Volunteering to get out the vote is one of the more rewarding things you can do in an election that you feel strongly about. If you’ve spent any time calling voters from a campaign phonebank, you probably noticed the convivial atmosphere — one recent evening in Florida, volunteers even got to have a potluck dinner and watch the presidential debate together. Some of the volunteers had travelled from out of state to help in Florida. They were college students, but young people aren’t the only ones who travel to battleground states to work for for their candidates. Many intrepid seniors volunteer to knock on doors in cities far from home.
In key battleground states, where the results are close, getting out the vote can make the difference between an election lost and an election won. Studies have confirmed that knocking on people’s doors helps increase the chances that they will actually vote on Election Day. And this year, Congress hangs in the balance, too.
To learn more, we talked to Gail and Tim Healy, who are both in their 70s. This election isn’t the first time they’ve been out-of-state volunteers. They canvassed door to door in Ohio for Obama in 2008 and again in Florida in 2012. Neither had political experience — they were drawn to campaigning by their daughter, a field director for the Democrats — but they quickly found that all you need is the energy to walk door to door for a full day and the willingness to engage with people who may or may not want to talk to you.
This year, the Healys plan to travel to Arizona, considered by some to be a 2016 battleground state, to canvass for Hillary Clinton.
What was it like to go knocking on doors far from home?
Tim: It was amazing. Every day we were in a different neighborhood and talked to a totally different group of people from all walks of life. We knocked on doors in rough neighborhoods and quite affluent ones. The list that volunteers use is targeted to certain voter profiles, so it’s not quite cold calling, but you never really know what kind of reception you’re going to get. For the most part, we met wonderful people —but not always. We had doors slammed in our faces and were invited in for coffee.
What was the scariest moment?
Gail: On our first day, we went to a tough neighborhood where people were living in cars. We passed one house that we wanted to go into, but we saw someone coming out with a rifle. So we quickly turned around and moved on. When we went back to the office, they couldn’t understand why we didn’t knock on the door even though he had a rifle. That was how committed the campaign was. But the end of day, it was an incredible feeling to meet so many different people you’d never meet in your lifetime—in strange neighborhoods you’d never go to otherwise.
How effective is knocking on doors?
Tim: It makes a difference in a close election. It can contribute three to five percent to the outcome. In Ohio, Obama won by one percent, and in Florida in 2012 by half of one percent. We like to think our knocking on doors made all the difference, because those states were critical to the outcome of the election.
Knocking on doors is more than just that. You do continual follow-up by phone, reminding people to register, to vote. Going door to door is refining the universe—you’re finding out who people support and and then making sure they vote.
Did you try to change people’s minds?
Tim: We weren’t proselytizing. We left when we got definite no’s or undecideds. We had some points of emphasis that the campaign educates you on. It’s not like you’re going out cold. They give you a script with talking points.
We had rewarding moments even with people who were against Obama. I was a Vietnam Vet, and I’d meet bikers who would question Obama’s patriotism. That would lead me to get into conversations about how I was supporting him as a vet. It really opened a conversation that was respectful on both sides.
What was the most rewarding moment?
Gail: The night of the election in ’08, we were sent out at the last minute to some really bad projects. One car that drove by warned us to leave. But knocking on doors, we found that everyone was so happy. One woman even came out and danced with us. It was an eye-opening education. You go to places you’re afraid to go to, then the door opens and you have a wonderful conversation. You find out there are incredible people in our society who are ignored, but their vote still counts. That is the great experience.
What was your relationship with other volunteers?
Tim: There was a sense of community which was rewarding. People really felt they were making a difference.
Do you think people treated you differently because you were older?
Tim: There were lots of older volunteers. Probably people are a little kinder because of the gray hair.
What was election night like?
Gail: We spent election night in 2008 in the projects, where everyone was partying. We were exhausted, because we’d been up early, but when we got back to where we were staying, we stayed up just long enough to turn on the TV and find out that Obama had been elected.
How is this election different?
Gail: We’re afraid of Trump. We don’t know what we’re going to face in Arizona, which has been a Republican state. But right now it’s very close in Arizona.
What should people do who want to volunteer?
Gail: Go to the local headquarters of your candidate. If you want to travel to a swing state they might help put you up. The Clinton campaign does line up supporter housing in swing states.
How to Volunteer for Your Candidate
If you’re retired or semi-retired, you might have some extra time on your hands. Either way, you’re sure to have skills and experience that will be of value during a political campaign. When you sign up online, you’ll get information about phone banking, canvassing in your area and/or traveling to battleground states.
To travel to a battleground state
Want to volunteer in a battleground state?
According to Voices4Hillary.com, “If you are planning to go to a state for an extended stay and need help arranging accommodations and contacts, email firstname.lastname@example.org and we will put you in touch with people who can help.
The site also has a link for a list of the Hillary Clinton Campaign State Directors in all 50 states. You could contact the campaign director in the state where you want to volunteer. Some states have forms you can fill in if you wish to travel from of of state. Try Googling “Volunteer for Hillary in [name of state].”
We were unable to find details on how to volunteer for the Trump campaign in battleground states.
Want to canvass close to home or do phone banking?
- Volunteer for the the Clinton Campaign (we recommend not checking the box that says “Yes, I’d like to receive periodic text messages from HFA”!
- Volunteer for the Trump campaign
- Volunteer for the Jill Stein campaign
- Volunteer for the Gary Johnson campaign
For people who prefer to make calls from home, the Hillary campaign has created a simple online guide and script. Click here to access it.
Ready to host a volunteer who’s traveling from out of state?
We were unable to find links for the Trump campaign. To sign up as a host for the Democrats, try contacting the state director by selecting your state here.
- Host a Clinton volunteer in Ohio
- Host a Clinton volunteer in Florida
- Host a volunteer in Pennsylvania
Are you planning to volunteer or already volunteering?