The candidates have filed, the campaigns have been launched, the funds have been raised and the primaries have been survived. Weeks turn into months of planting yard signs, making speeches and shaking hands.
Despite all those labors, the essential chore remains … getting supporters to go to the polls on Nov. 6.
The shorthand is GOTV.
Get Out the Vote.
“It’s one of the final pieces of the puzzle, but it’s the biggest,” said Mike Veale, a Buchanan County Democrat and president of the Northwest Missouri Central Labor Council.
“Everything you did, from registering people to talking about the campaign to getting the facts out, you wasted your time if people did not get out and vote.”
David Arnold, chairman of the Buchanan County Republican Central Committee, agrees.
“Nov. 6 is everything,” the county GOP leader said. “We have to keep the folks motivated right up to the last minute and make sure they do get out there (to the polls).”
Up and down the ticket, and spanning special interest groups, appeals are in motion to drive people to the polls. In some cases, that means literally driving people to the polls, those who have motivation but lack transportation.
In Missouri, the efforts run the political spectrum. A group called Concerned Women for America Legislative Action Committee held a series of GOTV rallies, from Branson up to Kansas City, on behalf of U.S. Senate candidate Todd Akin. Earlier this month, the Missouri Democratic Party Coordinated Campaign announced it was just “starting” its get-out-the-vote efforts after knocking on more than a half-million doors and making 3.2 million phone calls.
The national Tea Party Express brought its mobile phone bank bus to St. Joseph with a “one-vote-at-a-time” mission and a mantra of “It’s not glamorous, but it’s really important.”
Mr. Arnold said the Republican headquarters in St. Joseph has been blessed with volunteers willing to drive people to the polls on Election Day. The Democrats have a similar operation in place, though a difference exists in the parties’ philosophies on phone-banking.
Local Democrats will be making calls, especially to just-registered voters. Republicans in the county are less sold on this.
“Phone banks don’t work as well as they used to because everyone has cell phones,” Mr. Arnold said, noting that he staffed a phone recently, made 40 calls to registered voters and only ended up talking to two people. “I don’t know that that’s a real good way to spend your time.”
A national organization called Generation Opportunity, aimed at educating and organizing young Americans, took a poll of “millennial voters” (ages 18 to 29) and found that 59 percent considered Facebook as the best get-out-the-vote reminder. Phone messages polled at 18 percent in that age group.
Mr. Veale said phone calls and other GOTV activities aim at convincing people that their effort means something. He points to the case of Florida in the 2000 presidential election; the difference of eight votes per county would have turned the state’s electoral votes and, therefore, the presidency.
“We’re trying to express to people the importance of getting out to vote and that their vote really does make a difference,” the Democrat said.
The dangers of ballot complacence can be found as recently as two years ago in Missouri, Mr. Veale added.
“They can say it was a referendum on President Obama, they can put any type of spin on it, but the bottom line is that Democrats did not get out and vote in 2010,” he said.
In the days to come, candidates will be making their final case to voters, in ads, on the phone and sometimes in person. A value still exists in door-to-door canvassing.
While the county party works on behalf of all Republicans, Mr. Arnold said candidates take responsibility for their own races.
“There is no small race if you’re the guy running,” the county chairman said.