Getting Out the Vote
BILL MOYERS: Recently, we've been listening to some voices with fresh ideas for the new century. Tonight, we want to introduce you to Monica Patton. We heard earlier from chuck lewis about people willing to spend fortunes on campaigns. Monica Patton is every bit as committed to the simple idea of getting people to vote. During the last midterm election, only a third or so of registered voters bothered to make their voices heard. But Monica Patton and an organization called Vote for America have shown you can do amazing things if you just won't take no for an answer.
MONICA PATTON (SPEAKING AT VOLUNTEER TRAINING SESSION): In 1996, for the first time ever in our country's history, less than 50% of the American population went to the polls, and the statistics are not encouraging experts predict that 2002 may have the lowest voter turnout ever, that we've ever seen.
MONICA PATTON: My name is Monica Patton, I'm the Executive Director of Vote for America Rhode Island. We're not about getting a particular candidate out or-- advocating on a particular issue. We're all just about getting people out to the polls.
MONICA PATTON (SPEAKING AT VOLUNTEER TRAINING SESSION): A lot of times when I do these. A lot of people say "everybody I know votes" Well, I am here to tell you that not everyone you know votes and you know some of them ..they're people you live with, worship with, they're people that you work with…
MONICA PATTON: Vote for America was established in 2000 to get more people to vote. We looked at how bad the voter turn out rates were. We just thought it was shameful and wanted to do something to make it better, to make people aware of how important it is to participate.
MONICA PATTON (SPEAKING AT VOLUNTEER TRAINING SESSION): Just to give you a little background about myself. I never really cared about voting… really didn't see the relevance to my own life. Um I think I voted once by the time I was twenty-four..
MONICA PATTON: I was in the Peace Corp in West Africa, in a small country called Burkina Faso -- just north of Ivory Coast and Ghana.
I was pretty fortunate to be there during an election. And it really opened my eyes to how elections were different there then they were here. People couldn't criticize the government. A journalist was killed. My friends really had to be careful about what they said about the government because it could get them in trouble.
And it's just-- was really an eye opener for me about what the differences were, and what we had here, and how lucky we were here.
I think people don't feel like their vote matters. They get turned off by the negative ads. They get turned off by the partisan politics. we hear all about the bad apples, but we don't really hear about all the good apples.
MONICA AT SCHOOL, TALKING TO CLASSROOM: If you guys are gonna to go out into the community and talk to people about why voting matters, what are you gonna to tell them? What are some of the things that you think will make them want to go out and vote?
STUDENT: We should be able to ask them to vote so they can express our rights and our ideas.
MONICA PATTON: When we go into schools often times we'll ask the students, "How does government effect you?" A lot of students tell us that government doesn't affect them.
…Financial aid for college. Good, that's a big one government finances a lot of people's education..
And then we start talking to them about-- "Well what about financial aid, what about your schools, what about the roads, what about the taxes your parent's pay, what about the fact that there's an age limit on when you get your drivers license?" And that's really something that we try to bring back to people is that awareness of what that connection is
STUDENT: People continually complain about what's going on in the government and I think that they would complain less if they actually did vote they would have a less reason to complain because they're making a difference
WALEED, VOTE FOR AMERICAN VOLUNTEER: Salaam Aleikum…Alekium Salaam…
PERSIS STANTON, RESIDENT: Come on in.
MONICA PATTON: We ask our volunteers to go out and talk to people they know, their friends, their family, their neighbors their co-workers. Research, really shows that people vote because somebody that they know and trusted talked to them about voting.
WALEED, VOTE FOR AMERICAN VOLUNTEER: All the people that are registered aren't voters, so it seems as though it would make sense to have some kind of process that followed up with people
MONICA PATTON: There's been a lot of focus over the past 10, 15 years on getting people registered. And so we looked at those numbers and said if registration rates are so high-- that means that it's not the registration rates that are preventing people from voting.
WALEED: So, ah, Sister Persis, can you take a moment to fill out the card, and I can uh..
MONICA PATTON: So our strategy is really person-to-person conversations with the people that you know and trust.
PERSIS STANTON, RESIDENT: Sometimes people have even said you know they hear the politicians arguing or disagreeing and then when it's time to vote, you know, they just…they don't want to be bothered with that.
VICTORIA, VOTE FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: What we're asking you guys to do is we want you to take a pledge that says you are going to vote on Nov 5th.
MONICA PATTON: Part of the pledge to vote campaign is that there's a sense of obligation they're gonna see you, they're gonna be around you, you know every day up till the election. The hope is that they're going to encourage you enough that you'll really take it seriously.
VOTE FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: Do you feel more comfortable talking about it like this and asking your friends for information than maybe adults or people in the school or..
FRIEND/SORORITY SISTER: Well, we're on the same level so you understand where we're coming from.
JOE, VOTE FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: It takes on average, five to ten minutes per pledge, it really does.
MONICA PATTON: We try to make our volunteer base as diverse as possible. So we have Republicans, Democrats, Greens, Independents. We have business people, we have-- we have moms, we have students.
PASTOR JEFFERY WILLIAMS,VOTE FOR AMERICA VOLUNTEER: If you don't vote, someone is voting for you -- can you imagine that? Someone is going to step in there, make a vote, that's going to govern your life. I've had enough of that, how about you?
MONICA PATTON: When we started doing this campaign in 2002 we thought it would be a lot easier than it was in 2000.
In the 2000 election we did have an army of about 1500 people on the ground, trying to get more people to vote. Rhode Island saw a 5.6 percent increase in overall voter turnout. And exit polls showed that there was a 41 percent increase in youth voter turnout, which was the highest in the country.
I really believe it was efforts like ours, and all of the other organizations that were participating that really had a dramatic effect on voter turnout in this state.
But what we're finding is that it's actually much more difficult to recruit this time.
MONICA PATTON SPEAKING TO VOLUNTEERS: I'm really proud to be here today. I think it's amazing that what we started in 2000 here in Rhode Island has now expanded to three states and it's because of the work of you and a lot of people like you in 2000, who went out, talked to their friends and family.
MONICA PATTON: I think the hardest part about my job is convincing people that this is important, they don't see the connection between the water that they're drinking and the government that sits in the State House or in the White House.
And that's what Vote for America is trying to do, is trying to eliminate that disconnect between government and daily life.
MONICA PATTON SPEAKING TO VOLUNTEERS: Vote for America is actually like the vote itself, alone it's hard to make a big difference, but together we can make a drastic impact on what happens in this state.
MONICA PATTON: I think about my friends in Burkina Faso a lot when I'm doing this work.
MONICA PATTON SPEAKING TO VOLUNTEERS: In the next four weeks please get everybody that you know to vote
I know that if they were here they would vote in every single election, no matter how small. And so I do, I think about them a lot. And I talk about them a lot. And I really encourage people here to vote, because it's so many people around the world are fighting for the rights that we have here, and we should take advantage of them.
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