Precinct Work CW 44- Transcript

precinct work

John Tsarpalas: I wanted to go into more detail on how things work in a precinct level. How do you analyze what precincts to work, figure out swing voters and ticket splitters, swing precincts, fortress precincts, and timing of when you are working that precinct? How about registering voters that might be voting for you?

And then I add a little smattering at campaign finance law thrown in here because I got ticked off thinking about it. So today, it is Commonwealthy #44, Precinct Work.

Something I’d like to get in more detail on is numbers, goals, understanding where you are working harder, what time, and where you are focusing your resources least. You only have limited resources. It’s really important to analyze your data, set goals for every precinct in your district, and to understand your plan- and to make a plan!

So today let’s get into that. Let’s talk a little bit about the metrics, the numbers. Where I first start is I go to my board of elections or whatever resource I have that gives me all the data on past elections in my area. This is an art and a science. I’ll keep explaining where the art comes in and I’ll talk about the science, too.

You are going to get past election data. You are going to pull data for general elections, primaries, and those off season elections. If you are running in a municipal race and say it’s going to be in 2017, which I started talking about in this podcast and I am going to keep talking about in this podcast because it is not too early to start for 2017. In fact, you should be started if you are going to be running in 2017.

We are a little too late for 2016. Not totally. You can still jump in and get in. There are possible places where you can still get on the ballot.

But here is what you are going to do. You get this data. The data is all the voters in that district, number one, but number two, you want to be able to break down how they have voted. The data should have every voter’s history. So you need counts on how people have voted.

Now, if you are in a partisan race, this can be easier in that some people are registered as Democrats or in some states they have to pull a Democrat or Republican ballot in the primary identifying as to what ballot they have taken. As I said, in some states you are registered Republican, Independent, etc. In some states you have no idea.

And if you are running in a nonpartisan race, it can be confusing. Often the parties are behind one candidate or another in a nonpartisan race. You’ve kind of got to know which team is which and figure that out. So there’s a little bit of the art there.

You are going to try to get the last as many cycles of information back. Usually they pull the last four cycles. So a cycle is usually two years, so that is going to be eight years of back information.

You are going to break it down precinct. Precinct is sort of the smallest level, other than the individual in politics. Precincts can range in size depending on the state and how they are set up. Here in Illinois, a precinct is four hundred to six hundred voters. I mean, more people are registered, but that is about who turns out to vote. In other states, precincts can be thousands of people. It depends on your state and the size of the precincts.

Here’s what you are going to do with that precinct information. You can take the last two cycles for the same type of race. So say you are running in a presidential year. You want to analyze the last two, three, or maybe even four presidential turnouts in a presidential year if you are running in the presidential year. Or if you are running in a primary, you want to go back and look at the primary data.

But if you are running in the governor year, which is the other even year the opposite year (in many states, governors are elected off cycle of the presidential)… And then there are the odd number campaigns. Those again are usually for local and municipal races.

So you want to take those cycles that are the same. If you are running in 2017, you want to take the last two, three, or four the odd year races for the race that you are in and look at that data. Somehow I feel like I just confused everybody. If you don’t understand it, email me at Send me an email and we will figure it out.

Okay, so you got this data. You are getting it at the precinct level. You can add them together and divide by the number of races so that you get an average. You also (and this is where the art comes in) need to look at what was going on politically that year.

Sometimes, the top of the ticket really affects the bottom of the ticket. Sometimes if you are running for a school board race and there is going to be a referendum for a tax increase for the schools or a bond issue or there was one in the last cycle, turnouts could be higher because of that bond or revenue issue. People turned out because they were for more money or opposed to more money for the schools.

You’ve got to think about that and you might have to nuance what is happening. You might find turnout is twenty percent higher when there was something on about raising taxes. And then the next cycle is twenty percent lower.

Or that is going to happen because you are running to stop this bond referendum that is coming. Or the bond referendum is on the ballot when you are running. That should drive turnout. It should drive it higher. You need to think about how much higher. You are going to have to do some manual manipulation of your numbers.

But assume everything is pretty straightforward. These are standard years. Nothing strange has gone on. There has not been some populous candidate that is really driving up turnout or something suppressing turnout.

You can take, say, the last two years, add them together, and divide by two. You have an average. You are going to do this for every precinct. And then you are going to look at your precincts. If it is a partisan race and people have identified themselves as Republicans, you can go with that number for Republicans.

You’ve got a precinct and it is seventy percent Republican turnout. That’s a Republican precinct! Sometimes they are referred to as fortress precincts. This is where you can make stand. This is where your people are.

Now if you are an independent or nonpartisan situation, it is more difficult because you don’t have that number of Republican base voters in a primary to work off of. But you can make some guesses.

The problem is as a nonpartisan race, if you are assuming Republicans are going to vote for you because you are trying to hold the line on taxes in your school board race, well that is all well and good that they might support you. You’ve got to do a real job on making sure they know who you are and that is what you stand for.

They have no idea who you are. There is no Republican label next to your name. Not that Republican means that they are going to be fiscal conservatives. That is one of the huge problems we have in America. But you can assume those people might be fiscal leaning and therefore you can set up your mail plan to mail those people.

But back to the precincts. Okay, those precincts that are sixty percent or more lean Republican or have somehow leaned for a candidate that you know was similar to you in a previous race would be your fortresses. Those would be places where you will be able to do well in.

In those precincts, you start early there. You get a mailing out early and you get volunteers to start calling and knocking doors there early. Why? Your knock and your call not only says who you are, but it actually has an ask for them to volunteer for you or to stay in touch with you.

You are looking for people who would be excited about your campaign because you are a fiscal conservative and they voted fiscal conservative in the past. You are going to be recruiting there early on to get them to work for you.

You are going to also assume that once they are aware of you that they are going to stay committed to you. And they probably will be voting for you in the election. So your strategy on those precincts changes later.

You are then moving on down to those precincts that are, say, fifty-five percent for you, fifty percent for you, forty percent for you. These are what are going to be more independents and more swing voters.

But you are going to do an analysis for that. You are going to look at each precinct and look to see who split a ticket. If this is Republican or Democrat and you see certain candidates that are Republican have done well and other candidates who are Democrat and have done well, then there are ticket splitters there. There are people that can swing over based on a particular issue. Those are your swing precincts.

Those are your ticket splitting precincts. Those are ones that are going to require a lot of time with persuasion and a lot of phone calls and door knocks. You are going to get to them early not, but not as early as those fortress precincts. You want to get the word out and you want to be calling them to get people to show up.

Here’s another tip: you will always have volunteers who are willing to make phone calls, but they are skittish. “Oh, I am afraid to talk to somebody.” I always have them do very soft calls. I start them off, if we are in a Republican race, calling other Republicans, people that have committed in the primary to four Republican ballots in a row. Those are Republicans. Those are what are known as hard R’s.

And then I have those beginning phone callers and those that are worried and nervous phone callers call their fellow Republicans. It’s a comfortable call. “Hi, I am John. I am calling for Republican candidate Bill. He is running for county board here in John Doe County. I believe you’ve voted Republican in the past. I wanted to let you know about his campaign. Are you aware of him?”

Then they will say yes. Then if it is yes, “Oh, great. You know, I am a Republican, too. We are here making phone calls every night. Would you mind putting up a yard sign for Bill? It would really help his campaign. We are going to send you an invite to his next pizza party. If you would like to come meet Bill, I’d be happy to introduce you. That would be great.”

Perhaps, if it is flowing really well, you are literally going to ask, “You know, we are here next Tuesday night. We are here every Tuesday night. We are up at the county GOP office at blah blah blah from 7 to 9. Why don’t you come on up? I’d love to meet you.” That’s the kind of thing you are doing to those fortress precincts early on, those kind of calls. It works and it is effective.

Now, it is hard when you are doing these lower races. You are running for school board? It is tougher. But you need to try and make these calls. Another thing you can do is find a volunteer who lives in that precinct or literally lives on that block.

The more local you can match that precinct up and the people who are in that precinct who are being contacted with a person who is local (and even better, a woman calling a woman, mothers calling mothers), the better. Birds of a feather prefer to talk to their same kind of bird. Think about it that way.

You are also trying to recruit people that are going to help you and will be willing to make phone calls or go door to door. That has to happen early on because you have to have a big army of volunteers to make this work.

Okay, I am off on a tangent and I am off the numbers. So back to the numbers. We were talking about those precincts that were swing, split ticket voters. Those precincts you are going to work after you have started calling the hard R’s or calling the fortress precincts or whatever you want to call it. You are going to then be working those independents.

You are taking those volunteers who have gotten comfortable on the phone and having them talk to independents. You are having a completely different script. You kind of voter ID. You are ID-ing them on issues; you are not ID-ing them so much on the candidate or on the party.

“Hi, I am calling because Bill is running for school board. Bill is worried about this new bond referendum that they want to pass to raise your school board $35 million. Bill has some thoughts that we can do it with what we have in the bank already. We don’t have to raise taxes. Where are you on this issue?”

And they will say, “Oh, I am opposed to it” or “I am for it.” If they are matching up to what you are running on, that’s someone that you can probably get to support you. You are going to ask if they need more information. You are going to ask if they would like to come to a pizza party to meet Bill, meet you, come talk, etc.

Let’s put this in a timeline of a regular year. You are calling your fortress precincts early on in the primary, way before the primary is happening and up until the primary. As soon as the primary is over, you are then switching to your independents, the swing districts, the ticket splittlers, and to those people who aren’t registered Republican or Democrat.

You are going after those independents. You are calling those hard with persuasion calls. You are offering to give them more information if their mind isn’t made up. And you are going to work at this and work at this and work at this.

What you need to do is start with those precincts that lean more your way to start with. As you get through all that database and you made those contacts, you are working your way into those precincts that lean more and more against you. So those precincts that are strongly Democrat.

You are not calling Democrats. You might call the independents, but you are getting to those precincts last because that’s back to birds of a feather. If independents are living in a heavy liberal district, they may not call themselves a Democrat, but they probably lean that way.

So I am talking about those independents. Those independents haven’t identified themselves. If they are in a liberal area, they are probably leaning liberal and they are mushy.

The other thing you are looking at is do they show up to vote? There might be people registered to vote who never show up to vote. If they are Republicans and you are running as a Republican, you need to be pushing them to the polls during the absentee and early voting period. They are going to take a lot of persuasion to show up to the polls.

If they are independents and they don’t ever vote, leave them to the end. Go to those independents that do show up to vote and try to persuade them. You’ve got less hassle getting them to the polls and they are going to show up. They might for you or they might vote against you. But maybe you can hit them off at the pass and convince them vote for you.

These are the kind of things you need to think about with every precinct. In an ideal world, you’ve recruit volunteers in every precinct to go door to door and make phone calls. Again, we want to match up people from that precinct so they call and talk to people in that precinct.

You want to create a precinct captain in that precinct for your campaign. Do not count on the Republican precinct committeemen or precinct captains that are there to work for you. Many of them don’t work for anybody. They are only there in name only.

There are good ones. Don’t let me bad wrap you if you are a precinct committeeman. I was a precinct captain for many years. I loved doing it. I worked and I got people persuaded who were independents. I knew where my base was.

That is something else you are doing when you are calling and contacting the base. That is finding out who in that house isn’t registered to vote that would vote Republican. Is there a son or a daughter who is turning eighteen in that household? The parents are Republican and the parents think the kid would vote Republican, too.

You want to make sure you get that kid registered. You want to talk through those things. You want to understand who is coming of age. And if someone new has moved in, you want to talk to that household, too. You don’t know where they stand at all. They are a new move in.

That’s the beauty of a precinct captain. That person should know their precinct. They should be able to know who is new to the area and literally welcome them. “Hi, I am the precinct committeeman for this area. Welcome. Do you vote? Have you registered? Do you usually lean Republican or lean Democrat or independent? How do you go?”

And if they leaning opposite as you, you are not volunteering to help them go get registered. You are saying, “Good luck. Thanks. Welcome to the neighborhood.” You are leaving a nice image in their mind and you are walking away.

But if they lean Republican or they vote Republican, they are telling you they are going to vote for you, they lean fiscal conservative, or whatever you are using to ID (because issue can be a way of ID-ing versus party, as I said earlier), then you are going to get them registered.

You are going to get the voter registrar over there or you are going to tell them where to go to register. “You know, you can go up to the village hall and register from 9 to 5.” Or “I am a voter registrar. I can come back and sign you up. But I can’t do it in the same pass. Will you be home later?” And I was a voter registrar.

If you are running a GOP organization or you are running a campaign or you are running a Tea Party group, you should be getting your members turned into voter registration officers and registrars so that they can go around and register people.

So literally I would go back two hours later. I wouldn’t really leave the precinct or I would go home and come back or whatever. If I was there at two o’clock, at four o’clock I came back with my voter registrar hat on. I didn’t talk politics because you are not allowed to do that when you are registering people.

I’d knock on their door and say, “Hi, I am here to register you guys. Can I see your ID’s?” Just do it. Do the papers and submit it. I registered a lot of people in my time.

There were also situations where I would do that in a group situation. You go to a Tea Party meeting and you just make an announcement. “Everyone here registered? Anybody not registered at home that you think would vote for us?” I’d make appointments and/or do it right there at the meeting.

Gun shows. A lot of voter registration going on at gun shows. So think about where your voters are. See if you can get some registration done there.

Something that happens in my old neighborhood, the liberal one, was came through every summer with college students. I think they were paid internships. They knocked on all the doors of anybody who was independent, Democrat, liberal, or whatever. They didn’t knock the hard R doors, but I knew they were there because I would see them and I would ask. I was always paying attention to what was going on.

They would come through and they would pump people for the election. They would ID them on issue, not on campaign or a candidate because they are a not-for-profit. They can talk about issues. So they would say, “You know, are you pro-choice in this house? Are you worried about our schools, that we aren’t spending enough?” Things like that. would come through and, as I said, ID people on issue and register people. They would find out who needed to get registered and they would send a registrar back later. I think they had one following them on a two or three hour delay. They would make appointments for the registrar.

I literally saw in my personal precinct that I lived in 150 new registrations every summer of liberals. It didn’t happen on the Republican side. Literally I was a precinct captain in a different precinct than my own.

The guy working my precinct was okay. He didn’t get out enough. He would come around in the fall. But guess what? A little late to be registering people. Usually you have to have them registered at least thirty days before early voting.

So the secret is you’ve got to get out there and you’ve got to keep at it. You’ve got to have people who are making calls and knocking doors.

Back to the numbers. Something else you are looking at in numbers is you are going to work out who you are mailing to. You are going to look at households. Most good voter data systems will separate by household.

For most households, if there is a married couple there or with kids that are over eighteen, you might find two or three people who are going to voting for you in that household.

There are households that split. I don’t know how that works. A household divided, I don’t know how it can stand, but I have seen them. Often in my liberal neighborhood, the females were liberal Democrats and it was all about pro-choice. The men were fiscal conservative Republicans. That was often, but not always.

But you need to look at households. Households is what you are going to use to figure out your door knocking. Households is what you are going to use to figure out your mail. How many pieces of literature are you going to mail? You are going to mail one piece per household.

You are going to mail it to the person, if it is in primary and early on and you are mailing your Republicans, who comes out as the strongest Republican. If the household is full of Republicans, that is fine; anyone of them will do.

But that will give you your counts, the number of people in that house. Now, mail. If you’ve got limited assets (money that is) to pay for mail, you are going to start with your strongest precincts in that primary. When you switch to independents, you are going to go for those independents that are in those areas that lean more Republican first and work your way down.

So you are going to have different lists. You are going to have lists of hard R areas, fortress areas. You are going to have those lists of independent and swing voter areas.

And then finally you are going to have lists that you are going to get to at the very end and those are ones that are heavy Democrat areas. You are not going to work them as much because you don’t have the manpower.

If you have the manpower to get to every independent and every Republican, more power to you. I keep going back to Republican because it is easier to do it that way. When you are working as an independent, you’ve got a bigger fight and a bigger uphill climb because you’ve got to ID people based on other things.

That brings me to another thought: Tea Partiers, you should be making phone calls. Your organization should be ID-ing people on issues every day of every year, election or not, because you can then tell, not what party they are, but which way they lean. And that can be used in the municipal elections as well.

That data is valuable to different campaigns. But you don’t have to give them campaigns. You can run your own thing based on that. You just do it on issues. Those people that are issue voters you are going to turn out on that issue. So don’t forget that. Please be doing it because it is so important.

If you think that the Republican Party is doing it, they are doing some but they are not doing enough. The Democrats do a whole lot more of it and they do it through different means. They’ve got unions doing it and they’ve got doing it. They’ve got Sierra’s Club doing it. They’ve got Emily’s List doing it on abortion. I should say on choice.

We don’t have that happening. I have to add a warning here. These groups (Emily’s List,, Tea Party groups, etc.) can’t coordinate with a candidate’s campaign. So if they are out there ID-ing on an issue, that’s fine. If they are getting people registered to vote, that’s fine. But they can’t get out the vote for a candidate and they can’t be working with a candidate and his or her campaign.

They can make calls on Election Day to say, “I know you are worried about pro-choice. You can go show up to the polls today and vote pro-choice.” They can’t say vote Democrat. They can’t say vote for John Doe. But they can talk about the issue.

That is what our Tea Party groups need to be doing. That’s what our groups need to be doing. “We know that you are worried about Second Amendment rights. You need to show up to the polls today to vote for those Second Amendment candidates.” I just wanted you to understand that.

Coordination is not allowed. Things like are 501(c)3’s. They are literally educational not-for-profits. If they coordinate with candidates or campaigns, they could lose their not-for-profit status. Some Tea Party groups are (c)3’s or (c)4’s.

However, their volunteers can go work at the campaign and use the campaign stuff and be involved over there. Then that’s campaign. But if they are doing it from an office that is paid for from (c)3 money or Tea Party money, that’s separate. They can’t mix it. They can’t use phones from there. The volunteers have to be segregated.

So keep that in mind. There’s this whole issue on campaign financing, which is a bunch of garbage. Thank you John McCain adding more garbage. Sorry about that. It just ticks me off for what he did to campaign finance law.

Campaign finance laws are ridiculous. People are always going to find ways around it and loop holes. Believe me, they set it up to protect themselves and the incumbents with the campaign finance laws. So the only fair campaign finance law in my book is no campaign finance law. Enough with that rant.

So, we’ve got a lot to make up for and to do. It doesn’t mean we can’t win. We are winning. If you look at this country, there is more red out there. It doesn’t necessarily mean it is conservative. Hopefully it is going to become more so as we clean things up and we get this to be a much more fiscally conservative limited government country.

I hope I shed some light today. If you are confused, send me an email at I am happy to help you and answer your questions.

Something that got pointed out to me this last week was people don’t understand what I do. I am a candidate coach. I like to help candidates get ready to run for office and then help them to put together their campaign.

I don’t like being a consultant to a whole campaign. I don’t want to run your campaign. I want to help you take care of it yourself.

One of the reasons for that is I can spend a smaller amount of time with you and therefore charge you a whole lot less money if I kind of tell you what you need to do and let you go do it. Then when you have questions, you come back and I charge again for another fifteen minutes, forty-five minutes, or whatever it happens to be. I charge by the quarter hour.

I am available to people not of any one party. I don’t work for Democrats. I will work anybody that is Constitution-minded, limited government-minded. I don’t care if you are running a nonpartisan race or a partisan race. My goal is to shrink government. My goal is to protect freedom and protect the Constitution of the United States of America. That is my number one goal.

My number two goal is, yes, I’d like to make a living at this. I have bills to pay. The only way I can put all my time and energy into supporting people is at some point I need to get paid.

However, I do offer the first half hour free. I get to know you a little bit, what you are trying to do, and what your campaign is about. I can usually offer you some free advice in that half hour.

And then I will let you know what I think it is going to take to do what you need. I can direct you to some people who I think might be better at some of the things than I am. And there are things that I am really great at.

I am very good at public speaking and debate prep. I am very good at field operations. I have spent most of my political career focusing on field operations. Somehow I ended up loving public speaking. I enjoy public speaking and coaching it.

But I have friends that are good at mail. I have friends that are good at the law. I have friends that are good at different things. I can refer you to those people. And if I don’t know somebody, I’ll let you know that, too.

So if I can be of help, you can reach me at You can reach me there anytime. I am always checking email. I am happy to get back to you and make a little appointment. We can talk via a phone call or Skype. There are lots of different systems.

I do work all over the country and have worked all over the country. Although I am Chicago area based and most of the things I have done tend to be Illinois-centric, it is not the only place I have worked. I have done political work in Nebraska, Colorado, Arkansas, and Maine. Tina is down in Texas and I help her a little bit down there.

There’s a whole list of other states that I think are in my bio on the website at in the About page. I can’t remember them all off hand. It doesn’t really matter. What is important is that if I can help you, feel free to reach out and let me know. I’d be happy to talk to you. Thanks for listening!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *