O Captain! My Captain! Indian River Dems Prepare Precinct Leadership to Get Out the Vote

There’s a buzz in the meeting room at the Vero Beach Community Center. It’s Thursday March 15, 161 days before the August 28 mid-term election. Precinct Captains—some old hands and some newly appointed—leaf through training manuals and consider a list of true or false statements concerning election regulations. Trainees ponder whether a convicted felon is or is not allowed to vote. Dr. Linda Levine, educator and creator of the precinct captain training, steers the group through some additional learning points. Topics for this evening include rules for voting by mail, tips on what to say if you reach out to a voter by phone, and rules concerning early voting.

Tonight is just one step in what will be a years-long effort to establish boots on the ground and create strong Democratic communities throughout Indian River County. The county currently includes 36 voting precincts, and the Democratic Executive Committee is moving forward to make sure that each one has at least one–and as many as three—Precinct Captains. Josie Lieberman, formerly the office manager for the Democrats of Indian River County, is taking on the new role of “Captain of Captains.” “We went through the last election cycle with very little participation,” she explains. “But now that we are recruiting and training Precinct Captains.  The new leadership is growing quickly.”

Precinct Captains—all of them volunteers—are charged with building the Democratic presence in their geographic areas and, ultimately, getting out the vote. Says Lieberman, “We want them to be able and willing to work at a strategic level, carrying out different activities according to different deadlines.” Most Precinct Captains will probably start by recruiting reinforcements from so-called “hot voters” in their areas—Democrats who consistently vote in every election. From there, Precinct Captains may oversee efforts to knock on doors, leave out door hangers, make phone calls, or table events. One big push will be to encourage people to vote by mail. Lieberman explains, “We know that 20% more people vote when they vote by mail.” Another push will be to collect petitions to get more candidates on the ballot.

It’s important to note that all of these efforts will target registered Democrats only. Being a Precinct Captain means being a dedicated and special person, but it doesn’t mean having a door slammed in your face.

As Election Day draws nearer, Precinct Captains will shift their efforts to chasing the ballot. They and their neighborhood recruits will search the county elections database for people who have not handed in their ballots, making calls where possible and offering to drive people to the polls.

“Ultimately, over the course of the next few years, we want these Captains to get every Democrat in their precinct to vote,” says Lieberman. “We’re working to bring on board the type of people who can do that. We want Captains who are motivated internally and want to see change. Then they’ll be willing to do the work to bring about that change.”