Canvassers push during the final days of voter registration
Justin Alan Hood
It’s the evening before the voter registration deadline of Oct. 7. Night students and maintenance workers trickle through the UNM campus. Just a few hours ago, walkways and bus stops swarmed with canvassers and campaigners. Have these crusaders for partisanship laid down their pens until the next presidential election?
A few miles up at the intersection of Lomas and San Pedro, a woman paces the southwest corner, waiving a large sign at the honks of oncoming traffic: “Last-Minute Registration!” There’s a booth set up directly across the corner with a small line of citizens.
Canvassing is tough. It's a form of guerilla marketing that requires people skills and thick skin. We see them every day dressed in bright shirts; do-gooders clenching clipboards as if they were holy books. And we do our best to ignore them. Year-round, they ask us to sponsor children in third-world countries or take five minutes for the environment.
But there’s a different breed of them on the streets during election season. These political pushers don’t want money. What they extend is a voter registration card, and all they ask in return is a commitment that you'll show up to the polls Nov. 4.
“We’re always in your face trying to get you to believe in one thing or do the other.”
Canvasser Raun King
“I came all the way from Texas to help the Obama campaign in this final push before registration deadline,” says Rita, a canvasser who declined to give her real name. The group she's with started working the area at 4 p.m., beginning in front of Hastings. “We weren’t getting as much traffic there, so we decided to put our efforts right in traffic on the corners of the busy intersection.”
After hearing horror stories from environmentalists and other nonprofit canvassers, one has to wonder what these pavement pounders had to face during one of the most heated and divided presidential elections in U.S. history. Surprisingly, everyone is positive about their experiences during this year's effort.
“I think people are so confused on who to vote for that they're excited to talk to people involved about what’s going on,” says Clair Toledo, whose day job is teaching. After signing up to campaign, Toledo was sent door-to-door in her neighborhood. “Every door that answered was completely polite, even the ones that supported the opposite party that I was campaigning for.”
It’s no secret. Albuquerque citizens are concerned with which way this state swings in the presidential election. “New Mexico is a battleground state, and there are several of us campaigners that came in to do whatever we can to help,” says Rita.
Earlier this evening, a few Grassroots Campaigns canvassers post up in Nob Hill. A young man in plain jeans and scuffed shoes stands just past the Flying Star. He's no shorter than 6 feet 4 inches. Wearing a stern look and holding his chin high, he stops every passerby. “Are you registered to vote?” asks Raun King, whose first day on the job started one hour ago. “I’ve asked so many people that quite a few have shouted that I already asked them.” He says he understands why people are so apathetic toward him and his cohorts. "We’re always in your face trying to get you to believe in one thing or do the other.”
Beyond the Obama and McCain campaigns, there are several other organizations on the streets registering voters. There’s New Mexico Youth Organized, Grassroots Campaigns and Progressive Future, just to name a few.
“Most of these organizations are nonprofit but can still afford to pay canvassers, which keeps us motivated,” says Elena McCauley, who's from California. “The most discouraging thing I’ve gotten out of people are that they are felons, foreigners or just too young to vote.
“The demographics go all across the board, but our goal is to register as many as 500,000 voters before the voter-registration deadline.” By law, homeless citizens are allowed to register and vote. “On our sheets of registration papers," McCauley says, "there’s a section for homeless citizens to point out their location of transition so we can find them a precinct." But she adds that homeless citizens are usually the ones who tend to be negative toward the campaigns because of some bad experience or loss of trust in the U.S government.
The next day, UNM bursts with booths and canvassers of all agendas. The ones in the banana-yellow shirts that say StudentVote.org across the back make their final attempts to register voters.
“This is my first day on the job, and it’s not as bad as I thought it would be,” says Phillip Heinstein, a student and volunteer for PIRG, the company in charge of StudentVote.org. Heinstein was registered a year ago by the same type of canvassers he says he avoided in the past. “I’m just returning the favor and doing a favor for those that have put off registering until the final day.”
The Numbers in Bernalillo County
The Bernalillo County Clerk’s Office hadn’t finished processing voter registration cards as of press time; 17,000 remained. As of Monday, Oct. 13, it broke down like this:
Total registered voters: 387,450
Declined to confirm party: 62,594
The office is putting about 4,000 forms through the system every day. A final count is expected on Monday, Oct. 20.
About 1,400 forms were turned over to the FBI earlier this month on suspicion of being fraudulent.