Conclusions from Colorado

I recently spent two weeks volunteering for the Hillary campaign in Colorado. I spent the majority of my time knocking on doors (canvassing) in the 6th congressional district on behalf of the Colorado Democratic Party. When I wasn’t canvassing, I attended events or visited my friend in the campaign headquarters. Though the experience was a fascinating anthropological study, I focus here on two political issues, the campaign as an organization, and the importance of inclusive voting laws.

Ground Game

Throughout my time in Colorado I was incredibly impressed with the sophistication of the Hillary campaign. I was constantly reminded by a 2015 article in NY Time’s Upshot column titled, “Why a Presidential Campaign is the Ultimate Start-Up.” In the article, Neil Irwin compares the growth of recent presidential campaigns with that of firms such as Facebook, Snapchat, and Uber. These similarities are most clearly seen in the fundraising pace of campaigns and start-ups. In the time that it took Snapchat to raise almost $200 million, Obama’s 2008 campaign raised nearly $700 million.

These comparison go well beyond fundraising. Chief in my (admittedly Human-capital oriented mind) are the organizational difficulties of creating a campaign of this scale. While Irwin’s article focuses on the leadership capabilities of the campaigns, it is the sheer size of the volunteer base, and the organizers that guides these volunteers that stands out to me. In Colorado alone, there are around 20,000 volunteers for the Hillary campaign. To be as effective as possible these volunteers must be trained, dispatched to the areas in need, and be equipped with the tools to collect valuable data that be reported back to the campaign. Fortunately for the Hillary campaign, most individuals willing to volunteer are highly capable of engaging potential voters. Talented volunteers allow the campaign to devote fewer resources to training and dedicate more attention to other important organizational capabilities.

The rising importance of data for campaign operations creates the need for rapidly scalable platforms for analyzing and operationalizing information for those working in the field. I spent a couple hours observing, and in some cases using, the software tools that the campaign utilizes to infer important insights about potential voters. The difficultly of building these tools mirror the challenges many large organizations face. Some of these challenges include: the need to quickly develop and deploy these tools, the necessity that these state-specific tools interact with national databases, and the difficulty of standardizing the information inputted into these databases.

These are important challenges of a campaign that are not reflected in national headlines. Though policies, media soundbites, and “October Surprises” are crucial to forming voter impressions, so are the ground-operations of a well-run campaign. Making phone calls, knocking on doors, and organizing community events makes a crucial difference in close races. Organizing a national volunteer force to carry out all of these responsibilities is no small order but, as Irwin concludes, it may be an important indicator of a candidate’s ability to effectively manage the 2.7 million employees of the federal branch. The presidential candidate who has most effectively organized such a campaign is no mystery in this election and we will see shortly how it has paid off.

Voting Laws

Colorado’s voting laws are some of the most progressive in the country. Colorado law allows same-day voter registration so voters can register at the polls on election-day and does not require a photo ID for registration. While my own state of California does not allow for same-day registration, it does however offer automatic registration for anybody who interacts with the DMV (a policy that Colorado and nearly 30 other states are considering.)

Where Colorado most impressed me was its absentee voting laws. Not only does Colorado not require an excuse for absentee voting (it is one of 30 state to do so), it is also one of three states to allow all-mail voting (the others are Oregon and Washington). All registered voters are automatically delivered an absentee ballot regardless of the size of the election (some states, including California, only allow for all-mail elections in smaller precincts or for particular elections.)  Voters can either mail their ballots, drop-off their ballots in a number of “drop-boxes” which open up two weeks prior to the election, or vote in-person at a voting location (for the sentimentalists).

It is clear that these laws are meant to encourage voting by allowing flexibility around how one casts their vote. Early voting laws most affect working families who may be unable to find time on election-day to go to the polls. Anecdotally, I found that nearly 8/10 families I spoke to were planning to or were already able to utilize the drop-box voting option. The quantity and complexity of ballot measures alone can be overwhelming so additional time to review the ballot is particularly important for working families and families who speak English as a second language.

Increasing early voting has been a crucial aspect of the HRC campaign. Republicans historically fare well in early voting while Democrats make up the difference on Election Day. Hillary has several incentives to focus on early voting. By building an early lead, Hillary may hope to deter Republicans who see the result as inevitable. Another (perhaps unspoken) reason for the campaign’s focus on early voting, is that Hillary was up 5-7 points in national polls when early voting opened with not major controversies on the horizon. This is demonstrated in Trump’s recent comments about early voters recalling their ballots as he attempts to make up for Hillary’s momentum in early returns.

The importance of these laws go beyond politics. Countless voters who I spoke to over the past few weeks have lamented on their choice between what they see as two unfavorable candidates. It was clear to me that the most important aspect of all was their ability to choose. It was the families in the most disenfranchised communities that were most welcoming to me, and the most eager to be a part of the democratic process. Colorado’s voting laws not only made voting easier in the practical sense, it also sent an important signal that everyone’s voices mattered equally. This sentiment should ring true with any freedom-loving American no matter their politics.