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Social Connectedness / 2013

Turn Up the Turn Out: Engaging LA’s Voters through Advanced Technology in LowIncome Neighborhoods

Idea submitted in the My LA2050 Maker Challenge by Strategic Concepts in Organizing and Policy Education (SCOPE) & US Green Building Council Los Angeles Chapter (USGBC-LA)

In LA City’s March 5th local primary election, only 16% of registered voters cast a ballot, with especially poor turnout in low-income neighborhoods throughout the City. California Calls proposes to reclaim democracy in the City of Angels by significantly increasing voter outreach, education and engagement in Los Angeles. We will increase the connectedness of LA’s voters by experimenting with both proven and new methods of voter engagement. Building upon a one-to-one voter contact model developed over four years by California Calls, we will engage an estimated 120,000 voters in Los Angeles during 2013. We expect that by the June 2014 primary election in Los Angeles, the voters we have contacted will demonstrate a 5% to 8% increase in their voting rates as compared to the average voter. Our program will target South and East Los Angeles, focusing on new, unlikely and occasional voters. This is a wholly different strategy than most political campaigns which focus on “always” voters who are older, more upper income and less racially diverse than Los Angeles. Our goal is to make the Los Angeles electorate reflect the diversity of LA’s residents. In turn, this will lead to local elected officials and public policies that better serve the interests of the vast majority of the City’s diverse population. Our proven approach will be supplemented with new technologies to help boost volunteer efficiency and overall voter engagement through three key strategies: 1. SMART PHONES SPEED UP DOOR-TO-DOOR VOTER CONTACT California Calls will provide training, technology support and database management to four community-based organizations in LA County who will visit voters door-to-door in the early Summer and Fall of 2013. We will equip community volunteers and daily team members with 100 “smart phones” to greatly increase their efficiency and allow them to contact more voters. They will: •find voters’ addresses quickly by using the phone’s GIS mapping function •input new information about the voter (e.g., phone, email, key interests) into the database, eliminating the need for document scanning •go “green” by eliminating paper documents •provide team captains with a real-time system to monitor and assist field canvassers California Calls plans to contact a total of 24,000 voters at their front door during the two cycles. The Smart Phones will increase contacts by roughly 10%, expanding our total outreach to 26,400 voters. We will collect phone numbers, emails and other voter data on all 26,400 voters for ongoing use in voter civic engagement through programs described below. 2. TELEPHONE TOWN HALLS CONNECT LOW-PROPENSITY VOTERS TO LOCAL GOVERNMENT Based on successful experience by U.S. Congresswoman Karen Bass who regularly communicates with her constituents in Los Angeles, we propose a series of five “Telephone Town Halls” with LA voters to introduce them to the new Mayor and new City Council members who will take office on July 1, 2013. Using web-based technology, roughly 20,000 voters are dialed in the early evening and invited to listen to a short update from the Mayor or Council representative. Typically about 10% (2,000) choose to listen. After a short presentation, voters are invited to ask questions and discuss. The Telephone Town Hall can offer live translation into Spanish and other languages. We propose to conduct five Telephone Town Halls during 2013 with voters in South and East Los Angeles, reaching about 10,000 voters. We will hold one Citywide Tele-Town Hall with the new Mayor and four Tele-Town Halls with Council representatives from districts where our four community organizations are located. This new technology provides a unique and meaningful opportunity for voters to connect to their elected representatives, and provides California Calls and its member groups an opportunity to identify and involve voters who express interest in civic affairs for future follow-up. 3. VOTER OUTREACH PHONEBANK USING DIALER TECHNOLOGY California Calls will add one Voter Outreach Phone bank to its 2013 program to contact an additional 23,000 LA voters. We use a sophisticated, large-scale predictive dialing system which eliminates answering machines and “not homes”, and puts phoners directly into conversation with “live” voters. The four LA-based groups who contact voters will survey them on current policy issues and invite them to the Telephone-Town Halls and other community meetings. Interested voters will also become part of California Calls’ database file for use in mobilizing voter turnout for the June 2014 gubernatorial primary election. By integrating these three advanced technologies with the “human touch” that is offered by our community volunteers and team members, we will expand our LA voter outreach by more than 35,000 contacts, for a total civic engagement program of nearly 120,000 voters.

What are some of your organization’s most important achievements to date?

California Calls is a statewide alliance of community-based organizations working to win systemic public policy reforms to achieve progressive taxation, stable funding for public services, government responsiveness to community needs, and high-road economic growth. With 31 community groups organized in 11 strategic counties, California Calls is mounting a long-term, ambitious civic engagement program to build a powerful base of voters in low-income and immigrant communities of color, with a special focus on educating and turning out new, occasional and young voters.

California Calls member organizations work on many issues: health and human services, education, immigrant’s rights, environmental justice, housing, jobs, living wages. In addition to the electoral mobilization program, the member organizations employ a broad range of strategies to advance their work: grassroots community organizing, leadership development, policy research, direct action, legislative advocacy, and public policy campaigns.

The long-term goal of California Calls is to develop a bottom-up statewide alliance of organizations with the power to turn out 500,000 supporters of progressive tax and fiscal reforms who normally do not participate in elections. In addition, California Calls actively works to build collaborations with other statewide organizations who share the same vision of renewing the “California Dream” wherein the state can offer a world class public education system, a vital social safety net, and a modern public infrastructure to support dynamic and sustainable economic growth.

Since 2009, California Calls has identified more than 574,000 unlikely voters in 11 counties across the state who express support for progressive tax and budget policies. In November 2012, the California Calls Action Fund supported Proposition 30 (see video), a ballot measure which has already generated over $6 billion annually for California’s K-12 schools and the UC/CSU higher education systems. Through a massive “ground game” of get-out-the-vote activities, California Calls contacted 293,613 voters, of which 80% made it to the polls! This compared with average statewide voter turnout of only 71%. These voters represented a crucial margin of victory, providing over 3% of the statewide vote total for new funding for education, social service and public safety programs.

Key groups of historically under-represented constituencies voted at even higher margins:

• Among young voters age 25 to 34, California Calls supporters voted at a rate of 72% compared to the statewide average of only 57%–a 15% point increase! •African-American voters identified by California Calls as supporters participated at a rate of 85%, compared to 67% of African-American voters statewide—an 18% point increase!
•Immigrant voters identified by California Calls as supporters participated at an average rate of 81%, compared to a statewide average of 68%–a 13% point increase

Please identify any partners or collaborators who will work with you on this project.

Four community groups are members of California Calls and will lead the one-to-one voter contact to engage low-income Latino, African-American and Asian Pacific Islander voters. All have years of community organizing experience in their neighborhoods:

• Association of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), South LA, Watts and central LA; • Community Coalition (COCO), South Los Angeles; • Inner City Struggle (ICS), East Los Angeles and Boyle Heights; • Strategic Concepts in Organizing & Policy Education (SCOPE), South LA.

California Calls will provide centralized training, equipment purchase, database management and support to the local organizations, helping to increase efficiency and overall impact.

Please explain how you will evaluate your project. How will you measure success?

California Calls is a metrics-driven organization. We use sophisticated data analysis, tracking, reporting and real-time evaluation methods to gauge whether we are meeting our numeric targets for voter contacts, identification and education.

Since the founding of California Calls in 2009, we have developed a number of systems for monitoring and measuring our strategy, activities and performance. These include:

a. Voter Contacts Made Per Volunteer or Team Member: Now that we have conducted 10 cycles of civic engagement programs across the state, we know that a high performance phone bank volunteer or team member should be able to contact XX number of voters per hour. Door-to-door contacts are much more labor intensive, but should reach an average of XX per hour. We monitor these voter contact rates on a daily basis during the program.

b. Voter Contacts Made Per Organization: We work with our member community organizations to set ambitious, yet realistic goals for voter contact. Once we agree to a plan, California Calls trains, supports and monitors the local organization for the duration. The local organization monitors and coordinates the daily volunteers and team members. If an organization is falling behind, California Calls will intervene with added training, support and assistance to help meet the target goals.

c. Voter Analysis: We are experts in working with data from the LA City Clerk, LA County Registrar of Voters and a private voter information vendor to track voter participation and turnout rates. For the proposed program, we would compare the voter statistics from the upcoming June 2014 Gubernatorial Election to the Citywide (or Countywide) voting average to measure our impact. We may also compare to earlier (November 2010 or November 2012) election data, with the proviso that there are many mitigating factors. We would expect to see an increase in voter turnout amongst our target voters of between 5 to 8% compared to the Citywide average.

d. Voter Telephone Town Hall Participation Rates & Reoccurrence: This is a new technology and approach to increase voter engagement. We would track and evaluate the following information:

• number of voters contacted to participate; • number of voters choosing to participate in teleconference; • average number of minutes that voter stays on teleconference call; • number of voters who request ongoing notification of Telephone Town Halls • number of voters who return to participate in future Telephone Town Halls • number of Town Hall voters who actually vote in future elections

We would expect to see a direct correlation and increase between those voters who choose to participate in the Town Halls and their voting behavior.

How will your project benefit Los Angeles?

California Calls’ voter engagement program will help to reclaim the democratic process that now belongs to special interests, lobbyists and campaign committees. We encourage low-income voters to exercise their democratic right to vote with stunning success. The simple reason is that our “messengers”—the volunteers and team members who reach out to voters—are peers. Through the community-based organizations which operate these programs, young, bi-lingual people of color serve as door-to-door canvassers and phone bankers who talk to voters. They establish a rapport that earns the trust of skeptical voters.

By engaging voters consistently in understanding crucial public policy issues (not only during election cycles), the California Calls model of voter engagement will produce several direct benefits:

a. Advance Policies to Benefit Low-Income People: Our member organizations (see below) have outstanding track records winning significant benefits for low-income communities throughout Los Angeles, including:

• reducing the number of nuisance liquor stores and transient motels; • assuring that all high schools offer college-prep courses and adequate college counselors; • negotiating with large companies—like Dreamworks—to provide jobs and apprenticeship training for inner city youth; • designing an energy conservation program for publicly-owned buildings that trains inner city youth in “green” construction; • creating programs for homeowners to avoid foreclosure and stay in their homes • closing toxic and harmful factories next to schools

The proposed voter outreach program will enable all four community organizations to identify and recruit local residents to become involved in ongoing campaigns and to develop their leadership skills.

b. Increase Voter Turnout so LA’s Electorate Reflects Our Population:

The California Call’s model of civic engagement targets new and occasional voters in low-income Latino, African-American and immigrant neighborhoods. By increasing the voting participation rate of these residents, our program will help to insure that policies and candidates will more closely reflect the views and desires of residents of Los Angeles—the true meaning of democracy. Especially in local elections where turnout rates are historically low, this program can create a tipping point for greater representation of low-income communities.

c. Create Accountability for Elected Representatives through an Informed Citizenry

California Calls will increase accountability and transparency of elected representatives by creating a more informed and engaged citizenry. Our Telephone Town Halls will provide voters with the opportunity to hear directly—and engage directly—with the City’s new Mayor, new City Council members and other elected officials. The ongoing education and discussion through door-to-door canvassing and high-capacity phone outreach will increase the level of voter understanding on key issues.

What would success look like in the year 2050 regarding your indicator?

By 2050, we envision that Los Angeles would continue to evolve as a global city with one of the most diverse and international populations of any world megalopolis. But, in contrast to today, we would expect to see one of the most active and engaged citizenries in the world.

Through consistent, disciplined voter outreach and education, we would expect to see vastly higher rates of voter participation than now. We think that with a 5% increase in the voter turnout rate per major election, by 2050, it is entirely possible to see the Los Angeles electorate truly reflect the diversity of its population local and state elections.

Through ongoing door-to-door and phone outreach, the increased use of technology and social media, combined with popular education on everyday issues, we would expect to see a thriving culture of community-based organizations that engage with residents on a daily basis on the key issues of the day.

And, as a result of increased civic participation at all levels, we would hope to see policies and programs in the City of Angels that end homelessness, hunger, and violence—and launch us on the path towards equality, opportunity, and environmental sustainability for all.