Saturday, May 14, 2016

What I Learned at GOTV at Francis Lewis HS - 90% of UFT Members Probably Have not yet voted

Arthur Goldstein: cookie for Ballot
When MORE got only 1200 elementary school votes in the 2013 election Julie Cavanagh was incredulous. "Everyone voted in my school," she said. My response today would be - did you actually see their ballots? Did they send you a selfie of them putting the ballot in the mailbox? I would bet that at this point - halfway through the election that 90% of UFT members have not yet voted and only a small portion of these people will end up voting at all - except in schools where people go through a major GOTV effort. I would also bet that thousands of people did not get a ballot but because UFT election are so low on their radar they do not even know it -- unless there is someone to remind them. Or maybe, seeing URGENT which appears on so much junk mail, they just tossed it.

James Eterno writes about such an effort at ICE - where he goes door to door with an organization sheet checking off names and found loads of people without a ballot - our suggestion is to have the AAA number in your phone and call right there and have them ask for a ballot to be sent. Read about his effort: GETTING OUT THE VOTE IN THE UFT ELECTION.

As far as I know James is the only one who does this which he calls Pol Sci 101. GOTV is a face to face process. In big schools getting allies to carve up the school makes this feasible. I bet almost everyone in James' school will vote MORE because he has their admiration and respect. Same with former Jamaica HS UFTers who are now scattered all over the place. 

Unfortunately few MORE supporters do much more than vote themselves and maybe tell a few others to vote - and they never find out how many people in their schools did not get a ballot or if they did did not toss it as junk mail.

I got an education as to why vote totals in the UFT elections are so low. And especially why the opposition has done more poorly than they expected based on what people were telling them. After my visit to Francis Lewis HS on Thursday at the request of FLHS Chapter Leader Arthur Goldstein who blogs as NYC Educator I am more concerned than ever that not enough people in their schools are doing what Arthur did at Francis Lewis High School, where even with an extraordinary effort more than half the staff brought in their ballots with another 10% saying they already had mailed them or were going to. Arthur will not let up and will keep urging people to vote. By the end of the day I imagine that 80% of FLHS people will end up voting, hopefully most of them for MORE.

If you support MORE get an organization sheet and ask every UFT member if they voted.

I do want to point out that most ballots returned to us were already sealed, many of them with the entire booklet enclosed. Since most people vote slate and not for individuals I was curious why they didn't tear off the top sheet. The response was they voted slate but didn't realize they could tear off the sheet so they sent in the entire booklet.

Arthur put in an extraordinary effort to make this happen writing letters to the staff like this: Staff Letter 3. He put out instructions on voting and most of them will vote for MORE not because of the platform or because they love Jia Lee but because they love and trust Arthur - just spend some time with him and see how he interacts with people. He has enormous respect as a teacher, a chapter leader and as a person of integrity. MORE could put out blank pages and people will vote MORE because of Arthur.

Arthur sat there with his cell and had several people call the number. There were those who had crumpled their envelopes and had to go and retrieve them. There were two who had inadvertently tossed them and several who had never received them. These few represent many citywide. 

And that is a lesson. We could stuff mail boxes numerous times and it will barely make a dent -- what is needed are people on site who can advocate - now if a person is viewed as a lousy or lazy teacher or someone who is dishonest, people will not vote for MORE. The same with Unity - someone I know from the theater had no idea what MORE was but said she would not vote for any party her Unity CL was connected with. I informed her.

Given the low turnouts of 17% in UFT elections it is quite an achievement to get 60 or more % to vote but I am a perfectionist and hoped for even more, especially since this school has 250 UFT members, of which about 200 are teachers whose votes may be the deciding ones in winning the high school seats. Below I'll review some of the problems we found for those still doing GOTV campaigns - which I urge people to do right up to the last few days of the election - ballots must be in by May 25 (count is the next day).
  • people didn't get ballots - we called AAA right there and gave them a cookie anyway.
  • people threw away the outer envelope thinking all they had to do was drop the Secret ballot inner envelope in a ballot box.
  • people were confused as to how to vote by the large booklet - not understanding the concept of checking the box to vote for an entire slate.
  • many checked a box on the front but didn't tear off the front sheet, thus the entire booklet goes in -- not that consequential but doing so delays the counts as each booklet has to be torn apart and scanned.
We hung out in the teacher lunchroom from 9:30-12:30 to collect the ballots in exchange for a giant cookie baked by a teacher on the staff who has a bakery business based in Rockaway - which I didn't find out until reading about him in The Wave. When people told us
they had voted or would on their own we told them we wanted a selfie showing them putting the ballot in the mail box. But we gave them a cookie anyway.

I put the over 100 ballots in a bag and took them to the post office in Rockaway on my way home.

Having never participated in such a GOTV campaign I learned a lot about what doesn't work in the UFT election balloting process.

Arthur had worked diligently on this event - sending emails, putting instructions in mail boxes, etc. What became clear was that most people don't have the time or patience to read in depth, which made the "give me your sealed ballot and we'll mail it for you and you get a delicious cookie big enough for a meal."

The entire concept of a booklet and individual voting for up to 800 people for each slate is confusing to people and suppresses the vote. I don't have easy answers - here's one -- just vote for officers and Ex Bd and not for individuals for AFT/NYSUT and apportion to each caucus the percentage their caucus got. After the election they choose who their delegates will be. But that would actually make the election fair by breaking the Unity Caucus block and that is the last thing they will do - unless forced to by enough outrage coming from the rank and file.

Even though we know we can only win a few crumbs, the larger the vote for MORE/New Action the more pressure we can put on the UFT leadership.

So get out those organization sheets and go to work this week. I bet you will be surprised at how many people you work with did not get ballots or tossed them. And have that AAA number handy. 1-800-529-5218.


James Eterno said...

Great piece Norm. When you see ground game from the ground, you see the monumental task we have in trying to change the union. Let's do the job this week.

Jonathan said...

There is nothing like one on one get out the vote.

However, I'd want to be careful not to dismiss other forms of campaigning. Leafleting, for example, gets a few people's votes - but more importantly, makes it easier to do GOTV with them (GOTV without issues won't work, and the relationship between the issues and the elections can take a while to figure out)

Ultimately, the most important election work that can be done is the work between elections... which makes all the other stuff more productive... and which ends up mattering more....

ed notes online said...

I think leaflets in a school where we have people is important but in schools where we aren't doesn't have much impact. But most important thing is integrity of our rep in the building.

Anonymous said...

A thank you to all the people like James, Arthur, Jonathan and Norm who did more than their share of legwork to get out the vote. Low voter turnout is on the voter. We can offer incentives, assistance and hold people's hands through the entire process but if union members don't value and exercise their own right to vote, that's on them---not on you or anyone else. I'm done making excuses for adults who can't be bothered to vote or who can't follow directions. I had to walk away from a staff member who told me she voted for the slate and the individual people and mailed her ballot from home. She did this despite a widely publicized "bring your ballot to school" raffle, offers of assistance and step by step directions on how to complete the ballot correctly. Roseanne

NYC Educator said...

Low voter turnout is indeed on the voter, as Roseanne says, but the result of low voter turnout is something we all feel the consequences of. So we still have to do whatever we can to reverse that trend.