Like most New England states, Connecticut has a long tradition of running horrific paid GOTV programs. Veteran operatives have seen it all—mutinous canvassers, ACORN-style groups lying about voter contacts and local activists demanding cash to pay “their people” on Election Day.
Sometimes it’s better not to ask questions. But from my experience, there are ways to avoid replicating the common pitfalls of paid get-out-the-vote operations—the kind of pitfalls that can mean flushing thousands of dollars down the toilet or sending the organizer on a one-way trip to campaign finance purgatory.
Last cycle, we launched an effort to clean up the paid GOTV business. If you’ve got some of the same issues in your state, here are a few steps you can use as a starting point. Play by the same rules: The key to running successful paid GOTV programs, wherein canvassers and drivers are recruited to knock-and-drag supporters to the polls, is getting every campaign that will run one to play by the same rules. For starters, discuss this at an early coordinated campaign table conversation. Once you agree, announce together that all campaigns in the state will operate the same way. If operatives want paid GOTV work, they will need to play by these rules. Push hard to do these programs the right way, but be sensitive that it’s a big change in some areas. Work with community leaders, but on your program: Most communities have small-time political bosses or operatives who typically were given cash payments before Election Day and tasked with recruiting grassroots muscle. These local politicos—the practice goes—are the ones who dole out the cash to their staff independently. That’s problematic, to say the least. If you run into this, explain that your campaign is doing things differently and will be doing the hiring directly this year. Keep the leader involved by, say, asking him for suggestions, but then interview and hire these folks independently.
Moreover, explain to the leader that the people he recommends will be held to standards and let go if they don’t meet them. Also, let them know that you will ask for his help if problems arise. Operatives and community leaders can be a great source of recommendations, just sure they understand the expectations of the job and that their people aren’t untouchable.
Pay for specifics: This is a simple idea that requires additional planning on your part, but you should pay your staff by the hour or by the shift. Drivers who don’t do voter contact should be paid less. If a driver will knock, pay them the same, but offer a gas card. Thinking of paying by the door knock, call, voter registration or absentee ballot request? Be careful—you’ve left yourself wide open to fraud. Bonuses and other forms of compensation can be tools to encourage performance, but basing an entire pay structure on knocks or voter registrations will encourage a system of manufactured results and faulty data.