Confessions of a Telephone Canvasser

By Lauren Paulson of Aloha, Oregon. Lauren is a writer and activist.

In my imagination I saved the day for Kerry in 2004. I wrote letters to the New York Times, I created a nationwide malleable blog site to extol his virtues, put up his signs on my front lawn where there is busy car traffic, went door-to-door, convinced all my conservative friends and my skin-head brother; heroic measures all. I didn't do any of them.

This year was different. Buoyed by the friendship of a fellow liberal, we talked a good story. And did none of it.

Chastened, I finally checked into the Obama For Change headquarters in Beaverton and lost my virginity. It was innocuous and downright fun. Entering there, I was met by a harried receptionist (with cheeks aglow for what she was doing for America). "Had I done it before?" "No", I sheepishly replied. "Sit over there, we are printing out the lists". A studious-looking twenty-something went over the dialogue sheet and gave us the ground rules. Pretty easy except for the codes for when somebody wasn't home or became difficult. The telephone numbers were for older Americans who would be home during the day. We even had their ages.

Beginning tentatively with my first call, I was relieved when no one answered. So, for the next call. (This is a low tech operation save the list.) We even used our own cell phones though they had hard lines available. Soon we all were listening to our phone-mates spiel. Our pitches were uneven but the subjects didn't care.

Ouch! The first grouch. Within fifteen minutes we all were in our rhythm and getting quite salty with the amiable seniors, some of whom actually wanted to talk about the merits of the issues and the candidates. Then I called that cute old man that had just had surgery, wanted to vote, but was unable to because of his physical situation. No problem, there is a service to run a ballot out. Husbands voted different from their wives and children different from their parents as one would expect, but it was so rewarding to find those that had already turned their ballots in and had voted right.

A veteran now after two three-hour sessions, I now have a sense of the electorate, a better sense of the comradarie of my fellow callers who become instant friends. Cynicism melts into seeing how rewarding it is to really do something for what one believes in and is worth working for. I am looking forward to going in again tomorrow.

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    I spent a couple hours calling Ohio voters for Obama yesterday, but finally quit after two voters complained to me of the overwhelming attention of the campaigns. One woman had been called five time by the Obama campaign and three times by McCain's, and though originally for Obama, she was so unhappy she was considering voting for neither. Unfortunately, I think the focus on the four or five battlegrounds this election has worn thin the patience of many of those states' residents.

  • Scabbers (unverified)

    Good job, Laura!

    I'm a shy person, but I door-door canvased with the Bus Project this October and found out that it wasn't so bad. In fact, I had a good time in spite of the few cranky people.

  • who (unverified)

    This Lauren Paulson?

    Nice work, BO!

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    I don't have any idea if that's the same Lauren Paulson. That said, this post isn't about the law - much less professional legal advice.

  • Gil Johnson (unverified)

    I have been a volunteer telephone canvasser since the second Clinton campaign in '96 and I'm now questioning the efficacy of last-minute phone barrages. On election day in 2004,I called voters in Florida for three hours and except for one poor woman who needed assistance getting to a polling place, I found mostly people where were pissed off about getting so many calls. In 2006, calling for Kulongoski, it seemed even worse. People were annoyed to the point of voting against the party calling them.

    It's important to get out the vote, but is there any way of measuring the backlash and seeing if we are actually netting a positive results with these calls?

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Voted "right"????????????

    as in voted for the "right candidate as dictated by you?

    Such Omnipotence

  • Stefan (unverified)

    "One woman had been called five times by the Obama campaign and three times by McCain's, and though originally for Obama, she was so unhappy she was considering voting for neither."

    Wow, how spoiled. She's going to forfeit her right to vote because the country cares too much about her decision. No wonder our democracy sucks.

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    Voted "right"????????????

    Yes, when you're working on a campaign, the goal is to get people to vote for your candidate. Duh.

  • Kurt Chapman (unverified)

    Sorry Kari, I thought that "Vote Early and Vote Often" died with Tammany Hall, Mayor Daily the Elder and Gov. Long.

  • Buckman Res (unverified)

    ”I found mostly people where were pissed off about getting so many calls.”

    I’ve had a similar experience, getting called as often as twice in the same day from Merkley people who didn’t keep track of how often voters had been called, didn’t know the candidates positions, and had to refer to a cheat sheet for vague answers instead of engaging in a discussion.

    Doesn’t reflect well on the candidate when his supports do such a poor job representing him.

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    Kurt -- Huh? Who said anything about ballot-box stuffing? Certainly not me, or the guest columnist...

    If you're sitting in a McCain phone bank, and you call someone and they say that they voted for McCain, that's someone that "voted right".

    Do you not understand that? Or are you just bored and trying to provoke a fight?

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    I’ve had a similar experience, getting called as often as twice in the same day from Merkley people who didn’t keep track of how often voters had been called

    Buckman -- Can you confirm that you got both of those calls from the same organization, i.e. Merkley for Oregon?

    It's certainly possible that you might have received one call from the Merkley campaign - and then another pro-Merkley call from any of the MANY organizations that are helping push Merkley over the top... including some that are not allowed, by law, to coordinate anything with the Merkley campaign.

    Annoying, to be sure, but not a sign of an incompetent campaign. Rather, a campaign with lots of separate organizations all working toward the same goal.

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    I have to say that I've had almost no phone calls.

    I got one yesterday that I think was from the Kahl campaign, but the woman spoke so fast I couldn't say for sure.

    I've gotten a few from Republican/conservative organizations. Either they're targeting Republicans who changed parties (my husband) or they're using a really old list.

    The funniest one was the person who called this morning from the Taxpayer Association of Oregon urging us to vote for John Lim. Of course we haven't lived in Lim's district in almost 2 years - we live in Minnis' district and voted for Kahl.

    That's it. I've actually been surprised at the lack of calls at our house, especially since I just dropped off our ballots yesterday and there are three registered Dems in the house who always vote.

  • janna (unverified)

    Having spent numerous days at the Forward Oregon office making phone calls, I can tell you the energy and the dedication of the volunteers is wonderful. The Forward Oregon interns are doing a great job at organizing and recruiting volunteers. All I can say if you think you are getting more than one phone call from them, it is most likely different organizations calling. With that said no system or person is perfect but the intent is good.It is exciting to see so many people energized to give up their time to make phone calls for Jeff. Today the parking lot was filled and volunteers had to park on the side streets, I had to wait just to pull in the parking lot, what an exciting experience. Ps Buckman, The really neat things about phones is you don't have to answer it if you don't want to. GO Obama, Go Merkley, Go Chuck Riley!

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    I have been calling Montana at home through wasn't given the option on-line of calling Oregon because I think the campaign has gotten very good at concentrating it's efforts -- calling only in those states where the GOTV is truly a concern. Thought this might account for the lack of calls....

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    Buckman Res,

    Kari's almost certainly right; the one way you could end up getting two calls from the campaign itself would be if someone either forgot to enter a code or entered a wrong one that left your name in the set of uncalled numbers. has been organizing calling parties for people to call others, often MoveOn members, in other states. So they were organizing Oregon people to call Ohio or Florida or elsewhere. But apparently they are also organizing it in the other direction -- I got a call from a very nice MoveOn guy in Florida encouraging me to vote. I'd not sure if this is just disorganization or if there is an intent to try to create some sense of connection or solidarity across state lines, rather than have Oregonians call the Oregon numbers.

    Kurt, I know you get a bit tetchy about things you see infringing on people's independence, but "vote right" in this context just means "vote the way I hope" -- the conversations you have with someone who already has done are just a very different kind of thing than ones enve with someone who hasn't voted and especially if still not entirely decided. You know, "thanks, isn't it exciting, are you worried? etc."

    Doesn't mean that someone who disagrees or votes the other way is a bad person for exercising that freedom or that someone who says "votes right" is implying they are.

  • MCT (unverified)

    I really can't believe some of the immediate nit-picky, stomp-on, PC vs semantics comments here.

    Let's give a fellow citizen a round of applause for jumping in and doing the right thing. I don't care what troubles this person has had in the past. Nothing can take away the right to engage in democracy.

    It could be some of the pundits would just as soon Joe voters NOT get too involved or savvy re the election process and the issues. I sure HOPE we never again collectively opt-out of the process, or sit down for our elected officials working against the greater good.

    When I checked in at the Gresham Obama headquarters I asked about the DNC list, and mentioned that I had had NO calls from any campaigns. I was told that was because I had already voted....early as I could. My thinking was that I could get hit by a Waste Management truck at any time.....better get that vote in.

  • Lauren Paulson (unverified)

    Out of about 400 telephone calls, I only had one subject grouse about repeated calls from the Obama campaign. However, that person purported to have been called over ten times and indicated extreme frustration about the multiple calls. Not one other person made any sort of reference to multiple calls, but perhaps they were being polite. This experience is like so many others---you extend yourself thinking to help others when the reality is you are the one that benefits. It is hard to imagine another microcosm of life where one would learn so much doing so little for the good of the cause. I do plan, however, on finding out ---- it is something about this organization called 'drinking liberally'..........LP

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    I did finally get a call from the Obama campaign tonight. Funny thing is that I dropped off our ballots at their office yesterday.

  • Gerry L (unverified)
    <h2>I've been working the phones at Forward Oregon for several weeks. Today -- the day before the election -- people who answered tended to be crankier. But one of the last people I reached made up for all of them. He had not yet gotten his ballot in. When I asked whether he needed any help, he said he would get it in even if he had to walk 10 miles to do it. Nothing was going to stop him. Then he thanked me for making all the phone calls to get out the vote.</h2>
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