Published with permission from AlterNet
Democrats are scared, and for good reason. Political scientists who have been saying since last winter that Hillary Clinton will win in November are not just dialing down those predictions, but also now saying that Democrats’ odds of taking back the Senate are getting much thinner.
“It will surprise no one following this contest to learn that Trump supporters, and Republicans generally, are more committed just now,” writes the team led by the University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato. “Clinton has not lit a fire under her supporters, and to the contrary, her missteps have disheartened them a bit. It is also true that Democrats frequently get engaged later in the campaign season, and as a result, we might expect the enthusiasm gap to decline somewhat in the seven weeks remaining.”
There are more variables in play—presidential swing states, swing counties in those states, competitive Senate races—and that means Americans who don’t want to see a President Trump or right-wing Supreme Court have to push aside their worries and spend some time ensuring that they and others can vote.
“I see people coming in, like just today, who have heard about the new polls, and they are scared,” said Shelley Carroll, a front desk volunteer at Clinton’s San Francisco office, this week. “My own personal thing is acting like we are 50 points behind and praying for a landslide.”
The path from today to Election Day victories is straightforward, even with identifiable obstacles such as new GOP-passed laws in 15 states complicating some steps in the process to discourage their opponent’s perceived base from voting—from communities of color to college students and young people.
In all cases, the first step is ensuring you are registered to vote. But just as important is ensuring your voter registration information is current if you moved or got married and changed your name since the last time you voted. Only a few states track and update that information automatically or allow you to update it at the polls on Election Day. Registration deadlines vary state by state and are as early as one month before Election Day on November 8.
Some states have a series of rolling deadlines depending on how and where one registers—online registration tends to go later than mailing in paper registration forms. A page from the Fair Elections Legal Network is as clear and simple as any online guide. Click on your state and you’ll see registration deadlines, required forms of ID to register or to get a regular ballot, and more. But if you have any questions, contact your county election office, as they manage all aspects of voting. These days, the most populous counties have Facebook pages and Twitter accounts, containing alerts, deadlines and contact information as well.
State-by-State Registration Deadlines
Registration is the current priority in the field operations of the Clinton campaign and its allies. As the University of Virginia’s political scientists noted, Democrats tend to get engaged later in the season than Republicans. In fact, Politico.com has reported that Trump’s supporters, including many previously unregistered voters, came out in the primaries and may have hit a ceiling.
There is some evidence that Trump’s campaign is not emphasizing voter registration like the Democrats, as phone banking scripts for his California supporters do not mention voter registration, but ask people to “make calls from home or join other volunteers to make calls from a field office. You can also visit a battleground state for a weekend in the fall to knock on doors or sign up to be a social media volunteer.” Similarly, another Trump phone banking script aimed at Arizona asked people who identify as supporters if they wanted to vote early or by absentee ballot, but not whether they were registered to vote.
Across the country, however, voter registration is still open and will only start closing for the November election on Columbus Day, October 10, or the next day. The deadlines vary state by state, but in many swing states it closes during the second week in October—meaning any eligible citizen who makes a last-minute decision to vote will be blocked unless they register by then. Each state has its peculiarities. In Nevada, a presidential swing state, the standard mail-in deadline is 31 days out from Election Day—Saturday, October 8—but in-person registration continues at some county election offices (such as Clark County, home to Las Vegas) or online via the Secretary of State’s website for 10 more days through October 18. Early voting starts in select locations the next week.
Besides avoiding last-minute rushes—when it may be hard to get a county election official on the phone—be mindful that different states count the days to their close of registration on the calendar differently, especially this year when it falls over a long weekend. For example, in Arizona and Florida, it’s 29 days out, but Arizona counts that as Monday, October 10, which is Columbus Day, whileFlorida says it’s Tuesday, October 11.
In Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania, the standard registration deadline is 30 days out, but those states are all closing their 2016 fall registration on Tuesday, October 11. In Georgia, it’s the same thing. Registration closes on the fifth Monday before Election Day, but that’s Columbus Day, so Georgia ends registration on Tuesday, October 11.
Indiana is 27 days out, also falling on October 11. North Carolina is 25 days out, falling on October 14. Virginia is 22 days out, falling on October 14. New Hampshire and Iowa are 10 days, out, and Colorado is eight days out, but those three states—unlike every other presidential swing state—have Election Day registration, meaning eligible voters can register and vote on November 8.
Registration Nuts and Bolts
There are many ways to register, such as links from groups like HeadCount.org, but those tend to be online portals to statewide election office websites, or to downloading and printing the paper voter registration forms available at any post office. This map and page from U.S. Election Assistance Commission has links to every state’s forms, online registration (available in more than half the states), where forms have to be mailed or turned in, and more.
The bottom line is don’t wait until the last minute, because election officials who process voter applications get deluged in presidential years when public interest is the highest. You don’t want your registration form somehow lost in that shuffle, which has been known to happen. The most certain process, if you have the time, is visiting your county’s election office and filling out forms and submitting them right there. (You can also ask if there are early voting options).
After you register, you have to present the state-required ID to get a regular ballot, whether you’re voting early or on Election Day. A state-by-state map from the National Conference of State Legislatures has the latest ID requirements, which vary nationwide. That range exists because in many red states Republicans have narrowed the accepted forms of ID to discourage new voters, who they assume will vote Democratic (or with Trump, now possibly libertarian).
A similar page from the Fair Elections Legal Network has links where targeted groups, such as state university students in Wisconsin, can obtain ID to get a regular ballot. In 2016, 15 states have new laws or ongoing litigation challenging the most regressive new rules. A state-by-state map from ProPublica.org tracks those laws and lawsuits. Again, voters must ensure their voting credentials are lined up and then do the same for others. That’s what the campaigns and political organizations that do not want to see a Trump presidency are doing right now.
What Clinton Volunteers Can Do
San Francisco’s Clinton headquarters is typical of what her supporters will find across the country. There, the focus is not just reaching out to registered Democrats (by phone banks) and asking if they are on board, but also if they will volunteer in any number of ways, such as updating individual voter files, hosting events or even spending a day or two in nearby swing states, where the campaign is knocking on doors and urging people to register or update their registration information.
The events page at HillaryClinton.com will bring you to a screen where, after entering a zip code, you can search through even more activities—canvassing, community, fundraising, get out the vote, organizing, training, and visibility. You also can filter the responses by a geographic radius, meaning that choosing a larger radius (250 miles) will show activities in neighboring states. For example, plugging in a New York City zip code and setting that radius shows weekend bus trips into Pennsylvania.
As the campaign progresses, the tasks will shift according to the locale’s priorities. “Right now it’s voter registration and canvassing,” said Carroll, the San Francisco office’s receptionist, speaking about their weekend bus trips to Nevada. The office also had a phone bank, tables where people are using their laptops to make and log phone calls, a welcome team greeting walk-ins, and volunteers bringing in food or helping to tidy up.
Similar Independent Efforts
Of course, there are other ways for people to participate in the campaign, such as via organizations in their lives. In Nevada, the Culinary Workers Union, the state’s largest, will deploy a team of 100 members (taking a leave of absence) to knock on doors of its 57,000 members and urge them to register to vote or ensure their voter file is current, spokeswoman Bethany Khan said this week.
“We’re the largest immigrant organization in the state, the largest organization of African Americans and Latinos,” Khan said. “Our members are afraid of Trump becoming president. Our members know him in Las Vegas. He’s fighting their effort to unionize. He’s running for president and running away from negotiating with them.”
Once the registration deadline passes, the focus will shift to voter turnout: ensuring everyone knows where to vote, has the proper ID, can get to the polls or cast a mail-in ballot, and does so. That template is true across the swing states and the several dozen swing counties within those states that are the purple epicenters that hold the balance to going red or blue.
“The path to the White House goes through Las Vegas and the Culinary Workers,” said Khan, which confirmed exactly what Politico reported—that winning Las Vegas means winning Nevada.
In Tight Races, Everything Matters
The Culinary Workers spokeswoman’s words may be even more prophetic. The analysts at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics counts Nevada as one of three presidential election “toss-up” states as of this week, meaning too close to call. The other two are North Carolina and Florida. However, Nevada also is one of four toss-up states that hold the key to the Senate majority—and Supreme Court confirmations, they said. The others are Pennsylvania, New Hampshire and Indiana.
As the conservative National Review’s Jim Geraghty wrote on Wednesday, the Culinary Workers’ organizing was undetected and underestimated in the state’s 2010 Senate race. “Remember Sharron Angle led the final polls in Nevada in 2010 over Harry Reid; the unions had their get-out-the-vote efforts in the highest gear and Reid won by almost six points.” Geraghty’s main point was that Trump needs to win all the toss-up states to become president.
Looking ahead to the seven weeks before Election Day, Democrats may be better positioned than Republicans when it comes to the ground game: finding, registering and tracking voters. That’s because Trump has left that role to the Republican National Committee and its allies like the National Rifle Association, which are concentrating on fewer states than Democrats. As Politico wrote last month, the GOP had more new voters in the primary season than Democrats, but those ranks may have peaked by the GOP convention.
Trump’s campaign also has fewer offices and less developed volunteer opportunities than Clinton. Trump’s campaign website doesn’t offer opportunities to help with voter registration and related activities, but seeks volunteers to make calls on behalf of their ticket. The scripts for Trump’s California-based calls mostly focus on identifying backers and urging them to vote at early voting sites or by mail.
As the race for the White House and the Senate heads toward Election Day and tightens, what matters most is the basic fundamental of American elections: securing one’s base and turning out the vote. In the short run, that means registering to vote, ensuring one’s voter file is up to date, and enlisting like-minded but unregistered voters. The time to do that is now, before state voter registration deadlines start closing in the second week of October.
Photo: Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump holds a rally with supporters in Aston, Pennsylvania, September 22, 2016. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst