What is GOTV?
When I started on my first campaign, everyone started using the term GOTV and I had no idea what it meant. At first I thought it was some kind of advertising thing. But I was working on a small, local campaign and I kept thinking to myself "how is this campaign going to get anything on TV?! Finally, I found a private moment to do some quick googling and everything made sense. GOTV = GET OUT THE VOTE!
What is Get Out the Vote?
Campaigns go through phases. Early in the campaign you're working on awareness of your candidate. If there is a primary, you're trying to differentiate them from the other challengers. You're trying to just explain who they are. You're educating voters. Then you typically move on to persuasion. Why is your candidate better than the other option(s)? What plans are they going to implement? Why do they have more integrity? Why do they represent you better than the other person?
Finally, when you're down to the wire and there's only days to go, you've identified who is likely to vote for you IF they vote at all. And you make sure every. single. one. is going to actually go to the polls.
Why Do We Need GOTV?
Short answer: A LOT of people don't vote. Too many. In the entire 20th century, we only broke 60% of eligible voters actually casting a ballot in the presidential election four times! We haven't yet broken 60% in the 21st century. If you look at midterms and local elections it's more depressing. Regardless of party, if you simply believe in the concept of democracy, you should want people to vote. It's a citizen's most direct method of affecting the direction of the nation.
If you're a Democrat like I am, you should be even more motivated to get out the vote. Generally speaking, the older you are and the whiter you are, the more likely you are to vote Republican. Those same two groups also have the highest voting rates, despite representing a smaller and smaller percentage of the electorate as a whole. This is why we currently have a president elected with a minority of votes and a senate majority representing a minority of citizens. We have minority rule in America because people didn't vote (see the graphs below I pulled from census.gov).
If you are like me, you might be like...ya I know this. How could I not vote? How could anyone not vote? Especially when the stakes feel so high. I certainly have taken for granted that I've always been exposed to and educated in politics. I keep up with the news. I inherently understand the direct line between my vote and my daily life. However, many people are never taught this, or they are overwhelmed with the entire idea of politics, and/or they might live a life where they aren't often, if ever, reminded that their vote matters. Additionally, there are a lot of people in positions of power who would prefer people don't vote and who actively work to dissuade and discourage people from voting. It is the job of the GOTVer to be patient with and understanding of people who are not as politically active and aware and work to help them understand the importance of their own voice.
There are also people who see not voting as a form of protest. They don't like anyone or they don't like the system so they're not going to give anyone their precious vote. It is important to remind these people that 1) not voting is negating one's voice, not amplifying it and 2) It is a privilege to be so unaffected by the outcome of an election that you can afford to not participate in it.
How Do You Get Out the Vote?
The most effective way to encourage people to vote is through the most direct contact possible. Door knocking, phone calls, texts, emails, literature drops or letters. You remind them of how important their vote is and you MAKE SURE THEY HAVE A VOTING PLAN! Voting is more involved than just marking up a piece of paper and putting it in a box. Are they registered? Do they know where their polling place is? Do they need to bring any particular documents in order to vote? Do people know how they're getting to the polls? Do they know where their kids will be while they're in line? What happens if it takes longer than expected? Do they have to get back at a particular time to get to work? Do they know about all the other races and referendums they will see on their ballot?
And in the era of Covid-19, there are even more questions. Is this person at higher risk of infection? Are their kids not at school? How do mail-in ballots work? Will they work? There are so many more factors.
So What Can I Do to Get Out the Vote Now?
First off, make sure YOU have a voting plan. Make sure everyone you know does as well. If you have questions, you can call your board of elections. For example, I applied for a mail-in ballot, but I wanted to vote in person after all, so I had to find out how that would work. Just know, you're likely not the first person to have a question about the voting process, so it shouldn't be hard to find an answer.
Second, educate yourself on your own ballot. Are there any referendums? Are there judges or local seats up for election? You can use sites like BallotReady, Ballotpedia, and VoteForJudges to learn more about who's on the ballot and what they stand for.
Since door knocking is off the table in this election, it's down to calls, texts, and letters. There are A LOT of places that are setting up GOTV efforts in specific states or regions. But if you are a Democrat, you can start at Joe Biden's website or at SwingLeft, Mobilize Us, or Vote Forward.