by Susan Labandibar and Andy Liebman
Not long after the polls closed in November, Georgia election officials announced the Senate race would go to a runoff. Around the country, left-leaning organizations like Swing Blue began setting up text and phone banks. Swing Blue volunteers were eager to take action in a way that would complement local organizers’ efforts, rather than duplicate them.
With election officials scrambling to set dates and times for early voting, and Republicans suing to prevent voting on Saturday, it was clear that Georgia voters could easily miss out on early voting. At the suggestion of an activist south of Atlanta, Swing Blue Alliance launched the Church Project to help deliver nonpartisan “how, where, and when to vote early” information to selected churches in heavily Democratic Clayton County, just south of Atlanta.
Thus during a six-day period from November 17 through 22, Swing Blue Alliance volunteers set out to contact pastors at 100 churches in Clayton County. Historically and currently, churches are a mainstay of voter turnout in Georgia. Through their weekly announcements to parishioners and through “Souls to the Polls” initiatives, church leaders disseminate information about voting and encourage voter participation. Swing Blue Alliance, whose volunteers track election procedures and who have the capacity to generate fact sheets, took action to support voter turnout efforts. They compiled information for voters who thought the election season was over.
In just six days, Swing Blue Alliance volunteers located contact information for nearly 100 churches in Clayton County, and reached administrators or pastors at about 30% of them. This was no simple task for several reasons:
- Nobody (not the county Dems, county government website, nor Yellow Pages) had a complete and recent list of all of the churches in the county. So, first we had to do the research just to create that list.
- Then we scrutinized the Facebook pages and websites of the churches to decide whom we should call and whom we should avoid to help Senator Warnock’s cause.
- Our plan was to make contact with a human being on the phone in real time in order to get the “best contact information” for the person who was most likely to disseminate our information. As most churches don’t have staff answering phones from 9 to 5, Swing Blue volunteers called multiple times, trying at different times of the day over several days. Volunteers left countless voicemails and sent emails to the general church address. Thus we managed to speak personally with 25 pastors or administrators who gave us confidence they were going to pass on the runoff voting information to their congregations. We estimate that we spent 120 volunteer hours on this new, brief, but potentially high-impact project.
In several cases, church leaders returned voice mail messages with enthusiasm. Pastors and administrators confirmed they would distribute the information to their congregations. In two cases, pastors volunteered to send the information to other churches, too.
In the cases where volunteers were not able to reach anyone, we sent nonpartisan voting information to the general mailbox in hopes that some of these emails would reach the right people before early voting began.
As a final step, we organized the information we had gathered into a church directory that our partners can use for future get-out-the-vote projects.
As an all-volunteer organization based in Massachusetts, Swing Blue works productively with partners on the ground in swing districts and states. Swing Blue enabled churches to distribute important early voting information to their congregations, thereby multiplying the impact of our efforts to reach hundreds or even several thousands of voters.
This project is emblematic of the added value Swing Blue members can bring to tightly contested races working in service of the priorities set by local activists and organizers.