So You Want to Work on an Election Campaign
There will be a federal election this year in Canada; it’s already been scheduled for October 19th. However, in a parliamentary system such as ours, the Prime Minister is free to dissolve Parliament at any time and ask the Governor General to call an election. This is why there is always so much speculation over the next voting date.
Election campaigns in the digital age are vastly different from the first one I worked on in 1979. At that time, everything was paper-based. As a first-time campaign worker, my job was literally stuffing envelopes to be sent out to supporters of the candidate. On other occasions, I folded the flyers that were dropped at mailboxes, stapled campaign signs to stakes to be pounded into lawns, and ran around dropping off those flyers.
It was all much less glamourous than anything you’d see on The West Wing!
An election campaign is an excellent place for you to develop or learn new skills and make connections in the community. It also gives great insight into the political process at all levels of government.
However, election campaigns aren’t for everyone. There is little structure, no pay, and the hours can be long, especially as you get closer to voting day. You are also not guaranteed a job at the end of the campaign. It’s generally only federal and provincial officials who will be able to keep staff, and even then, most will only require one or two people to work for them in their new positions.
Election campaigns can differ greatly depending on the level of government involved. In London’s recent municipal election, campaigns were often staffed by the candidates’ friends and relatives to start, with volunteers joining afterward. At the federal and provincial levels, there is some structure imposed by the parties, and they will often send people to work in highly-contested ridings, i.e. should an incumbent not run again.
Once you’ve selected your candidate through party affiliation, friendship, or a belief in what that person stands for, you could find yourself doing any number of things: fundraising, communications and writing, volunteer coordinator, scheduler/secretary, field team (flyer drops, accompanying the candidate), “technology wrangler” (more on this below), or event planning. Depending on the size of the campaign, there could be formal lead positions with others assisting with each of these. I left Campaign Manager off the list, as this person is usually hand-picked by the candidate from their closest personal confidantes.
After you’ve made contact with a campaign, take a look at your résumé to see if it highlights the skills you have to offer. Bring a copy with you for your first meeting with the campaign. If you are more comfortable behind the scenes, let the Campaign Manager or volunteer coordinator know that.
One of the most important jobs on a campaign involves accompanying the candidate while they are going door-to-door meeting potential voters. A minimum of one person is required for this task, not only for personal safety reasons, but so that someone else carries campaign literature, leaving the candidate free to shake hands with voters. Ideally, two people go out with the candidate so that one goes to the door and the second one maintains “The List”.
The List is generally comprised of all the addresses within a ward/riding/polling station. In order to ensure that the candidate visits as many homes as possible in their riding, detailed lists are maintained. These used to be kept on paper, however, The List has now gone digital.
There are upwards of 40 campaign software packages available; the most popular package in use in Canada is Nation Builder. Campaign software can be used on smart phones while in the field in order to record a visit, indicate support for your candidate (or not), to indicate a request for a lawn sign, and any donations received. This info is synced to a database that records and collates all data in a format that will help a campaign determine where more resources are needed and how best to spend their funds.
Tech savvy volunteers are also needed to maintain candidate websites and social media sites. Most campaign literature today consists of a colour postcard of varying size that lists key campaign platforms and then directs voters to a website for details. The candidate sites are often separate from their Facebook pages, and definitely apart from their Twitter accounts.
U.S. President Obama is the person to thank for the prominence of Twitter in election campaigns. His media team reached out to young people using all the technology available to them and it truly made a difference. Locally, one need look no further than Ward 3 councillor Mo Salih to see how the power of social media makes for a successful campaign.
At the local level, generally, a candidate or politician will maintain their own Twitter feeds – you can be sure that tweets sent from Ward 13 councillor Tanya Park are from her. However, during debates, or at higher levels of government where layers of staff are involved, other people may maintain the Twitter feed of a candidate or politician.
On election-day itself, volunteers are needed to help get out the vote. If you have access to a vehicle, you may be asked to drive elderly voters or those with mobility issues to polling stations. Other people are needed to call people who have indicated their support for the candidate to remind them to vote and offer a ride if needed. Following that, all that’s left is to arrive at the candidate’s selected election night party location and celebrate or commiserate.
Election campaigns are always in need of assistance and no job is too small. Being flexible and eager to learn are the top requirements. You will make new friends and networking contacts, and gain valuable experience for your career path.
You will also need good shoes: Tanya Park went through two pairs on her campaign, while Mo Salih was on his fourth by the time voting day rolled around!