October 29, 2008

Citizen Initiatives in the US Elections

Posted in Outside Malaysia tagged at 7:45 am by egalitaria

Voter Education

Voter Education

If there’s one thing that Malaysians can learn about the pre-election buzz of the States, it is the way in which citizens have been driving things – from the very bottom up. The booklet shown above is called “Choosing the President 2008: A Citizen’s Guide to the Electoral Process”, published by the League of Women Voters, distributed for free across the country. It gives a full detailed account about the Primaries and Caucuses (part of the US electoral system), campaign financing, and who the candidates and players are.

Volunteerism is another big thing here. They come in droves, to do everything from voter canvassing (finding out who the voters are in a particular constituency and figuring out which issues they are really interested in – linking that with the campaign messaging and strategy of the candidate), to going house-to-house (they also make sure that these houses are targeted beforehand so you don’t knock on a non-voter’s door! A funny story was told where a Senator candidate actually knocked on the house of his ex-wife’s mother!). They spend hours and hours strategising and have an organised framework.

Citizens are the ones driving the campaign, and this is obvious here. Because the parties don’t work like in Malaysia, where you have one centralised party decision-making mechanism, the process is different. Here, it’s more like 51 different Democrat parties, 51 different Republican parties, hence 51 different “elections” being held across the country! A campaign manager for a particular state will – independent of the central party committee since there isn’t one anyway – have to decide on the following teams of people: IT, political, communication, fundraising, research, and scheduling. Apart from that you need a media consulting team, and a pollster team.

Grassroots organisations are running the show, bigtime. You decide on the “vote goal” – the number of votes you are targeting for that particular area, or constituency. You use psychologial warfare, you carve out the niche area that your candidate can position in voters’ eyes. You have a big database of voters, you jolly well know your people and what they are interested in. This becomes your “walkabout Bible”. You make sure you build coalitions with different community groups of people who have some stake in your running of Presidency (in our case, running of MPs):

Teachers, womens groups, civil society, senior citizens, environmentalists, tax collectors etc etc. (in the States, you target NRA members – National Rifle Association – or those who oppose it; pro-choice groups of pro-life groups, and so on).

The groundswell of activity, interest and passion in the US Elections is amazing, and this is one of the things that people think Obama will be the winner – because of the hype of activity in Democrat Headquarters, not the same in the Republican HQs. But I shall observe for myself soon. I’ll be flying to Denver, Colorado on Thursday afternoon to speak to the campaigners and hopefully go to a rally! My mind swings back to March 2008 during the rallies and ceramahs of our own.

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