An Oct. 7 article about get-out-the-vote efforts in Portland, Ore., misstated the name of a shopping mall there. It is the Lloyd Center, not the Floyd Center. (Published 10/8/04)
Sunday afternoon was perfect for vote mobbing. Shoppers were out at the Floyd Center mall, runners from the morning's marathon were limping around, draped like superheroes in insulated silver blankets, and the sun was beating down the morning chill. But Xenia Simms and Brytteni Floyd-Mayo, stationed at a park across from the mall, were having a hard time of it.
"Just about everyone we ask is already registered," Floyd-Mayo said.
"And they've already signed the vote pledges, too," Simms said.
The young women sighed. They traveled Friday to Portland from Oakland, Calif., by van -- 13 hours -- with five fellow high school students and four adults, to be part of the biggest get-out-the-vote effort Oregon has ever seen. The students, members of a community action and leadership program at McClymonds High School in Oakland, aren't even old enough to vote. But they came to experience grass-roots campaigning firsthand while helping the 21st Century Democrats' Young Voter Project, which was capping an intensive weeklong drive to register and mobilize thousands of 18-to 34-year-olds in the swing states of Oregon, Ohio and Minnesota.
Floyd-Mayo, a 16-year-old junior, and Simms, a 17-year-old senior, were "vote mobbing" -- a newfangled term for the old-fashioned campaign tactic of approaching people during public events such as ballgames or concerts -- as though their college admissions depended on it.
Just as Young Voter Project field coordinators taught them, they would first ask people if they were registered. Then, they'd ask them if they would sign a pledge to vote so that their names could be checked against voter rolls. Then, for polling purposes, they would ask them which candidate they were backing. Finally, if the people were still with them, they would ask if they were willing to volunteer to get out the vote.
But as in all 17 swing states, the ground game in Oregon this year is extensive and unprecedented. Groups working to defeat or reelect Bush have been hitting the streets for months. About two dozen organizations independent of both the Democratic Party and the Kerry-Edwards campaign are working collaboratively, including America Coming Together (ACT), the Planned Parenthood Federation of America and the League of Conservation Voters. They've committed millions of dollars and thousands of foot soldiers to defeat Bush.
The Bush-Cheney campaign, not to be outdone, says it is fielding a ground army of more than 22,000 volunteers in Oregon, recruited since May 2003. The effort dwarfs the organizing the campaign did in 2000, when the Republicans had county chairs in all 36 counties in Oregon. This time, the campaign has precinct chairs in almost every precinct throughout the state, said Molly Bordonaro, the chairwoman of the campaign's northwest region. "Ours is a tremendous volunteer effort of individuals who feel passionate about reelecting Bush," she said.
Kevin Looper, Oregon director of America Votes, a coalition of dozens of progressive organizations, countered that the Republicans have been pretty quiet here, especially in Portland. "Our people are all over the place," he said. "But as for the Republicans, we haven't seen hide nor hair of them."
There's no question that Portland is Democratic territory. It put presidential candidate Al Gore over the top in Oregon in 2000, beating Bush by more than 100,000 votes in a state that Bush lost by half of 1 percent of the vote. Portland is full of tie-dyed, punked-out lefties, aging hippies and run-of-the-mill liberals, and they all seemed to converge Sunday afternoon at a peace rally in the northwest neighborhood that features the famous Powell's City of Books store.
ACT was helping the Young Voters Project vote mob at the rally. But asking people wearing "Dubya the Warmonger" buttons if they were registered to vote was like asking the people in the Portland marathon if they exercised. Asking them who they planned to vote for was like asking delegates to a Christian Coalition convention who they're supporting. Two of the volunteers, Ed and Roberta Schwarz, new to vote mobbing, found themselves getting kidded a lot.
"I'm voting for 'W,' of course," a young woman carrying a billboard with statistics on the number of dead and injured in Iraq told Roberta Schwarz.
The weekend seemed a blur of campaign activity at the warehouse that the coalition of groups working against Bush share as headquarters. Every which way you turned, training sessions and strategy meetings were going on with groups of a dozen or two. But the next few weeks are supposed to get wilder.
The deadline to register in Oregon is Oct. 12. Oregon is a mail-in-ballot state. The state begins mailing the ballots to registered voters beginning Oct. 15. Groups such as the Young Voter Project are planning massive door-to-door registration efforts. They're also planning ballot parties, at which voters would fill out and hand their ballots over to the group. They're planning Halloween ballot pickups, part of a nationwide effort, in which they would dress in costume and collect ballots on Oct. 31. They even plan to deliver and collect ballots from every last registered voter who has not voted already on the nation's official Election Day, Nov. 2.
The Oakland students, who were spending the weekend camping out at a Presbyterian Church, planned to join other volunteers with the Young Voter Project on Sunday night in calling people who aren't on the voter rolls despite having registered. They felt good about being in a state where the presidential campaign was alive and kicking.
"I'm not feeling as discouraged as I was yesterday," Floyd-Mayo said. "Yesterday, we experienced a lot of racism."
Floyd-Mayo and Simms are African American.
But Sunday afternoon, Portland was all smiles and politeness. The young women were having a good time talking politics as they got passersby to sign voter pledges or, in a handful of cases, even register. And, after three hours of vote mobbing, they would get to be regular teenagers for a few hours on a bright day in a new city. They planned to check out the mall.