A CASE canvasser in PPE reviews a list of names. (Victoria Stahl)
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Phoenix-With less than two weeks to Election Day and early voting already underway, Joe Biden's campaign is finally resuming in-person canvassing in battleground states. It's about time. The Biden team's decision earlier this year to impose a moratorium on door-knocking-a party line that local candidates, too, felt pressure to follow-and opt instead for an "invisible campaign" of ads, calls, and texts was a costly blunder. In-person canvassing is one of the most effective tools a campaign has at its disposal: It motivates volunteers, persuades undecided voters and increases turnout up and down the ballot. Which may be why the Trump campaign-and state GOP organizations-never stopped knocking. So it's welcome news that, after months of condemning canvassing as both dangerous and ineffective, top Democratic operatives have suddenly changed their tone.
For the past month, we have been knocking on doors for Democrats in Arizona with CASE Action, a political advocacy group affiliated with the hospitality workers' union UNITE HERE Local 11. When the pandemic hit in March, more than 85 percent of UNITE HERE members lost their jobs. At the same time, CASE Action halted its in-person campaigning. But as the summer wore on, union members remained jobless-and phone-banking proved inadequate. "We were going on the phones, and it was really terrible," remembers Rachel Sulkes, UNITE HERE Local 11's communications director. "We were just not going to win."
Popescu recalled that at first she was skeptical of in-person door-knocking. But she changed her mind after calculating just how low-risk canvassers' interactions with voters could be. Canvassing consists in brief, socially distanced, open-air conversations, with canvassers wearing masks and face shields. For a virus that spreads through long, up-close exposure in contained spaces, it is the archetype of a low-risk activity. When done right, Popescu says, canvassing "really isn't any different than going to get takeout food." Our canvassers also submit to daily symptom screening and temperature checks, regularly disinfect their hands, and wear masks and face shields at all times within the office and carpooling (no more than two canvassers per car, in separate rows, with windows down).
The protocol is working. While coronavirus cases are on the rise again in Arizona and across the nation, the total number of cases in our 300-person team from in-person canvassing this summer has been: zero.
The result is the single largest Democratic field operation in Arizona-and one of the largest in the country. Come November, CASE Action canvassers will have knocked over 650,000 doors and spoken to around 130,000 voters across Maricopa County. Over the past two months, other UNITE HERE locals have drawn from CASE's model to begin in-person campaigning in Florida, Nevada, and Pennsylvania, states where the presidency likely will be won or lost.