On the quiet Sunday afternoon of April 22, a dozen or so island residents gathered at the Island Free Library for what they initially thought was a talk by Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
They quickly learned there had been a miscommunication and the Senator would not be present, which prompted a voice from the audience to quip, “Must have been a little fake news!” However, though clearly disappointed, they stayed on to participate in a lively discussion on the importance of getting out the vote in the fall.
That discussion was led by Jen Thomas, Field Director for the state Democratic party and Joseph Sachs, both part of a coalition coordinating the campaigns of Gov. Gina Raimondo, Rep. James Langevin, and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse.
Sachs emphasized the need for getting people to the polls for the mid-term elections. While statistics indicate that voter turnout is traditionally lower during midterms, he said it was important “to make people aware as early as we can that they should vote and particularly that their votes matter.”
People often don’t vote in interim elections for two reasons, Sachs said, “because they’re busy and because they don’t think their votes matter.” However, he added, “Local elections are determined by very small numbers, and I want to talk about how to elect Democrats”
Thomas explained the origins of what has been discussed as a current trend favoring Democrats. She pointed out what happened the day after President Trump’s Inauguration: “On January 21, 2017, there was the Women’s March: it was the largest protest march in history.”
Citing Democratic wins in New Jersey, Alabama, Virginia, and other states, she said, “Democrats have outperformed Republicans. We are harnessing that momentum at the ballot box.” And the timing may be right, she noted, as mid-term election results often reflect a kind of backlash at the party in power.
Marguerite Donnelly implored the speakers to ask Sen. Whitehouse to visit Block Island. With his emphasis on environmental issues, she and other members of the audience agreed that there was a natural connection between his and the island’s priorities.
When asked what their strategies for bringing about change were, Sachs and Thomas said the 2018 goal was to raise voter turnout, and to do so, it was important to knock on doors and make phone calls. They felt that if they could reach just 50 more people in each precinct, they could increase turnout five percent. Their visit to the island was one of some 29 such visits around the state.
Sachs said, “It’s all about face-to-face, human-to-human interaction, basically to get more voters out. If we get ten people to talk to 75 people each, then we’ll have a successful program.”
Thomas added that their group had materials and targeted lists to help people make calls or go door-to-door. She said, “We want to help volunteers be as effective as possible.” Several members of the audience indicated interest in volunteering.