Get Out and Vote!

Election Day will be here before we know it, (it’s Tuesday, Nov. 5), and with early voting in New York this year, it will be easier than ever to cast your ballot.

And, before we go any further, now is the perfect time to remind you that if you want to be eligible to vote in the general elections, you have until Friday to register. Registrations must be postmarked by that date or delivered in person to your local Board of Elections.

Now, I know that this is what many people consider an “off” year, because there are only local races on the ballot. For a lot of people, if they’re not weighing in on who will represent us in Washington, then it doesn’t really matter and there’s no point in voting.

Wrong!

So many issues that directly impact your life are actually decided at the local level.

Want a second option for cable TV? Your town has to agree to a contract with a provider. Is the zoning preventing you from opening a business in your neighborhood? Better take it up with your local officials. Think your property taxes are too high? Well, it’s local officials who sign off on the annual budget and the revenue they need comes largely from the taxpayers.

And what about the local referendums – like whether or not to give more money to your library? Yes, a large number of libraries require voters to approve their annual spending. Ditto for fire houses. And there’s also the school board, which makes big decisions about the next generation, don’t forget about that.

I’ve voted in every election since 2003. Big issues, small issues. Elections where it seemed the outcome was already determined. Times when I thought it might be close. I voted every time.

Last year, I decided to take on a more active role in encouraging those in my community to get out and let their voices be heard. I signed up for neighborhood canvassing and phone banking.

The neighborhood canvassing is actually pretty fun. Basically you get a list of doors and you go knock on them and encourage whoever answers to get out and vote. If no one’s home, you stick some material in their door and move on.

Depending on how it’s structured, sometimes you get paired up with people and sometimes you’re on your own, so bring a friend if you feel uncomfortable flying solo.

It may seem intimidating to knock on the door of a total stranger. But, everyone I’ve visited has been neutral at worst, and enthusiastic at best.

The people who really don’t want to talk to you just pretend they aren’t home. I’ve had people try to give me food (I declined), one guy thought I was collecting money and tried to pay me (I wouldn’t let him), and another house I visited must not get a lot of company because the whole family, husband, wife, and several kids, all gathered on the front porch to see me.

As for the phone banking, I might leave that to others. It seemed like it would be a good time – a whole bunch of us gathered in one location, all making calls and getting out the word to others. What it actually ended up being was two hours of dialing, listening to the phone ring, getting no answer, and trying the next number. Occasionally, someone would answer but then hang up on me. I engaged maybe two people in an actual conversation the whole time.

Over the summer, I worked a booth at the Columbia County Fair, handing out material, absentee ballot applications, and voter registration forms.

It’s largely the same as the canvassing. The people who want nothing to do with you don’t even make eye contact. In an effort to drive people to the booth, I would occasionally call out to people and ask if they are registered to vote. Most people said yes and kept walking. A few stopped for a registration form. Several looked at me as if I asked them to sell their soul to the devil.

Overall, it has been an interesting adventure, for sure. I realize that technically I am canvassing for one political party over the others, but whether or not the people whose literature I hand you win their races in the end the be-all, end-all for me.

What I really want is for everyone who’s eligible to exercise their right to vote. Make your voice heard and make sure those in office are the the people who believe will best represent the wishes of the communities they serve. I’ll be out there again this month, encouraging neighbors to get out and vote.

I just may knock on your door!

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