Here’s the interesting thing about knocking on doors for a political candidate. In many ways, it’s ridiculous that such old school politicking is necessary in this information soaked era. Really, if the pipelines that deliver news to our pockets were doing their job, we wouldn’t need every campaign to have an army of supporters out to remind folks that it’s time to vote.

However, information isn’t entirely the point of canvassing. Yes, here’s the flyer, ballots are due Tuesday, can I help you support my candidate? That doesn’t fully encompass what it means to walk over Seattle’s hills to find an unmarked address and check if the person received a ballot. There is the show of support for a candidate to sway people by numbers. There is the personal contact to feed back to the campaign information from the field. There is the community connection to remind neighbors that voting is a civic value. 

I had the opportunity this election to spend a lot of time talking with folks about the candidates I was supporting. Knocked on a couple hundred doors. Called a few hundred people. For a lot of reasons, canvassing was once something I never anticipated being involved with, and even actively avoided for a while. Now it wouldn’t feel like fall without it.

It’s not some academic debate about politics. Canvassing asks us to talk with neighbors about our values. Beyond who I’m supporting, I get to say why. There’s another election in a month, deciding whether Kshama Sawant stays on the City Council. And another in three months deciding school levies. And another in nine months for congressional primaries. You should pick one of these campaigns and connect with them to start making calls. 

Admittedly, I’m not normal. Really, what kind of person sits here and thinks that they can write words to convince someone they should do something they’re not already doing? Who am I to tell you to find time in your busy life and start campaigning for another person’s political aspirations. Probably someone who thinks they can get folks to vote for their candidate! It’s a ridiculous level of hubris.

Totally agreed on all counts. Participating in campaigns is something that I actually struggled with for a long while. As a city planner, my job was to present information and have conversations, not sway personal decisions. And very much not put my thumb on the scale to actually politick. For many years, I actively avoided promoting a particular campaign or candidate and used work to explain why. Unlike the last administration, I took seriously the Hatch Act, which limits certain political activities of federal employees, because I didn’t want to put the department’s grants in jeopardy with my electioneering. 

My severe and narrow reading of the law served me in other ways too. There’s nothing in the Hatch Act that says I couldn’t make calls for a city council candidate in my free time. But in using some job-forced impartiality as an excuse, I could keep the whole conversation at an impersonal level. We could talk politics way up here, like a horse race or strategic battle. Remaining unconnected to a campaign avoided an even more embarrassing outcome. Losing.

Yes, it sucks to support a candidate, a team, or anything that may lose. It it sucks to be wrong. I was 0-for in the primary and 0-for in the general this year. For rational people, losing makes one question the value of their closely held beliefs and choices. Holy moly, there are That Many people who disagree with me? Let’s reconsider some of this. 

Some of the interesting home features spotted while canvassing through Seattle

However, canvassing has taken the individual bloodsport out of my view of politics. Yes, it’s rough and tumble. Yes, we can call opponents dishonest and incompetent. Yes, the people that we elect actually decide life and death issues for ourselves and others. But reminding someone to vote and asking they support your candidate is a face-to-face discussion with a neighbor. And neighbors reciprocate.

On the walks from door to door, more people thanked me for being out than slammed doors in my face. And I mean more by a factor of 10 to 1. A few folks were gruff. A few folks said they didn’t talk politics, goodbye. There was even a Seuss-like Once-ler in elbow length gloves who silently waved at the sign saying “No Solicitors.” And for each of them, there was a dozen others that said no thanks on the candidate, but thanked me for checking in. A few even asked if I wanted a water or snack.

The human-to-human conversations, whether in person or over the phone, have been a reminder that the world is not Twitter. Even as attempts are made to ascend conversations to the Metaverse, the existence of campaign field work reminds us that people are still the ones who vote. Not our avatars. Not our feeds. It’s just us and our neighbors.

So, if you find yourself doing some handwringing over the next few weeks about the state of the world (and we will because Hell is coming), take a moment and look up what the next election is going to be. You don’t need to support a candidate, just find an organization that’s working on getting out the vote, and make a few calls. You might find that the mind changed is your own.

We hope you loved this article. If so, please consider subscribing or donating. The Urbanist is a 501(c)(4) nonprofit that depends on donations from readers like you.

Ray Dubicki is a stay-at-home dad and parent-on-call for taking care of general school and neighborhood tasks around Ballard. This lets him see how urbanism works (or doesn’t) during the hours most people are locked in their office. He is an attorney and urbanist by training, with soup-to-nuts planning experience from code enforcement to university development to writing zoning ordinances. He enjoys using PowerPoint, but only because it’s no longer a weekly obligation.

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Dardanelles

Thanks for this piece, Ray! I loved it, especially the last line.

asdf2

In my high school government class, we were once given an assignment to volunteer for a political campaign of our choice – which office, candidate, or party didn’t matter, we just had to volunteer a certain number of hours and write about our experiences.

I split the time canvassing and phone banking. My biggest takeaway is that volunteering for a campaign involves a lot of hours with relatively little impact. I estimate that each hour spent may have netted my candidate about 1-2 votes, usually from somebody who was already politically aligned with my candidate’s party, but, for some reason, did not know that there was an election going on.

If you have a candidate you want to support, the most efficient way in terms of votes gained per hour spent is almost certainly to just cast your own vote. Once that’s exhausted, the next step is to ask your friends and family to vote for them, who will be much more receptive to you than a random stranger. Only when yourself, your family, and your friends are all exhausted, and you want to have additional impact, does volunteering for a candidate make sense.

When talking to friends, you should focus on people who are politically similar to you, but don’t always bother to vote. Don’t waste time trying to convince people on the opposite side to switch sides – it almost never works and, worst case, could cause you to lose a friend.

Jeff

Well said, thank you for saying this.

I really question the effectiveness of knocking on doors in getting people to vote. In fact, it’s actually made me want to vote in the opposite way. Example, the Sawant campaign has been knocking on my door repeatedly because I once donated money to the campaign as a result of being pressured to by a canvasser.

The repeated visits by these people have me seriously considering voting to recall her just so I no longer have these people coming to my door every week.

Also, if canvassers want to improve their bang for the buck, stop targeting people who vote in every election. Changes are they know who they are voting for, and a conversation with a 20 year old isn’t going to change it. Target people who vote only in general elections instead.