Election Day: Yes We Can Have Free Yogurt

Tech Staff Member Recounts His Day on the Front Lines With the Obama Campaign

After being called and e-mailed many times by the Obama campaign over the last few weeks, I decided to spend Election Day in New Hampshire campaigning for Barack.

The campaign wanted us to get out every single Obama supporter in the battleground states to the polls. Considering I was planning on spending all of Election Day hitting refresh on, I was more than happy to donate my time.

Starting at 7 a.m., waves of Get Out the Vote volunteers left from Massachusetts to flood New Hampshire and Pennsylvania. Our rallying station at the Shaw’s in Porter Square sent groups of people out at 7 a.m., 8 a.m., and 11 a.m. My group, the 11 a.m. group, consisted of more than 30 volunteers.

We departed for field offices scattered throughout New Hampshire. I teamed up with an Emerson undergrad and we were directed to drive out to the Londonderry, N.H. office.

The Londonderry field office was set up at the Stonyfield Farms Yogurt Factory. And yes, there was free yogurt for Obama volunteers. At any time the office contained about 10–20 volunteers in addition to about 10 full-time Obama staffers.

From personal experience, I can easily say the Obama ground operation of 2008 dwarfs the 2004 Kerry operation. I’m also sure it far exceeds the vaunted Rove Republican Operations. I don’t think an operation like this has ever existed. They are the most motivated and organized group I’ve ever seen.

In addition to having motivated ground troops, the Obama campaign is incredibly technologically advanced. The Obama campaign’s computer is named “Houdini.” It has a list of every single registered Democrat, Barack-leaning independent, and Obamacan. Each voter shows up as a black dot on a Google Map. The campaign records statistics on each of these voters, tracking the number of times each house has been canvassed, called, persuaded, and mainly badgered into voting for Obama.

When they do finally vote, the dot disappears from the screen, hence the name “Houdini.” Our job, as we learned when we arrived, is to make every single dot disappear.

Groups of canvassers passed through an Obama assembly line. First we registered, then we underwent a brief training session with Obama staffers. Finally, we picked up packets containing maps, lists of voters, and campaign paraphernalia. Volunteers were split up into groups of two to four and sent out to canvas all Obama supporters in a given area.

“This is your turf,” they instructed. “Make sure everyone gets to the polls.”

With that, they sent us on our way. There were tables of food donated by the yogurt factory and other local volunteers. The campaign had also ordered catering for lunch and dinner. Now I knew where some of that $600 million in campaign contributions was going.

My partner and I hit the trail. We canvassed suburban neighborhoods that are mostly middle class. A couple trends emerged. First, every house on our list has been contacted multiple times by the Obama Campaign and only very few times by the McCain campaign. Most of these residents are accustomed to seeing Obama ground troops in their neighborhoods and our presence is often telegraphed.

“Mom, more Obama people here!” a small girl shouts as we walk towards the door.

Every time the door opens, the answer is essentially the same: “I’ve already voted, thanks.”

One story is especially memorable. We canvassed a development full of retirees. Our maps indicated that almost two thirds of this neighborhood are considered Obama supporters, and from knocking on doors, we found that all except for one of them have already voted for Obama.

The one exception is a 92-year-old Jewish man who breathes with the aid of an oxygen tube. His daughter opened the door and told us that he had waited in line this morning for an hour-and-a-half, but in the end, did not feel well enough to vote. Upon seeing us, the man walked up to us and apologized personally for not being able to vote for Obama.

I doubt I will see anything like this again in my life.

From talking to some of the Obama staffers manning the polls, most of the precinct waited in lines before the polls opened to get their vote in. Not knowing how long the wait would be, most erred on the side of caution.

At 7 a.m., when the polls opened at the Londonderry High School Gymnasium, lines stretched out hundreds of yards into the parking lots. By 9 a.m., the lines were gone, and although the volume was heavy throughout the day, no one had to wait more than a few minutes. I was also told by a staffer that some 12,000 people in the precinct had already voted. They expected turnout in New Hampshire to be around 90 percent or higher.

Our results on the ground supported this. Of the about a hundred or so people we had contacted, only two did not cast votes.

We finished canvassing around 7 p.m. and made one last trip out to the polls. There were still many enthusiastic Obama supporters waving signs outside the entrance in addition to several McCain supporters. Although the vehicle traffic to and fro was still heavy, the pace at the polls was brisk. Many of the staffers were readying for the results party at a hotel in Manchester.

Back at Obama headquarters, we encountered about 10 remaining staffers huddled around TVs and catering trays. A sign on the wall read, “1 hour ’til polls close.” They were tired, but cautiously optimistic. One staffer asked us to go back out and canvas 10 more houses. Since it was dark and we had met so few people who hadn’t voted, we politely declined.

It wasn’t until half-way back to Boston, around 8 p.m., that we heard the news. Obama had won New Hampshire convincingly.