Phones across the East Coast started ringing soon after dawn on Election Day. Armed with boxes of Dunkin’ Donuts and coffee, Brian Silva, Executive Director of Marriage Equality USA, established a series of work stations in the back of the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) communications center near Times Square, ready for the team of volunteer callers due to start shifts throughout the day. By 11 a.m. the vast majority of the center’s 100 cubicles were filed with callers.
Silva and the team from Marriage Equality USA, a national organization for the legalization of same-sex marriage, shared the space with the NAACP and 1199 SEIU, a healthcare workers union, to make phone calls to get out the vote. The communication center operates throughout the year, but the buzz of conversation was especially loud on Election Day.
The call center is independent, despite its association with the union and liberal organizations. “We have our call centers, they have theirs,” said Brendan Shaw, director of the communications center, of conservative groups.
Bill Lynch Associates, headed by senior associate LaMon Bland, was hired by the NAACP to conduct a Get Out To Vote phone bank. Due to its tax-exempt status, the NAACP must remain non-partisan and does not endorse specific candidates, but instead makes sure voters get to the polls. The volunteers focused most of their efforts on New York registered voters, but also called Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Wisconsin and Massachusetts.
“Hi, I’m calling from the NAACP and I’m calling to see if you voted today,” rows of people said, their voices overlapping.
Last week’s storm, Sandy, caused additional complications for voters in damaged areas, making the Bland’s team of callers alter their conversations, from encouraging voting to informing people about options at the polls. New York Governor Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order November 5 allowing any voter in a federally-declared disaster county to vote for President and U.S. Senator on an affidavit ballot at any poll site.
“A lot of voters need a lot of help right now,” Bland said, explaining that the last-minute executive order had caused some confusion for voters, and triggered the NAACP to start phone-banking earlier than originally planned. “Sandy really has changed the situation,” said Bland, sporting a bright yellow NAACP baseball hat and an “Indecision 2012- I Voted” sticker. “I anticipate a lot more questions,” he added, and said that he feared the storm would cause lower voter turnout.
Cathy Marino-Thomas, co-president of Marriage Equality USA, was decked in a Marriage Equality shirt, ready to help call voters in Maine, Maryland, Minnesota and Washington, all states with same-sex marriage referendums on their ballots. After almost two hours, Marino-Thomas had made 138 calls. While most people hadn’t answered their phones, the conversations she had were supportive. Each positive response brought a grin to Marino-Thomas’s face. “A couple thousand more like you ma’am and we’ll have marriage equality nationally,” she told one caller.
Like Marino-Thomas, most callers got affirmative responses, that constituents were voting. In the Marriage Equality USA corner of the center, callers swapped stories in between dialing numbers. RoseAnn Hermann, a Marriage Equality volunteer, reminisced about a less than friendly Maryland voter she had dealt with on a canvassing trip, while her husband relayed an offensive conversation from an irate voter he had just talked to.
Hermann, who has gay children, including one in Washington, has been volunteering as a canvasser and phone bank caller for Marriage Equality all election season. But, she said, “the only poll that matters is today.”
Joshua Williams, a NAACP volunteer, started his calls by asking, “Are you going to take advantage of your rights today?”
“Most say they have already gone out to vote. 20-30% say they haven’t yet, but will after work,” Williams said. “It’s cool when you get the really excited people, but you can tell that a lot of people just want to get off the phone.”
The phone bank also supported volunteers calling from home, with Silva conducting quick phone trainings throughout the day. The calling, Silva said, is the most important tool these organizations have to get out the vote at the last minute. “We felt we could engage more people here … and we could reach all four states,” he said.
While the SEIU communications center was in full drive for Election Day, it wouldn’t have a break the day after. No matter who wins the election, SEIU and its associated organizations will begin again, lobbying voters to support a variety of causes, said Shaw. “We just want to make sure people make the right choices,” he said.