How to Walk a Precinct for a Candidate

Are you a political activist or reluctant volunteer?

My Photo, © Barbara Radisavljevic

Have you volunteered to walk a precinct?

America is politically polarized as I write this. Some people have become politically apathetic. They may not support anyone running for office enough to bother voting. Others care deeply about supporting or opposing specific candidates or ballot issues. They want to get involved.

If you want to get involved, you can donate to campaigns or show your support on social media. You can help get out the vote by making phone calls or walking precincts. I’ve done all of these. But walking precincts was the most interesting. If you plan to walk precincts, here is some information that may help you.

What does it mean to walk a precinct?

A precinct is the smallest voting unit in American politics. Even small towns may have several precincts. A precinct might be a large residential tract or a smaller one with a couple of other nearby tracts attached. It may cover more territory in a rural area. My husband and I volunteered to walk the precinct we live in.

When you walk a precinct, you knock on doors and meet people who happen to be home and ask them to support your candidate. You probably also hand them a brochure or flyer to read that explains what your candidate stands for.

It’s best if candidates do their own walking, but sometimes that’s impossible, especially in a large area. The candidate we walked for couldn’t walk very far himself. He has one artificial leg. He can move around a house or office and get in and out of a car, but walking several blocks isn’t possible for him. His walking volunteers acted as his legs to introduce him to voters.

What do I have to do when I walk a precinct?

When you agree to walk a precinct, your candidate’s campaign gives you a list of registered voters who live in that precinct. Candidates usually purchase these lists from a political party or another source. The list contains registered voters, their names, phone numbers, addresses, and party affiliations. They also show the voter’s age, sex, how many times they’ve voted in the last four elections, how many times they have voted absentee or whether they are permanent absentee voters. There is also a list of response codes, which I will explain below.

The lists are arranged by street and street number. For each street, there is a list of odd-numbered homes and even-numbered homes. That’s supposed to make it easier for volunteers to pair up so that each of the pair can walk a different side of the street. We don’t do it that way. We walk one side first and come back on the other. We stay together so my husband can charm all the big dogs we encounter. Yes, you will probably encounter dogs.

Image by Zozz_ from Pixabay

Here’s how we walk a precinct

We park the car on a corner halfway between the ends of the route we want to walk. We count out how many handouts will be needed for the houses we expect to cover before we get back to the car. Then we start walking. I carry a clipboard with the list and a pencil. Hubby carries the literature.

We only go to the houses on the list. These lists usually only include voters of the candidate's own party in a partisan race. When we approach a door, we look for No Solicitors signs. We don’t ring the bells of houses that have them. Instead, we leave the flyer under the mat or in an easier to reach place if available. If a gate is locked, we take the hint. I confess to hoping that everyone will have the sign or a locked gate since I hate disturbing people. My husband is the opposite. He loves finding people home so he can talk to them.

If someone answers the door, we state which candidate or candidates we are walking for. (One can try to kill two birds with one stone and have brochures for two candidates — one running for a partisan office, and one running for a local non-partisan office.)

We ask if the resident has any feedback on something he or she wants our candidates to know. Does the resident have any particular concerns about what’s happening in the city (or county, state, country.) So far this approach has led to some productive conversations.

Each time we find someone home we are supposed to circle one of the response codes as to whether they will vote for our candidate. Here’s what they look like:

Y= Will support

N= Will not support

U= Undecided

NH= Not home

MV= Moved

AV= Already voted

V= They’d like to volunteer

LS= They’d like a lawn sign.

I don’t like asking people how they plan to vote, so unless it is obvious in their reaction, I normally just circle U. If there is a No Solicitors, sign I circle NH. Since I walked this same precinct last year, I already know some of those on the list have moved. (A lot of good it did to mark it!) Once the person who answered the door said the person on the list had moved. Since she was herself a registered voter, I gave her the literature and the pitch anyway.

Walking precincts is a form of door-to-door selling. People aren’t expecting you and don’t usually know you. I always feel like an intruder, even though a few people have been friendly and even chatty. One couple stood outside and talked to us for an hour, and they did a lot of the talking. Others take the literature, say they will read it, we thank them, and say goodbye. One year I had someone thank me for walking since she couldn’t and she was glad someone was doing it.

Even though I would rather not do this, at least I’m getting exercise, and I much prefer walking to making phone calls.

Walking and calling are all part of what’s called getting out the vote. It’s said to help win elections. So I hope it does some good. We try to finish our walking before people get their absentee ballots and start voting. After that, most people you contact have already voted. I know that was the case when I was walking in 2012 just before Halloween.

Tips in a Nutshell

  • Wear comfortable shoes and keep a jacket or sweater in the car. Weather can change.
  • Either carry water or have some in the car. Keep snacks there, too, in case you run out of energy
  • Use a clipboard and don’t forget a pen or pencil.
  • Always be courteous, especially if you disagree with someone. Avoid confrontation.
  • Remember that listening is as important as talking.
  • Your goal is to make a positive impression that will reflect well on your candidate.
  • Don’t enter the home of someone you don’t know
  • Have one personal reason you support your candidate ready to share if asked. It’s best if you can state it in one sentence.
  • Walk with a partner. You never know what situation you may face.
  • Finish your walking at least a week before early voting starts

Now get out there and walk

I hope this first-hand account of how we walk precincts and the tips above will help anyone who may be doing it for the first time this year. No matter how you feel, take a deep breath, and just start. It’s not as frightening as you may be anticipating.

Have you ever walked precincts? How do you feel about your experience? Would you rather walk or call if you have to choose? If you are on the receiving end, how do you feel about a candidate or his representative coming to your door with candidate information? Would you rather get a phone call? How do you prefer to help the candidates you support?

Christian, bereaved adoptive mom, blogger, amateur nature photographer, voracious reader. Married 54 years. Central Coast of California.

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