Tuesday, November 4, 2008

OREGON VOTER TURNOUT: Rural Voters Translate Relationships to Turnout on Election Day

Here's a press release from Rural Organizing Project in Oregon about their voter turnout work:

Rural Group Supports Voters from Start to Finish on Election Day:
Building Relationships Translates to Voter Turnout

Scappoose, Oregon – In a year where much has been said about the value of community organizing and small towns, rural Oregon has a story of its own to tell about both.

Rural Organizing Project started their organizing for Election Day nearly a year ago. As one of Oregon’s only grassroots organizations that engage in non-partisan voter engagement strictly in small town and rural communities, ROP began educating and mobilizing volunteers in January through their network of 62 local human dignity groups.

An initial statewide gathering of 112 rural community leaders in Hood River in April 2008 grew to a voter mobilization effort that has included more than 412 volunteers in all 36 of Oregon’s counties. These ROP volunteers have knocked on 35,110 doors, made 6365 phone calls, held 33 ballot measure forums reaching 871 people, and distributed 65,000 voters guides by and for small town voters.

According to Ann Kneeland, a local leader with ROP member group Seeking Out Democracy in Junction City, “We’ve been around as a group for 4 years now, but it’s really in the last year that we’ve made the most gains in terms of contacts with the community.”

Like Seeking Out Democracy, another ROP member group Human Dignity Advocates in Prineville began contacting the community in May using a door-to-door survey that asked neighbor to weigh in on contentious issues of the day. This listening to neighbors approach allowed the local group to learn about the concerns in their town while also taking the first step in a relationship that carries on through Election Day. Over 400 neighbors were surveyed, sent a personal thank you note, and then invited to a community ballot measure discussion in mid-October. The group’s final contact was hand delivering voters guides with a personal greeting from their local group to 1000 households representing over 10% of the population of Prineville.

"I was really expecting a lot of door slamming," said Kathy Paterno, Human Dignity Advocates leadership team member and ROP Board member, "But there wasn't a lot of animosity at all. The intention was to have conversations with the community - to give them a chance to talk about the issues. There were people from the far left to the far right. They seemed happy to give their opinion. This election was different than others because there were a lot of people disgruntled with the way things are. We felt people were paying greater attention."

This attention from local community volunteers and persistence from the Rural Organizing Project is paying off. While voter turnout rates will not be completely known until after Election Day, as of Tuesday morning, 85% of ROP contacts had returned their ballots. This compares with a statewide voter return rate of 55% on November 2nd according to the latest figures from the Secretary of State.

Rural Organizing Project is Oregon’s grassroots organization that is moving democracy forward in rural Oregon. For more information, go to www.rop.org.

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1 comment:

Josephine Baker said...

ROP's got this right! Long term movement building cannot be replaced by elections but election can help ignite new relationships. This is especially important in rural communities where campaigns sweep in with staff and resources, disappearing just as quickly on Nov 5. ROP and other organizations at CCC reject that approach. This article is a fantastic example of strategy in action and communities leading the way. Good work! Great model.