Saturday, July 2, 2011

Elections Volunteering: My Thoughts on the Experience

I forgot to post about this a long time ago!  Back in Fall 2010, I volunteered for some local elections.  I thought you might want to know a little bit about my experience... maybe even as a heads-up, if you ever do this kind of volunteer work yourself! 

What I Did

* I worked for the local Republican party in my county, for the campaign of a candidate running for the House of Representatives who would represent my district.   I volunteered on two separate days:

* Day 1: A few weeks or so before election day, I worked at the GOP booth in a local, neighborhood festival.  The main purpose of the booth was to spread awareness and offer information about the candidate I was volunteering for.  I was there for five hours... but I didn't actually do very much.  Occasionally, I handed out balloons with the candidate's name on them, and for a little while I stood in a street median, in front of the festival, waving campaign signs to cars (THAT was fun).  But, mostly I just sat around and talked/listened to other Republican volunteers at the booth, waiting to be needed.

Handing out balloons
Waving campaign signs with another volunteer 

* Day 2: On election day, I "worked the poll" for three hours, at a local school where voting was taking place.  What that means, is I handed out Republican party sample ballots (slips of paper that told you who to vote for, if you were voting Republican).  The ballots also included some information about the state constitutional amendments that were being proposed, that civilians were voting on.

Working the poll

Cool & Interesting Things...

* At the festival, I got to shake the hand of the candidate I was volunteering for.  (Honestly, it wasn't as exciting as you might think it would be.  He shook hands with EVERYONE else at the festival.)  :-)

* In addition to handing out sample ballots on election day, I handed out literature with a local (very local) politician who was running for the board in her neighborhood.  She was handing out her information to convince people to vote for her.

* Interestingly, there was no opposition in either place (the festival or the school).  The candidate I was volunteering for ended up winning (this was his gazillionth time or so in office >_>), so the other party probably just knew they had no chance in this particular election... but that is not always the case!!

What I Learned (About the Political Process)

* A lot of (political) volunteer work is really easy and really boring; standing around waiting to be available, handing out literature, doing other mundane things like sealing envelopes or making phone calls (neither of which I did, in that particular volunteer experience).

* It often doesn't take much to try to convince someone to vote for someone; just make the candidate's name known (put up signs, make phone calls, send political advertisements in the mail).  This is not always the case, of course; but some people are just too busy to do any more research about the candidates.  To demonstrate this fact: on election day, one man came up to me, and the politician I was working with, and asked us who he should vote for!  He was coming to vote, and he had no idea who he was going to vote for!  I don't think this is a good thing, but it is, unfortunately, a fact here in America (at least, around where I live): a lot of people simply don't do research on the candidates... so, it often doesn't take much to convince them to vote a certain way.  (Again, I wish it WASN'T this way.)

Other Reflections on the Experience...

Reflection #1: While a lot of the people I worked with were REALLY nice, I often noticed an attitude (in their conversations) of "us against them".  The way they would mention the "other side" made it seem as if they (Republicans) were "all right", and the other side (Democrats) was "all wrong".  I'm not saying all Republicans are like that; that's just what I witnessed with the small group of people I was around.  

Sometimes I wish people would not see it as so black and white, but, so it often is with politics.  (Now, don't misunderstand me: morals, values, and virtues are always black and white, and they should never be compromised.  I'm not talking about morals; I'm simply talking about political parties.  I don't think it's a good, or Christlike, attitude to treat the other political party like it's made up of 100% bad-guys, and your own political party like it's 100% good-guys.  It's just politics.  But, that's just my opinion.)

Reflection #2: Remember how I said I worked with a politician on election day, who was asking people to vote for her?  Well, there was something I noticed, consistently, as she carried on conversations with people: wrapped up in all the different questions and conversations, people seemed to have one central question for her: "So, Ms. Politician, what are you going to do for us?"  They wanted to know, how would having her in office affect their day-to-day lives?  

I thought it was interesting, because it probably reflected the general attitude towards politics that most people have.  Does this matter for my normal life?  Will it affect my family, job, home, etc.?  Otherwise, why should I stop my regular life too long to pay attention to politics if it doesn't directly affect my regular life?

Politicians are so wrapped up in politics, that sometimes they forget that most normal people don't care about politics in the way they do.  They just care about: how does it affect my day-to-day life?  It's something politicians should remember if they ever want to relate to us "ordinary" citizens.  They should remember what our perspective on politics is.


All in all... volunteering like this is always a good experience.  It's a great way to step out of your comfort zone, expand your field of experience a little more, and even learn something (in this case, learn a little bit about politics).  What I did for the elections was an easy, and (at times) somewhat boring process... but, I'm glad I did it.

Comment Suggestions :-)

Have you had any "adventures" involving volunteer work or politics?  Any words of advice or caution, for people wanting to volunteer for a cause or get involved in politics?  Please share your thoughts!