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From Voter Registration to Field Operations: An Interview with Andrea Slater

Based in Los Angeles political consultant Andrea Slater has accrued years of experience in all areas of political practice including mobilization, recruitment and training, policy research, advocacy and leadership building. She has a proven track record in advancing the missions of progressive organizations and having a positive impact on stakeholder communities within the political and nonprofit sectors. She is also an expert in political electoral strategy and policy research. We were delighted to get the opportunity to speak with Andrea recently.

How did you decide that a career in politics was the job for you?

Andrea: I come from a family where my mother was a longtime City of Portland employee and even as children, we volunteered for local campaigns on a regular basis. My parents also fostered a number of children throughout my childhood, and although I didn't realize it at the time, my siblings and I were being taught that we had a responsibility to the world around us and that service is the price you willingly pay for inhabiting this world. Big sweeping changes in the world do not happen overnight, but only after decades of countless smaller battles and victories leading to the monumental victories that history actually records. This is why campaigns matter at the grassroots level. Campaigns are the intersection of any social justice movement and the governmental process needed to realize the vision of the movement. Case in point: The first Civil Rights Act was signed in 1866 and was the culmination of decades of unrest over slavery and the legal status of African-Americans. In the decades since, we have seen the same process play itself out not only for African-Americans but for women, other people of color and LGBT.

I knew I wanted to do my part to change the world and level the playing field, but it wasn’t until I was taking classes at a Los Angeles community college and working with CORO* that I learned about the viability of politics to fulfill my personal mandate to effect change on a larger scale. Throughout my 20s, I had worked with a few tech start-up companies and quickly saw the momentum, innovation and ability to think on my feet was immediately transferable, allowing me to discover I had a natural aptitude for the process of campaigning as well as a passion to really help people. Almost immediately after CORO, I was asked to work with the African-American Voter REP program and became a field captain. From that experience, I enjoyed working to help people become more engaged in the political process and their communities. Every person has the right to voice their choice, concerns and have an advocate and I enjoy helping facilitate that connection to the political process.

Do you think the way politicians use social media has helped bring the voters closer to their representatives or done the opposite and exposed the gulf which exists in some communities?

Andrea: Social media has provided an ease of access for us as constituents to contact our representative and advocate for or against issues that are important to us, however it has not completely replaced the importance or impact of "Days in the Districts" since many of the most persistent folk are still the older generations that are more likely to call or visit an elected than post on someone's wall or sign an online petition. Social Media before the proliferation of the smartphones did a lot to expose the digital divide, but that disparity is less evident in the last 5 years as apps and blogs have helped spread information. Now even grandmothers can repost a video, message or meme to express concern or appreciation and that is an incredible thing to think about when a politician is voting on an issue that may or may not be in the best interest of the community.

Following on from that, do you think the US Presidential campaign is suffering from the theatrics from some candidates, or do you think this will help bring out more voters?

Andrea: While the 2016 election has definitely been overrun by social media and allowed perhaps less than ideal candidates to rise to the top due to theatrics and boisterous behavior, at the end of the day, armchair activism doesn't often overtake real voters. What gets people interested and increases ratings, may not sustain a candidate until election day.

From your experience, what is the key aspect of running a successful voter registration drive?

Andrea: In addition to having all of the right materials and locations that are frequented by unlikely voters. It is important to remember that voter registration drives aim to involve people who often consider themselves as separate from the political system, not realizing that politics affects every aspect of their lives. A successful voter registration drive includes members of the very same target groups you aim to reach who can articulate the importance of civic participation and address the concerns of the group. If the target is former felons, young voters, women, or even recent citizens you need someone who will share their story, answer questions and present the image you want to convey as a likely voter.

Field operations have changed vastly over the years with newer technologies/software being introduced. How to do you think campaigns will evolve over the next few years to keep up?

Andrea: While in an ideal world, talking to every potential voter is key, campaigns are often faced with limited time and resources. The technological advancements provided by a lot of the new software have cut the work down tremendously. Cutting turf can be done much faster and more precise based on a defined target. For instance, a volunteer can give you their address and you can quickly compile a call and walk list of their neighbors in a just a few minutes that can be accessed from their home computer. It doesn’t take a week or even days to get new lists as strategy and targets change. These advances lead to faster and more accurate voter identification which is a significant advantage and more beneficial to the environment. Anyone who has been tasked with shredding the folders after election day knows how much paper the old methods use. o Campaigns and the consultants will have to embrace the technology or left behind at the polls. Volunteers are a critical aspect of many outreach programs and we need to make as easy as possible for people to get involved and stay engaged beyond election day.

*CORO is an American non-partisan, non-profit organization best known for its fellowship program dedicated to teaching skills useful in leadership in public affairs to young adults

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