The following blog post was written by peer advisor Kelsie, a CCAS sophomore studying political science and history. She also works in the UHP front office! You can learn more about Kelsie here.
I’m sure that everyone is just dying to read more about the elections of last week, but I’m here to share my own work experience during the historic 2016 cycle (keeping opinions to a bare minimum, I promise):
Last summer I worked on Susannah Randolph’s congressional campaign after I found a post looking for interns on the UCF Political Science Department website. This local election was a pretty big deal. Florida’s 9th congressional district covers a huge chunk of the state; the southeast side of Orlando, down into a generous portion of Osceola and Polk counties. The 9th district is a Democratic stronghold in Florida, with the blue candidate winning by 10 points or more in the past four elections. Alan Grayson was the two-term Representative for the district, but he left the seat to run for the Senate. The seat was open, without an incumbent, and whichever campaign won the primary election had a near certain general election win, the pressure was on.
At the beginning of the summer, most of the work I did was on a computer: compiling lists of potential voters, maintaining records of calls to donors, and researching opponents. Occasionally, I would help do ‘call time’ with donors, dialing numbers and passing calls on to Susannah.
Canvassing neighborhoods was the biggest portion of the work that I did. We would go out to different parts of the district, often driving about an hour out to Polk County on the weekends, to talk to voters. We knocked on doors and passed along information about the campaign and our candidate to voters. As the primary drew closer, we would go out almost every evening to neighborhoods in all three counties. Walking around in temperatures above 95 degrees was not the most pleasant thing to do, but I did enjoy the conversations that I had with enthusiastic voters. I learned a lot about the people that live in my community and what they wanted and needed from their representatives.
When absentee ballots were sent out, we started phonebanking every night to remind people to fill out and return their ballots. We also provided information about Susannah and answered questions about her platform. When early voting started, we called to help people make plans to vote, making sure that they know where their polling place was. I felt that this was probably the most impactful thing that I did during my time at the campaign; even if the people I spoke to didn’t vote for Susannah, hopefully they did go out to vote.
Ultimately, Susannah did not win the primary. We ended up with a respectable 28.2% of the vote in a four-way race. We did get the most votes in Polk County, which I am very proud of after having canvassed in the boiling Poinciana sun. Our opponent, Darren Soto, won the November election and went on to win the general election a week ago, keeping the district in Democratic hands.
In terms of life lessons, I learned a lot about communicating with other people. Making sure that the other person feels like they are being listened to is especially important. Voters are people, and people want to have their concerns heard. Also, I think I finally overcame the Millennial aversion to talking on the phone, it is a whole lot easier after hours and hours of practice with people that you don’t know.
The smaller sized campaign allowed me to some fantastic contacts with people who have already helped me out with future aspirations. My advice: if you do decide to stay home for a summer, make it an election year and get involved in your local politics, they really are important and an excellent learning experience.