The midterm elections exposed weakness in our get out the vote mindset we need to fix. Luckily, we have time before the 2024 brawl in the electoral octagon. A commander’s greatest resource is time - you can get more of anything else, bean, bullets, people, but you can never get more time. So the two years we have before the next election is a great and glorious resource we need to utilize to the maximum degree possible. We have been blessed people, with over 700 days to unscrew the screw-ups that made election night as disappointing as a Dispatch writer’s wedding night.
We have time to fix some of the problems that screwed us in 2022 just in time for 2024. And one of the most important is how we get out the vote.
One clear lesson coming out of this clusterfark is that, in many states (but not all) we have been trying to run 2012 elections in a 2022 environment. A number of people are pointing this out – and it’s kind of annoying that the people in charge did not think about it beforehand. COVID happened, and that changed things in many keys states. Election Day is not even Election Week any more, or even Election Month. That’s a reality, especially in blue states (though what the hell is wrong with Arizona?). As you are reading this, they are still counting in some states - just not competent ones like Florida.
We need to fight in the new terrain and not pretend that reality is something more to our liking. My liking would be a one-day election with photo ID conducted on paper ballots in person, except for soldiers and people with a really good excuse for a mail-in ballot. I want that, but I also want a unicorn and that’s not in the cards either.
We need to adapt to the election world as it is, not as we wish it to be. Some folks are fuming that we need to harvest ballots where legal and do that sort of thing – they think we should just change the laws to laws more to our liking. But that kind of misses that without political power we can do nothing.
That is not to say we should try to push for reforms where we can. Obvious fixes include shorter voting periods and cutting off absentee ballots as of the close of the polls - if you are too dumb to mail in your ballot beforehand you are too dumb to participate in Our Democracy. And the counting should begin before Election Day, so this eterna-count nonsense ceases. If you want faith in our elections, try earning it by conducting them as efficiently as they do in the Third World.
But mail-in voting is here to stay in some form and the Democrats have mastered it. Yes, it is easier to cheat, and we have to be ready for that. But we have to get people voting earlier. Many conservatives have an attachment to in-person, day-of voting. Part of that is because Donald Trump urged people to vote on Election Day. But once the GOP owned mail-in voting – not so long ago we used it effectively. Not so today.
That needs to change. Understand the superiority of banked votes because the Democrats do. When they are cast, they are cast. No forgetting to vote. No work crises or sick dogs or rain showers that keep voters from the polls on Election Day. And you can follow it up on your voters. It’s hard to track votes that occur on Election Day, but if you have a couple weeks you can text your Republican voter, remind him/her to vote and then strike him/her off the list when he/she reports he/she has. Democrats do that - a Democrat has his/her/xir voting progress tracked by the party and they generate tons of low-propensity votes.
This is a major change in mindset because we are still, to a large extent, stuck in the mode of focusing on winning votes from the general electorate. Those ads you see on regular TV, if you watch still TV like a sucker, are broadly targeted and expensive. Social media and text ads are much more targeted – they can and do use your declared party affiliation, as well as magazine subscriptions and other indicators to identify your voting propensities. But much of this is still trying to influence voters. We need to manage voter through the process individually over time - “Have you got your ballot? Remember to vote for Redd Nonrino!” A few days later: “Did you vote? Did you put it in the mail? Do you need us to come by and harvest it?” Yes, ballot harvesting is an abomination and we need to do it where it is legal. The GOP now does that in some venues in California after getting thumped by the Democrats in the first cycle it where it was legal. When the GOP did it, we started winning.
We need to do that especially in rural areas, and sometimes it will mean going out on foot pounding on doors and getting those working-class folks voting. There is a whole bunch of potential voters out there. We need to target them and manage the voting process, not just run ads on “The Price Is Right.”
One reason we can move from influencing voters to managing voting, besides tech that automates the process, is that voters are much more set in their preferences. There is less split ticketing today. It is less important to emphasize who to vote for to our base than to ensure they are actually voting.
People of a certain agree remember when Florida was purple and Al Gore lost the state by a hair in 2000. But they are so focused on Ron DeSantis’s future that they forget his past, particularly consolidating the Free State of Florida as a red bastion.
What happened in Florida? First, they understood the threshold problem – corrupt and incompetent election officials in urban blue bastions. They got rid of them. Then they imposed tight election rules and put a system into effect that had Florida reporting results before other states started counting. Harvesting, Voter ID, that sort of thing.
The system is only one element of the overhaul. The other is they registered Republicans. If you get a person registered, first you are making it more likely that they default to the GOP because they have mentally committed. Second, you make them easier to identify and manages during the voting process.
Florida registered a ton of Republicans. Huge numbers. And the FL GOP it kept it up between cycles such that there are now more registered Republicans than Democrats. The Democrats always understood the importance of getting people registered as Democrats. For decades, though the country was approximately 50/50 in voting preferences, they had more registered party members. In some ways it was easier for them, since they had urban constituencies and union bodies to go out and do the signing up. Republicans were left hoping the independents – many of whom were really Republicans who had just never been invited to register as GOP – showed up on Election Day.
Florida actually has a Republican Party, unlike California, which has an organization with that name that does little or nothing. State organizations are indispensable – they provide the manpower for the kind of voter management operations we need. But that sort of investment is not attractive to many consultant class folks, who get a cut of media buys but have more trouble getting paid off of volunteer GOTV efforts. As is typical, sometimes the most mundane fundamentals are the most important.
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