Student phone banks target swing voters

The Yale College Democrats’ Ward 1 Headquarters in McClellan Hall was abuzz with activity yesterday afternoon. Students on cell phones occupied every nook of the small common room serving as a phone bank, and everyone was talking at once.

As the most controversial election season in most Yalies’ memories drew to a close yesterday, die-hard groups of politically-minded students were doing their utmost to get out the vote, or “GOTV.” Republicans and Democrats alike said phone-banking was a vital part of their respective campaigns.

Brett Edkins ’06, treasurer of the Yale College Democrats, laughed as he stepped out of the ordered chaos of Ward 1 Headquarters.

“It’s insane,” said Edkins, who has helped to lead Democratic phone-banking efforts over the last several weeks. “Because [the race] is so tight, it all hinges on GOTV. We’ve been calling identified Kerry supporters since 9 a.m. and will continue until the polls start closing.”

By 4:30 in the afternoon, Edkins said, the Kerry campaign had made 3000 of the 4000 calls they had hoped to make on Tuesday.

“We call them to make sure they get out to vote,” he said. “In 2000, Al Gore won Iowa mainly because of GOTV that day.”

Each student volunteer was given a list of phone numbers — downloaded from the Kerry Campaign’s Web site — of prospective Democratic voters in swing states.

Representatives of the Yale College Republicans said they too placed a high level of importance on GOTV and phone-banking projects.

“The strategy right now is — making sure that bona fide Republicans get out and vote for the president on Nov. 2,” Al Jiwa ’06, president of the Yale College Republicans, said Monday. “We’re organizing every able-bodied Republican to get out and call people in the swing states.”

Yet while the Democrats were pushing their GOTV phone-banking right up to the wire, Yale College Republicans member Brian Cook ’05 said the Republican organizing committees had relaxed the pressure a little on Tuesday.

“Primarily it was Saturday, Sunday and Monday that were key to turnout,” he said. “Today is just sort of sitting back and watching the results of what happened.”

Independent organizations such as America Coming Together and MoveOn.org have also been major players in the GOTV movement. MoveOn.org provided an online forum for concerned citizens to organize their own election and phone-banking parties.

Matthew Traldi ’06, who hosted one such party, said he felt they provided a less stressful alternative to working for the Yale College Democrats.

“[It's] a very college-student type [of] participation to have,” Traldi said. “Firstly, I think we tend to have more fun than we might at the Connecticut DNC Headquarters. The second thing is that the more [campaign] stuff that’s out there, the more likely it is that people are going to wander through.”

Yet there are some disadvantages to working outside party lines. According to Traldi, many of the Ohio voters his group called had already been contacted by several national pro-Kerry organizations.

“We got a lot of answering machines or disconnected numbers, because Ohioans have been bombarded,” he said. “It’s likely that many of the people we called today had had two, three calls already.”

Whatever the results of the election, Ekdins said the last several months’ drive to get out the vote has changed the electoral playing field.

“There has been a lot of cynicism about American politics, but I think this election, regardless of the outcome, will make it clear that people do make a difference.”

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