|A sign advertising the Four Corners Mug Club’s
efforts to recruit voters hangs in the window at Steamworks
on Tuesday. Steamworks, along with Carvers Brewing Co. and
Ska Brewery, will be offering a free beer to anyone of
legal age coming in with an “I Voted” sticker.
The effort is one of many nonpartisan local pushes to get residents
and to the polls./Photo by Todd Newcomer
W ith one of the closest presidential elections in history still fresh
in Americans' minds and another cliffhanger shaping up, local nonpartisan
activists are mobilizing efforts to get out the vote.
Although the tactics vary, from door-to-door canvassing to bribery
with doughnuts, coffee and even beer, the goal is the same: to get as
many La Plata county voters to the polls as possible, particularly those
who historically shy away, including women, Latinos and students.
“It's about going to people who don't have a voice and giving them
the opportunity to have it,” said Michael Rendon, a board member the
local Latino advocacy group, Los CompaF1eros, who organized La Vota!Vota!Vota!,
to reach out to the area's Latino residents. The group, a collaboration
among Los CompaF1eros, the Latino Education Coalition, League of Women
Voters, Planned Parenthood and El Valle , went knocking on
doors in the Latino neighborhoods of Durango and Ignacio last Saturday,
registering voters, discussing the issues with them and handing out
fliers on upcoming forums. Several of the group members were bilingual
and the fliers translated into Spanish, Rendon said.
Rendon, who also is the director of the Fort Lewis College Environmental
Center, said he came up with the idea for La Vota! after hearing one
too many stories of disenfranchised Latino voters.
“I kept hearing how Latinos don't vote, so I just got people together
to strategize about what was the best way to get them interested,” he
According to Olivia Lopez, coordinator for Los Companeros, Latinos
are the fastest growing minority group in the nation,
with 38.8 million counted in the 2000 census. However, for various reasons,
the weight of these numbers has not been fully felt in politics.
|Andrea Speedie, of Carvers, takes
a break from
work on Monday. Speedie helped organize two registration
nights at local brew pubs, enticing voters
with the promise of free beer in exchange for filling
out a registration card./Photo by Todd Newcomer.
“It's not that they don't care, but a lot of times, they don't know
how to vote, or register, etc.,” she said. “We are not as effective
at the polls as we should be, especially since we are the fastest growing
minority group in the nation.”
Lopez, who is bilingual and took part in Saturday's canvassing, said
the goal was to impress upon Latinos their importance.
“They can have a big influence on who is going to win the election,” she
said. “Because of the importance of our vote, we need to promote to
these people that they can make a difference.”
Lopez also noted that a big part of the message was making Latinos
realize that the right to vote is not something to be taken for granted.
“It's important that they know it's a privilege to be able to vote;
it's a big responsibility,” she said.
According to Stephanie Huss, voters services chairwoman for the League
of Women Voters, La Vota! reached 411 homes, made more than 200 contacts
and registered 27 voters – a small but respectable outcome.
“We really wanted to reach out to Latinos,” she said. “This was our
first effort, but you've got to start somewhere. If nothing else, it's
outreach into the community.”
Huss and the League of Women Voters also have been actively recruiting
other groups to vote as well. In addition to holding voter registration
events at the La Plata County Senior Center, her group also has been
active next door at Durango High School. Although many students are
not old enough to vote, she said reaching them at a young age plays
an important role in reinforcing positive voting habits later in life.
“Studies show that those who vote at 18 are lifelong voters,” she said.
In addition to registering students who will be 18 by election day
(26 so far), Huss said she is concentrating on merely getting students
interested in politics.
“The goal is to get them involved in the political process,” he said.
To that effect, the League is helping to coordinate debates on political
issues by the school's Debate and Speech team as well as forums on local
topics, such as the Responsible Growth Initiative. Huss said so far,
feedback has been positive.
“They are really interested,” she said. “Even though they can't vote,
they were so excited about the issues. It really gets them involved.”
Fort Lewis College is also reaching out to young voters with the help
of the Denver-based New Voters Project. In the last three weeks, the
grassroots youth mobilization project, along with students at the college,
have registered about 1,000 students, said Julie Levy, FLC student body
president. “We've really pushed really hard for the past few weeks,” she
Levy said getting out the vote among college students is particularly
crucial this election year because the presidential race is so close.
“With the election so close, now is the time to make a move and make
a difference,” she said.
Levy estimates that about 2,500 of the school's students are registered,
more than half of the approximate student body of 4,200. However, getting
students registered is only half the battle, she noted. Once the voter
registration deadline passes Oct. 4, she said her group will focus on
getting students to the polls. Like La Vota!, she said the goal of the
New Voter's Project is to convince students that their vote counts.
“What we're trying to push is that young voters can make a difference,” she
said. “If we vote, politicians will listen to us and our concerns, like
the environment and the draft.”
She said in getting students to vote, peer-to-peer contact seems to
be the best method of persuasion.
“When they hear it from another student, ‘Hey, are you going to vote?'
it makes it much more of a reality,” she 4
said. “It just starts that dialogue.”
Levy also said there will be special emphasis placed on getting out-of-state
students to vote in Colorado.
“We're encouraging students to register here because they live here
and because Colorado is so close, their vote will go a lot further than
in states that are already decided,” she said.
However Levy said support will be available to those voting via absentee
Other provisions to raise awareness and participation among students
include a bike rally from campus to the County Courthouse on Oct. 18,
forums and a “taxi system” to drive students to the polls on Election
Day. Levy also said the group will be pushing early voting, which takes
place from Oct. 18-29 at the courthouse.
“We're really pushing early voting because it's so easy,” she said.
Early voting is also a tactic being pushed by the Smart Women Vote
campaign, sponsored by the National Organization for Women, Women's
Resource Center, Planned Parenthood and the League of Women Voters.
According to Mandy Mikulencak, Smart Women was the brainchild of Cynthia
Aspen, of NOW. She said the goal is threefold: to educate women, get
them to the polls, and to get them there early. Too often, women make
up excuses not to vote, something Smart Women hopes to put to an end.
“Some of the excuses we come up with, like it was too crowded or we
didn't' have enough time – we just don't go by that,” said Mikulencak.
One of the advantages to early voting is that it can be done at one's
convenience, she said.
“There's less pressure if you vote early,” she said.
In order to persuade more women to vote early, Smart Women will be
holding two events at the courthouse aimed at luring local women voters
with free coffee, prizes and even lunch.
Of course, Mikulencak noted that getting women to vote early is all
part of the bigger picture: giving women a voice. According to NOW,
46 million women did not vote in the last presidential election.
“What we want to make sure of, is that we get women to the polls,” she
said. “We don't care what party you vote for, but just that you have
a voice. Women have a lot to say.”
Smart Women Vote is not the only get-out-the-vote effort luring voters
through their stomachs. The Four Corners Mug Club will give a free beer
to anyone of legal age producing an “I Voted” sticker at participating
establishments (Carvers Brewing Co., Steamworks and Ska Brewery). In
addition to this, the establishments also held registration drives,
where those who registered were rewarded with a cold one. The idea to
entice voters with beer was the idea of Andrea Speedie, a manager at
Carvers and Mug Club coordinator.
“I just moved here form Utah and had to register and it was really
easy,” she said. “So I thought I'd show other people.”
Speedie said her first recruitment night was “sparse” but reiterated
what other get-out-the-vote activists maintain: Every vote counts.
“We just have to get out the vote,” she said. “With an election this
close, I just figure even five or six people in every county helps.”
And lest the thought of free beer not be enough to lure people to the
polls, Speedie offered up a final thought for apathetic voters out there.
“It's important to vote because it's the only voice you have on who's
going to be making decisions for you over the next four years.”