For her summer vacation last year, my 62-year-old mother went to Tanzania with the World Wildlife Fund to work on an agricultural project. Though that may sound like an unattainably noble thing to do, you too can make an enormous difference right here in, or at least closer to, your own backyard. You can devote your summer vacation to getting George Bush out of office— the ambitious goal of local activist group Driving Votes—by hitting the road to register Democratic voters in key swing states. "Bush won by 537 votes in Florida, the deciding state of the 2000 election," says Richard Davidson, one of the founders of Driving Votes. "Based off of looking at the 2000 presidential election results, there were 16 states where the margin of victory was less than 10 percent between Bush and Gore." With that in mind, if every person reading this article were to register a Democrat in a swing state, imagine the impact it could have.
Driving Votes was founded by a group of friends—grad students, musicians, and Microsofties (one of whom is this writer's pal)—who were at once disgusted by Bush and afraid of where he was taking this country. Chatting politics one night over dinner, the idea of Driving Votes was born. Davidson says, "We originally wanted to go to Florida in an RV and only register voters there, but then when we started to do research on what's involved in registering a voter, we realized that the information out there is scattered and difficult to find."
So Driving Votes was established to provide an accessible platform for acquiring voter-registration information in swing states (see www.drivingvotes.org). For each swing state, Driving Votes has assembled all the information needed for a comprehensive voter-registration packet. For example, in Oregon's packet are details on local organizations that one could potentially work with, like the Portland Shoeleather Brigade (a group of volunteers that organizes voter-registration drives for the Democratic Party in Portland). For those who want to work on their own, the packet includes instructions on registering voters on the street or door-to-door and setting up a registration booth. It also suggests creative strategies like leaving voter-registration forms in local record stores and coffee shops or recruiting other volunteers. Most importantly, the packet contains the National Voter Registration Application with Oregon- specific instructions (required if you will not be present to help the person register).
A few weeks ago, the members of Driving Votes took a test-drive in Portland, where they registered 103 voters, 99 of them Democrats (they asked each one how they were going to vote). How did they find out prospective voters' sentiments? Davidson says it's good to work with local groups, or even churches and temples, if possible; these people know the local neighborhoods and can suggest the best places to go prospecting. Then, once someone is registered, "We engage in a friendly dialogue to find out what their political leanings are, and whether they're Democratic or Republican; we provide quick facts of what's wrong with the Bush administration to spark conversations. This works for those who need convincing to vote Democratic and also for those who want Bush out and need some firing up."
In August, the core group of Driving Votes members will be road tripping in an RV for two weeks from Seattle to Florida. They plan stops in Minnesota, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania to register voters. So far, Driving Votes has helped to organize 20 other such trips. So make it a political party and go with friends. An eight-sleeper RV is about $2,500 for two weeks plus $400 for insurance; expect approximately 7–11 miles per gallon for gas and around $32 a night for camping fees. To cut costs, bring food you can cook in the RV, such as pasta, rice, and beans. Try www.fivecornersrv.com or www.moturis.com for RV rental information. For a two-week trip, bring a few thousand voter registration forms; for a weekend trip with five people planning to spend about 4 to 6 hours a day registering voters, you will need about 400 voter registration applications.
This year's election will be unbelievably close, and at a grassroots level, Driving Votes provides a pragmatic way to actually make a difference in the outcome. Davidson says, "I see the potential of forming a true caravan, of people joining up with us. I envision 100 vehicles rolling into Florida."