Ballot Parties

By Jenni Simonis of Gresham, Oregon. A political activist since before she could vote, Jenni currently works as Field Director for the Multnomah County Democratic Party.

Every year we hear from people who miss voting at their local polling place -- that they miss getting together with their neighbors and discussing the ballot while they wait their turn to vote.

Even now, hundreds of people head down to the elections office to fill out their ballots. But to many, it's not the same as gathering in their own neighborhoods to vote.

While we may not be able to bring polling place voting back, we can help recreate it on a smaller scale.

At the Multnomah County Democrats we've put together a pilot program to test out holding ballot parties in neighborhoods across the area. As part of the party people would discuss the ballots, why they recommend voting a certain way, how the candidates/issues affect the neighborhood, etc.

To help facilitate the discussions, the party kit would also include voters guides put together by the county party that show our endorsed vote on the candidates and ballot measures.

The goal of these parties would be not only to turn out more voters, but to also decrease the 'undervote' -- people who turn in their ballot but do not vote on every item. This happens more often than not when people do not know enough about an issue or candidate to vote on the particular item.

In 2004, Karen Minnis beat Rob Brading by 1,524 votes (a margin of victory of 763 votes). However, there were 2,213 people who turned in ballots but did not vote in that race.

This happens quite often on ballot measure races.

In November, 2000, for example, voters approved increasing the maximum amount deductible in Oregon for federal taxes paid. This was a ballot measure opposed by many Democrats, including Governor John Kitzhaber.

The margin of victory was less than 7,600 votes for the entire state. Just in Multnomah County, we had more than 16,000 people who did not vote on the measure. Had we been able to get just half of those people to come to a ballot party to hear about the issue and vote 'no,' we could have kept that measure from passing and hundreds of millions of dollars from being cut from the state budget.

With several ballot measures looming that could cause even worse destruction to our state budget, including TABOR and the Sizemore tax scam, it is more important that ever to help voters understand these measures and their impact on the state.

We'd hoped to have one in every precinct around the county, but we're nowhere near that goal. It would be great if you'd consider hosting one in your neighborhood. We'll supply the materials you need-- list of suggested people to invite, invitations (two styles-- post card or a card you can put in an envelope), voters guide, and a guide to running the party.

Your participation in this project will help us to improve and grow the project so we can use it around the state in 2008.

If you're interested, or want more information, please give me a call at 503-248-0826.

  • PanchoPdx (unverified)

    And if you don't have time to make to the entire "ballot party" you can always just drop off your blank ballot so that party-goers can make sure you fill it out right...

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    Troll... Guess I'll go add to the donation box for the DPO/Mult Dems volunteer food.

    No one will be pressuring anyone to vote a certain way. That is against the law, and all party hosts are warned in advance about that. Not only are they warned verbally, but it's written out clearly in our party guide.

    And people don't have to bring their ballots to the party. There will also be sample ballots, printed from the elections office web site, that people can use to mark down notes on as well as the voter guide we've created.

    The goal isn't to pressure others-- it's to encourage people to turn in their ballot, or even better a completed ballot.

  • Eric Berg (unverified)

    My wife and I have made it a voting tradition (if three times is a tradition) to meet up with a few friends at the Laurelwood Brewery in Portland's Hollywood district. We bring our voters pamphlets and campaign literature and causually talk about various candidates and measures over happy hour-priced nachos and beer. Usually, a few other patrons join the discussion. When we're done, we privately fill out our ballots. We're planning on doing it again next Sunday.

    Voting should be a secret, yet public, act of citizenship. I miss going to a polling places such as fire stations and schools. However, I don't think ballot parties sponsored through political parties or campaigns are a good idea. It seems like too much of a GOTV effort rather than a civic, [small d] democratic excercise. After reading Jenni's post, I'm going to think about hosting some sort of voting potluck the next major election for my neighborhood, regardless of political affiliation. It seems like a good thing to do for fostering citizenship, building community and celebrating democracy.

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    We've made it a tradition since vote-by-mail to have a family ballot party (we have four voters in our household). For us it's about sharing information and research. We all gather facts and then we each make up our own minds and fill out our own ballots. At the end of the party all the ballots are filled out and we all feel that we are much more informed voters than we ever were when we went to the polling place. We are thinking about inviting some friends over this year since it has worked so well for us.

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