Nuts & Bolts: Hey, why don't you talk about specific voting tools?

Welcome back to the weekly Nuts & Bolts Guide to small campaigns. Every week I try to tackle issues I’ve been asked about. With the help of other campaign workers and notes, we address how to improve and build better campaigns or explain how we can strengthen our party.

This series has run for nearly a decade now, but one item I have tried to avoid addressing directly is specific tools used by campaigns—like NGP-Van/VoteBuilder, and numerous other action tools used to help touch and contact voters. List management software, phone apps, mobile tools. Privately, I get a lot of questions about these tools. These tools are significant and powerful for every Democratic campaign. So, why don’t I spend more diaries training people on how to use a tool effectively, build a list or start using phone script reporting? Well, there is an answer.

The simple answer.

The most straightforward answer to this question is that explaining these tools in a format like this can run contrary to how a campaign may want the tool to be used. Campaigns can provide different levels of access to members of their campaign. Your state, county, or district may also have restrictions on your usage related to buy-ins and expense management. Writing here about those issues would not be universal in a way that I find very helpful. While addressing it in person or through Zoom can be beneficial, it is so because there can be a meaningful back and forth of questions and answers. That simply isn’t possible when I pre-write and work to explain the “why” far more than the “how.”

The tools available to campaigns are something that they have to juggle, and part of that juggling means they have to choose how much time to spend with each tool. Part of what I do here at Daily Kos is to encourage state organizations and candidates specifically to write at Daily Kos, comment, and participate. 

I know that campaigns have been more than willing to share their thoughts about how they think and how they want to appeal to voters. When it comes to all of our strategies on using tools, most view that as “secret sauce,” it is difficult to explain, and once it is explained out in the open, well, others will simply look at it written up and steal the methodology. This isn’t to say we don’t want better informed Democratic campaigns; everyone does. We don’t also want to provide Republican campaigns a public map to the ins and outs of specific tools. Many of the “why” elements are tied to ideology in a way that is difficult to replicate.

The “how” though, can cross into challenging areas. More than once in writing this series, I’ve had a debate with others about whether some stories should be written. More than once I worried I had traded my work on Democratic campaigns to be a Republican spy, of sorts, and inadvertently send information over to them using this very series. 

By focusing on the “how,” we can have a practical discussion on making every campaign better without creating conflict.

I have always built this series in response.

At this point, I’m not sure how many Nuts & Bolts are written. While it isn’t as prodigious as other series on Daily Kos, weekly writing the series for an extensive period means that I look for something that seems timely and reflects the questions I receive from candidates thinking of joining the site or users posting in their own diaries or direct messages sent to me. If I spend time talking about tools, you stop really interacting with users about their unique experience. It is a unique opportunity to discuss how to find things you love about your campaign, the way you can think about your candidate, strategies on how you can best spend your time. 

The series can talk about solid canvassing methods—and trust me, I could spend a lot of time criticizing poorly devised methods of knocking doors—but all of those focus on the human interaction and things within the control of the volunteer. Volunteers, first-time candidates, and managers of very small campaigns spend more time reading this series than others. Addressing what I know they have direct control over has more impact than taking on something that can vary based on where they are running for office.

Winter is coming. November 2nd looms.

November 2nd is coming, and we have several locations that early voting in some form is already occurring. These races for local elections and state can give us a first look at the energy level of our volunteers and campaign methods going into 2022. We should all be paying attention.

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