making it into the run off or not. As progressives, often times getting our candidates through the primary is the biggest battle. Once they get through June, they can prepare for a much higher turnout in November with a greater percentage of Democrats voting and certainly more progressives paying attention to big ticket items.
So, although I was tempted to call out October as GOTV month, for progressives, the biggest battle may very well be in the weeks ahead. Of course, come September, I may rethink that opinion. In the meantime, Happy GOTV Month!
This piece first appeared in The Left Hook