Doing the Work of Democracy Despite Lousy Tech and Data

Door-knocking is the best way to earn votes, but for all their vaunted tech savvy, Democrats’ core tools and voter data are a mess

Micah Sifry

--

Sunday I spent the afternoon walking the hills of ex-urban Woodbury, NY, about an hour north of New York City, knocking on doors with about 30 other volunteers from my local Indivisible group, NYCD16-Indivisible, along with a smattering of other grassroots activists from Westchester county. We were there to talk to registered Democrats about several candidates, starting with Tim Ryan, a veteran who is running in the newly redrawn 18th district, along with several of his down-ballot colleagues including James Skoufis, an energetic two-term state senator.

It was a gorgeous day to be out and about, vibrant with the yellow-orange-red hues of almost-peak autumn in the Northeast. And it was even better to be door-knocking with friends, people I’ve been working side-by-side with since late 2016. (Canvassing together is much better than showing up at a random place to do it solo.) All told, our group, which broke into pairs and got lists of addresses all in the surrounding verdant hills, hit more than 650 doors in total and tallied 168 conversations. According to the field staffer overseeing the afternoon, we identified 130 supporters for Ryan and the other candidates, which is pretty good considering that our list was focused on infrequent Democratic voters, not the people who reliably have voted prior elections.

Sadly, MiniVan, the app we were using to walk our designated turfs and tally our interactions, is still just as frustrating to use as ever. There’s still no built-in way to add new names to the file, which is madness. Nor has NGP-VAN, MiniVan’s maker, or the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, the sponsor of this particular canvas, done much to fix ongoing errors in the Democratic voter file. Of the 30 doors where I had a conversation, at six I was told that the person I was asking for had moved, and in three cases “ten years ago.” Later, when a young Hispanic dad playing with his kids saw me pass in the street, he called out to me to say that “my whole house is voting your way.” I realized he was one of the people whose door I had knocked earlier only to…

--

--