On the final weekend before last Tuesday’s historic presidential election, members of the College Democrats hit the streets of Ohio with the objective of increasing voter turnout. By canvassing through various Cleveland suburbs, volunteers encouraged registered voters to get out to the polls by explaining voting procedures and by answering questions about the candidates, the parties and their policies.
The event was sponsored by America Coming Together, a non-partisan organization created by a 36-member coalition that promotes voting among the minority population in the United States. They raised $100 million from private donations, fund-raising events and grants from special interest groups, they raised over $60 million. This enabled the organization to pay hotel, food and other expenses for the 25,000 volunteers that participated in the project nationwide.
UR students became involved when Matt Larabbee, volunteer coordinator for ACT Rochester, contacted clubs from different universities in the Rochester area. These included UR, St. John Fisher College, SUNY Geneseo and the Rochester Institute of Technology. For the College Democrats, the canvassing trip to Cleveland was the last in a series of weekend excursions to major cities in the adjacent swing states, including Scranton, Pa., Cincinnati, Ohio and Erie, Pa. There were a total of 51 people from Rochester, 21 of them from UR.
On Saturday morning, students arrived at the May Lee Building, the ACT’s Cleveland headquarters. The participants discovered that among the 2,000 volunteers present, there were people from very diverse geographical and socioeconomic backgrounds. “The ages ranged from 18 to 80 years old,” Larrabee said. “Even celebrities like Robert Redford, Hillary Swank, Matt Dylan and Paul Newman showed up for the event.”
Later that day, the delegation was divided up into six-member groups that were each given a list of approximately 100 names and addresses in a specific suburb. Their task was to speak with people on the list and to answer any questions they had about voting and the election.
This gave canvassers an opportunity to converse with concerned voters regarding different topics, such as unemployment, terrorism, abortion, gay rights and health care. “One elderly woman who answered the door had tubes around her nose connected to oxygen tanks,” out-of-state activities coordinator for the College Democrats Adam Bink said. “Her main concern during the election was health insurance.”
After three days of hard work, the College Democrats were ready for some time off before the final stretch towards the election. On Monday evening before the election, the ACT canvassers were among the 50,000 people who attended a Bruce Springsteen concert. The concert turned into an ecstatic rally when Senator John Kerry himself appeared on stage and delivered a 30-minute speech. This gave the volunteers the motivation that they needed to finish strong.
At 5:30 a.m. on the day of the election, the volunteers were already on location, eager to work. “Despite 40-degree weather and pouring rain, we sprinted from house to house, placing door hangers on peoples’ doors before they left for work,” Larrabee said.
That evening, the canvassers gathered at the hotel to anxiously await the results of the election. Although the College Democrats were upset with the outcome, there were mitigating factors that offset this great disappointment. Kerry had the majority of votes in Cuyahoga County, where Cleveland is located.
In addition, the volunteers pride themselves on having contributed to the highest voter turnout in our nation’s history. “Looking back on it, it was a great experience and we would not change a thing,” Bink said.
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