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What the Devil won't tell you

Local Republicans could pay price for Trump's 'wait for Election Day' voting ploy

Mark Napier is a Republican and he ain’t a bad sheriff.

Beth Ford is the county treasurer and you know she’s doing a good job because no one talks about her. She moves money where it needs to go according to state law and doesn’t get us into trouble.

Whether Napier is better than Democrat Chris Nanos, the former sheriff trying to win back the badge, or Ford is a smarter choice than Brian Bickel, I’ll leave up to you.

They are part of a herd of Republican candidates facing a rough road to victory in a Democratic bastion. It's tougher this year with how Donald Trump has redefined their party. And Trump's declaration of war on early voting puts an inexplicable hurdle in his party's path.

Republicans in 2018 had an eight-point lead in early voting in Arizona and had a terrible night. This year that lead has evaporated. Don't credit Democrats. They only win big when Republicans self-destruct. Republicans can be counted on to do just that like a coyote strapped to an Acme rocket.

Trump doesn’t want people voting until Election Day so he can declare victory as early votes in some states get counted in the hours and days after Nov. 3. Therefore, if the same-day crowd votes big for him, he can declare all the “late votes” (in fact early votes) fraudulent. He won. Stop counting now.

This is mechanically stupid. Forgetting that Trump himself didn't win on election night, he’s just cut the Achilles tendon of the whole Republican field operation.

To understand this, you kind of have to understand how field operations work in politics.

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When I got into politics as a communications director, I had watched it from the outside and thought I understood how the game was played and why the game was played that way.

Oh, boy. Did I learn.

For starters, what’s the most important word in politics? Is it money? No. Is it vote? No. Is it message? Hell no. It’s “list.”

Lists are life in politics. You want money? You need a donor list. You want to voters? You are going to need a voter list. The quality of the list is paramount. If you don’t know high-propensity donors or high-efficacy voters, then you are bound to misdirect the one resource in a campaign you cannot get back and that’s time.

Far a-field

Field is all about working lists – and good ones at that. There are three basic phases to a field operation. Identify voters, then persuade the persuadables and finally get out the vote (GOTV).

How do you do that? You hire someone or campaign newbies to recruit volunteers to contact voters individually. Person to person, neighbor to neighbor contact is the best form of persuasion. It’s just a very retail operation and takes time, bodies and – wait for it – organization. When progressives talk about “organizing” this is what they mean.

To best do that, you need a list.

The parties have this list, which is a database. Democrats call it the Voter Activation Network — “the VAN,” in party jargon. The Republicans long used the Voter Vault but have renamed it (I guess) the GOP Data Center. The Republicans have their own list. Both crunch all sorts of data to sort voters into categories.

Democrats – the party I know from the inside – separates them into five categories.

Ones: They are going to vote for you unless they are physically prevented from doing so.

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Twos: Are probably going to vote for you but you have to check on them and they could take some work.

Threes: May vote for you. May vote for your opponent. May not vote. These are swing voters.

Fours: Are probably going to vote for your opponent but you never know.

Fives: Would not vote for you if they gave birth to you because they are so locked into the other party.

So your field operation starts in the spring, identifying voters. Sometimes your volunteers knock on doors. Sometimes they work “autodialers,” which are computers that automatically scroll through a list of voters. The dialer is simpler and faster but less personal. Walking neighborhoods is more personal but is harder work. People don’t answer their phones. People don’t come to the door. If you have to hit 20 doors to get four opened, that’s more work than having a computer flip through 100 numbers in the same amount of time to get five people to talk to you.

After they’ve identified the voters, then they spend the summer and early fall persuading and finally, they do GOTV.

Congratulations. You now understand a lot of what you need to know to run a campaign.

This is the hard work. Everyone in politics is a comms director, and knows exactly the perfect message and why the campaign’s is all wrong. No one ever says “you know, I know exactly how to fill a dialer with volunteers.”

Election security

This is a reductio ad adsurdum version of what I'm talking about but it illustrates the point.

A Democrat and Republican volunteer each have a list of 100 voters to plough through and get to the polls. They would start by calling the high-efficacy voters. The Democrat can ask “Did you vote?” If the answer is yes, thank the voter and cross their name off the list. The Dem vol has 99 names to get after.

With Trump sending confusing messages about voting, the Republican has to ask “Are you going to vote?” If the answer is yes, then tell the voter, “Just don’t do it yet; wait 'til next Tuesday.” The list remains 100.

After ploughing through “ones” they move to “twos.” The Democrat has banked 50 votes. The Republican has banked none. They do some persuasion, talk about issues important and convince the lower efficacy partisan voter to come to their side. The Dem has them fill out their ballot then and there and then stuff it in the mailbox. The Republican has to say “don’t vote yet.”

The Democratic vol after the twos has banked 80 votes and the Republican has banked none. The Democrat can focus on the remaining 20. The Republican volunteer still has a list of 100.

And on Election Day the Democrat may be chasing his last few stragglers. The Republican must chase his or her entire list.

Of course, it's not how it works in the real world. The GOP is attempting to massage a message that somehow differentiates between good "absentee" ballots cast by their own voters, and bad, evil, probably illegal and fraudulent "early" ballots cast by anyone else. Some Republicans are voting early in Arizona, and the party is 57,000 votes behind Democrats out of 2.1 million early ballots returned. But that's is a massive drop from the GOP's eight-point lead in 2018's early voting. And the GOP is catching up — that was an 80,000-ballot gap just on Wednesday morning.

Trump is making life harder than he has to on his team because his voters living in his bubble buy this idea that early voting is "fraudulent." So many of his voters are hanging on to ballots.

What if something comes up? What if the dog needs to go to the vet? What if there's traffic? What if the voter catches COVID-19? What if? What if? What if? That's why campaigns would much rather deposit votes into a bank early than depend on Election Day being all hunky-dory. In their hot little hands are ballots filled out for Napier, Ford, County Recorder Candidate Benny White and supervisor candidate Gabby Saucedo Mercer's name on them. 

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Smart campaigns would prefer you vote right now, please and thank you. 

The bigger the list Republicans have to chase on Nov. 3, the harder it will be to secure their GOTV operation.

Early votes provide a form of "election security" for campaigns who roll up votes like a hefty bank balance.

Theoretical problems

Trump’s conspiracy theory has a major flaw where Arizona is concerned and so is of no use to Republicans on the ballot. 

He's counting on same day votes to be counted first and early votes second. That's not how it works here. Most early votes are counted first in Arizona and are posted within 90 minutes of the polls closing. Officials have already been counting them for more than a week.

OK, two problems: Republican ballot returns aren't badly trailing Democrats statewide. I imagine they are going to want the Yavapai County early votes counted.

OK, three problems: The late-counted votes come are ballots cast on Election Day.

In Arizona, there are a chunk of votes that typically get counted in the days that follow the election and this has happened since the 1990s. 

Voters who were mailed an early ballot who don't turn it in (either by mail or in person) then show up to vote on Election Day. So they are given a “provisional ballot.” Those are a bunch of the late counts and they aren't early ballots. They're exactly the kind Trump wants.

Election workers then must make sure those voters didn’t actually send in an early ballot, or drop it off on Tuesday. So it takes a few days to quadruple-check everything and verify that provisional ballot for counting.

“Late earlies” can also slow things down when voters deliver their early ballot to their polling places on Election Day. Those must also be checked out, to make sure that the voter didn't cast a provisional ballot.

Maybe voter enthusiasm will do the work for the Republicans. About three-fourths of their voters are super-pysched to vote for the president. But that means 25 percent are not. A good field operation can turn those lower efficacy partisan into votes in the bank – or not. Field operations can make 10s of thousands of voter contacts to maybe get that 5 percent of the party electorate out to vote. 

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Well, a 2.5 percent addition to the candidate's election dally can swing plenty of races per election cycle.

There are likely going to be some tight races – tight tight races – and in those campaigns, every lost vote matters.

If Ford or Napier lose close races, it could very well be because the party was not allowed by fiat of the Very Stable Genius to put tens of thousands of Republican votes in the bank.

If the state House or Senate flip, this could be why.

In that case, the president has just screwed all the Mark Napiers and Beth Fords from coast to coast for absolutely no reason with a crap-shoot plan to create a confusing, chaotic election mess to save his own ass.

The better strategy would have been to actually let the GOP field directors and volunteers do their jobs.

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have your say   

2 comments on this story

Oct 29, 2020, 1:15 pm
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Everyone in politics is a comms director, and knows exactly the perfect message and why the campaign’s is all wrong.

LOL. Some political operational truths are genuinely bipartisan.

Oct 29, 2020, 11:32 am
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This registered D voted straight party line, EXCEPT, I voted for Beth for treasurer and left sheriff job blank because neither one is worthy of my support.
Good luck.

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Republican campaigns face presidential=sized problem as they try to herd their rank-in-file to the polls.


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