A guest column penned by Brigid Callahan Harrison (yes, the Montclair State Brigid Harrison) that appeared in the Star-Ledger over the weekend caught my attention. The piece, “How votes by mail helped turn the tide for key races in N.J.’s big blue wave,” reminded me of something listeners of The Bob & Steve Show have heard me say numerous times – we now have an election season, not just election day.
For some odd reason Republicans in New Jersey cannot seem to figure out New Jersey’s Vote-by-Mail program. They act like it is some strange, out of this world concept. It’s not. Simply put, it’s an early voting system. At least 34 states, including New Jersey, have some form of early voting.
I’ll save the arguments about the potential fraud that can occur with voting by mail, but I will say I prefer in person early voting, much like the system in New Mexico with voting convenience centers. Unfortunately, this is New Jersey, so we are stuck with vote-by-mail.
Here’s the thing, it is not rocket science! In the Star-Ledger piece, Democratic party strategist (and all-around good guy) Steve Ayscue how easy this is:
The author of that playbook is Steve Ayscue, a political strategist who works for Norcross, and he describes their effort to drive out VBMs as a form of grassroots activism that is elegant in its simplicity: Ayscue invites party loyalists to house parties; Freeholders speak, food and drink is served, and then the Democratic loyalists cull through voter lists, identifying voters they know. These workers then become responsible for contacting “their voters” and ensuring that their ballots are returned. Starting in September and continuing through to Election Day, voters are texted, called and visited by a party worker they know and reminded to return their ballot.
Unlike campaigns that rely on random canvassers or volunteers, Ayscue says that “relationships still matter in politics,” and relationships are what deliver results.
What Ayscue explained in the Star-Ledger piece is exactly the kind of thing we did when I was the executive Director of the Bernalillo County GOP in New Mexico. It led to a pick up of a seat in the state senate, a seat on the county’s board of commissioners and eventually helped Republicans gain control of the state house of representatives for the first time in 60 years.
It’s also what we do in Greenwich Township (Gloucester County – the locals call it Gibbstown). It works! Greenwich Township Mayor George Shivery has won six terms now in a town that is roughly 5 – 1 Democrat to Republican. Our team knows personally about 60% of the people who are voting for him before an actual vote is cast. The volunteer who handles the computer program we use to track voters can tell us what the percentage of votes will be long before the results come in.
I mention Gibbstown because voter registration disadvantage doesn’t matter when it is about relationships. I am an elected member of county committee and I do as a committeeman should – I walk my neighborhood and meet my neighbors. One neighbor in particular I met is a union guy and was not registered to vote when we first met several years ago. He registered to vote, as a Democrat, “because I have to.” But every year when he gets his mail-in ballot he calls me and asks who I’m supporting, well okay, he asks, “who am I voting for?” It’s a personal relationship.
Another neighbor, one who places Democratic party candidate’s signs in his yard, calls me with basically the same question every election. Again, because there is a personal relationship.
I also mentioned Gibbstown because I’ve talked with folks who live in Camden County, almost every one of them says, “but the Democrats pay people to get them to vote by mail.” Maybe they do, maybe they don’t, but if the elected (or appointed) members of the county committee do as a member of the committee should and meet people you will earn their votes for the Republican ticket. It’s just an example that if people are willing to put in the work, they can win, no matter the voter registration disadvantage. President Trump and Bob Hugin both won Gibbstown despite losing New Jersey.
Being a committeeperson is more than simply putting your name on the ballot in June every couple of years. It requires work to build the personal relationships required to win. Try it, you might like the results. Start now and deliver Christmas cookies to your neighbors. I do.