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Politics & Issues

Midterms: An Election In Three Acts

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Jennifer Weingart
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WVPE Public Radio

 

This year’s midterm elections have already drawn high turnouts for early and absentee voting.

But elections are made up of people. The candidates of course, and the voters, but also the volunteers and workers that get out the vote, register people and keep elections running smoothly.

Act I: The Volunteers.

One of the staples of election volunteering is door knocking. There are groups for Democrats and Republicans, for specific candidates, and for issues and referenda.

On a balmy night in early October, Andrew Graeber was out canvassing his neighborhood in Stevensville for the Michigan Democratic Party.

He knocks on door after door--“I’m with the Michigan Democratic Party and we’re going door to door because we’re wanting to hear what issues you care about, what you’d like to see done for this upcoming election?”

Graeber takes notes on a clipboard and hands out literature to people who answer the door, or leaves it if they don’t. He’s the founder of the Berrien County Young Democrats.

“When I moved here, I came back from college and there’s not many young people around here, at all. Or places to go to meet people or anything,” Graeber said. “So, I decided to create an organization to try to find other people that are like me that just kind of sat in their house, looking at the news being pissed about it, wanting to do something about it and not thinking there was anything here for them.”

 

Berrien County is pretty red. But after 2016, some people stepped up to volunteer with the county Democratic party for the first time. One was Teri Frantz, who partially credits her participation to a familiar book.

In order to live with other people you have to live with yourself. And in order to live with yourself you have to answer to your conscience.

“I taught English for 33 years. And during that time I probably taught ‘To Kill A Mockingbird’ a hundred times,” She laughs. “There are many valuable lessons in there. One of them was, just to paraphrase, Atticus tells Scout ‘In order to live with other people you have to live with yourself. And in order to live with yourself you have to answer to your conscience.’ And I felt like I couldn’t in good conscience, go to my deathbed saying I didn’t do whatever I could to help.”

Frantz said after Donald Trump was elected president she couldn’t not step up anymore.

On the other side of the aisle, local Republican officials said having President Trump hold a rally in Elkhart in May really turned out volunteers.

When Trump said, “You have to work every day between now and November to elect more Republicans so that we continue making America great again.” People took that to heart and some Republican volunteers in the area are a direct result of the rally.

Kevin Kiefer spends a lot of his spare time knocking on doors for Republican. He’s been doing it since before the rally.

“I really want to help these, especially Republican candidates because I believe it what they’re doing and I believe in what they stand for. I really want to do my part in helping get a just a few more votes here and there because I know that that can make a big difference between winning or losing and I know what’s at stake.”

I know that that can make a big difference between winning or losing and I know what is at stake.

He cited taxes and jobs as issues he cares about most.

Kiefer got into canvassing when a friend of his was running for office. He stuck with it, even though his friend lost. Now he’s the number one door knocker in Indiana’s second congressional district.

“One walkbook, over 140 doors will take five hours so that’s something I could do on maybe a Sunday or Saturday,” Kiefer said. “Weeknights it’s not as conducive, so what I try to do is half of a walkbook and finish the other half the next day.”

And Kiefer knocks on doors almost every day. On the other side of those doors are voters.

Act II: The Voters.

In Stevensville, Mike Taylor said his house is like a split ticket, “Well, I would say my house is divided, I probably tend to go on the Republican side, and my family tends to go on the Democrat side….if I vote Republican you probably don’t want to hear from me,” Taylor told Graeber.  

“I would love to hear from you,” he replied.

But after Taylor and Graeber talked about local races, taxes, sewers and some other things he seemed open to do some research.

“Well maybe I’ll do some studying and see what I can come up with,” Taylor said.

In Mishawaka, Florence Veldman, said she loves Trump and will be voting Republican, though she said she looks at the candidates, not the party. And she hates the negative TV ads.

“I wish people nowadays would talk more about themselves and what they’re going to do instead of how bad the other person is that’s running against them. I feel that they put too much emphasis on that.”

We have agreed not to discuss politics because we feel family is important

  Veldman said she gets her voting information from the newspaper and from the Catholic news source she gets through her church. She doesn’t talk about the election with her family, “I have lots of family members that are on both sides of the fence and we’ve agreed not to discuss politics because we feel family is important.”

She was glad to have a couple canvassers to talk to about politics, “I think it’s neat that you girls are walking around doing this.”

And while canvassers work to get voters to the polls, without poll workers, they wouldn’t be able to cast a ballot at all.

Act III: The Workers.

In St. Joseph County, Indiana two people chair voter registration. A Democrat, Arielle Brandy. And a Republican, Kim Riskovitch, who said they do voter registration, work elections with the clerk’s office, and work with candidates going through the process of being put on the ballot.

“We know what the clerk’s office does. We know the clerk’s office can’t accomplish what they’re doing without our assistance, without our part of what we do.” Riskovitch said. “It just keeps branching out because the parties also have their little hands out their too; between yard signs, candidates and everything else. It’s really fun. It’s exciting.”

Brandy said their outfit is truly bipartisan. “We know that in our office even though we have the two parties our common goal is to make sure that people are registered and that they’re able to vote on election day.”

Our common goal is to make sure that people are registered and that they are able to vote on election day

And it’s not just on election day. Absentee and early voting numbers are up across the country for this midterm. In some places, including areas in Indiana, voting numbers ahead of election day are rivaling those of the 2016 presidential election. Michigan does not have early voting.

Voter numbers come from St. Joseph County, Indiana. Currently absentee and early voting has outpaced the 2014 midterm and is gaining on 2016 presidential numbers.

“People went from just a little bit of absentee voting, mostly things like nursing facilities and people overseas with the military,” Riskovitch recalled. “Now, it’s almost like everybody’s doing it. I mean, there are lines down there [in the County-City building] that I’ve never seen for this type of an election.”

Brandy and Riskovitch said they are always looking for people to volunteer to work the polls. To check in voters, and keep the process running. It’s something additional that any registered voter could do to chip in to the democracy of elections.

Election day is Tuesday, November 6th. Early voting closes November 5th.

 

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