NORTH ADAMS — While the coronavirus pandemic largely halted door-to-door political canvassing, several Berkshire-based groups continued working to get out the vote this year.
“Democracy is like an old house, and ours had a lot of deferred maintenance,” said Joyce Hackett, a New Marlborough resident who founded Lift+Every+Vote, a nonpartisan group that has over 2,100 volunteers nationwide. “It needs to be maintained, and we need every citizen to be engaged in that.”
After weeks of mailing letters and postcards, groups like Lift+Every+Vote are making a final push through text-banking and phone-banking to get swing-state voters to participate. There is a particular focus on reaching voters from historically underrepresented demographics.
Lift+Every+Vote sent 548,080 registration postcards to potential voters in the states of Florida, Georgia and Pennsylvania. In Florida, communications were targeted at debt-free returning residents, and in Georgia, they were aimed at unregistered Black voters younger than 40.
Without the certainty that mailed ballots will get to officials on time, a top priority now is helping voters return their absentee ballots.
“The post office has declared that, in soft language, that they can no longer guarantee ballots that were mailed as of Tuesday will arrive in time,” Hackett said.
Deadlines vary by state, but in Massachusetts, ballots must be postmarked by Nov. 3 and received by 5 p.m. Nov. 6.
Although voter suppression often is associated with racial animosity in the U.S. South, much of it is done legally through disruptions or the spread of misinformation, Hackett said.
Seeking to resist those “shenanigans,” Hackett serves as a captain for the national Election Protection hotline, which provides potential voters with guidance and information to ensure their ballots are cast and counted. It can be reached at 866-OUR-VOTE.
While volunteers can contribute through “ballot curing” — that is, helping voters fix problems with ballots so their votes can be counted — the most popular and most convenient option has been to provide encouragement to prospective voters through phone or text.
The Massachusetts Public Interest Research Group’s New Voters Project seeks to walk young voters through making a plan to vote. College students working with MASSPIRG are hosting a “virtual party” Monday and Tuesday, via Zoom to encourage young people to vote.
“Our data shows that, on phone-banking outreach, obviously, the safest way to reach voters this election, three contacts between this past Saturday, 10 days before Election Day, and Election Day increases the likelihood a voter will turn out by 4.5 percent,” said Brian Andersen, campus organizer for MASSPIRG. “And that number will increase to 5 percent if that contact is made by a peer.”
Turnout among individuals ages 18 to 29 in the 2016 presidential election fell below 50 percent, lagging more than 15 points below overall turnout.
Domenica Gomez, a Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts sophomore interning with the New Voters Project, attributes low turnout to lack of familiarity with the voting process, rather than disinterest.
“By having the help of students or young people like them, it just allows them to feel comfortable to register to vote and do it safely, of course,” Gomez said.
EphVotes, a Williams College group, sent state-specific emails to each student, and put envelopes and stamps in each campus mailbox.
Some Democrat-aligned groups in the county, which tends to vote largely Democratic, also have sought to increase turnout in swing states, with the intention of boosting the chances of presidential hopeful Joe Biden.
Virginia O’Leary, a member of Berkshire Democratic Brigades, hand-wrote 1,000 letters encouraging swing-state voters to participate. The Brigades continued to call prospective voters in swing states, and several members will travel to New Hampshire to serve as poll-watchers.
Left Field, based in Great Barrington, has, along with the Rural Freedom Network, worked to elect Maine House Speaker Sara Gideon to the state’s U.S. Senate seat occupied by Susan Collins, a Republican. Starting Saturday, Left Field members were to be phone-banking with the Maine Democratic Party seeking to elect Gideon, through four shifts daily from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m.
“In these last few days, the voters that we’re trying to reach are those infrequent drop-off voters and underrepresented communities,” said Holly Morse, a Left Field co-founder. “The best way to activate those voters, in a time where mostly we can’t canvass, are those micro-conversations, those one-on-one phone calls.”
While Greylock Together, a North County group, aligns with the left-leaning Indivisible movement, getting out the vote itself is a “party-agnostic” effort, said Alexander Davis, a Greylock Together organizer.
“We encourage everyone to register to vote and get to the polls,” Davis said. “While we focus on particular demographics, trying to get people to vote should not be — although it seems like it is, these days — a partisan effort.”
Greylock Together is hosting an all-day “extravaganza” Tuesday on Zoom to phone-bank with others. “There’s a feeling of fellowship when you’re all joined together in solidarity in pursuit of a common goal,” Davis said. “It’s not just comforting and supporting — it’s also inspiring to know you’re just one person on a larger team.”
This story has been updated to correct Joyce Hackett’s residence.