Now is the time: Volunteer if you can, and, above all, VOTE!
By SHERRY HALBROOK
Does it feel like Election Day is already upon you? Well, take a deep breath because it is only the beginning of October and you still have time to learn more about candidates and issues, the expanded opportunities to vote this year, and volunteer to help PEF educate and motivate more members to get involved and vote.
While the presidential election is extremely important, you also have the opportunity to vote in this election for the candidates you want to represent you in the U.S. House of Representatives, and the state Senate and Assembly. You may be surprised to learn that someone who has represented your district for years is not on the ballot this year, or they may be running for a different office.
Check here for a list of candidates that PEF has endorsed for their understanding of issues that affect the lives of workers and support the union’s efforts to resolve them. In addition to their names and district numbers, your union is also giving you access to incumbents’ voting records on important labor legislation.
The pandemic has made informing voters about candidates and issues more challenging than ever. So, this is a great time for you to reach out to your regional coordinator or political action committee chair and volunteer to help.
In addition to the usual opportunities to volunteer at PEF, this year the pandemic may cause your county board of elections to come up short on election inspectors to operate your poling site. Election inspectors at every poling site must be made up of representatives of both the Republican and Democratic parties. The inspectors must be trained and take the oath of office. If you want to volunteer to work at the polls, contact your Board of Elections immediately to find out if they need more poll workers, what it would entail and how much it would pay.
“The pandemic is creating new challenges for all candidates, and we are determined to overcome the obstacles and reach you, our members, to help you become informed and energized voters,” said PEF President Wayne Spence.
PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio chairs PEF’s Statewide Political Action Committee, made up of representatives from all 12 PEF regional PACs. She is working with them and with key PEF staff including Political Action Director Leah Gonzalez and Organizing Director Dan Carpenter to mobilize and inform the membership.
“The pandemic is forcing us to be innovative,” DiAntonio said. “In the past, we had many PEF Retirees helping us with phone banking, going door-to-door, and handing out literature. We can’t rely so much on those efforts this year. We are going to Plan B and Plan C to get the job done. We are relying more on our Hustle app to reach you by text, and we will email you if we have your personal email address. We don’t tell you how to vote. We just give you the information you may want and need to vote with confidence.
“We have posted a lot of important information at PEF.org/vote, and we are also sending mailers to members to make sure they know that they have more options for when and how to vote this year, with early voting opportunities and reduced restrictions for obtaining and submitting mail-in ballots,” DiAntonio said. “Of course, you can still simply go to your polling place November 3 and vote on the machine as you have in the past. The important thing is to vote. Your vote really matters.”
While New York is giving its residents lots of good opportunities to register and vote, that is not necessarily the case in every state. In 2016, some voters in the state of Georgia ran into road blocks when they went to the polls there. Foreseeing the potential problem, PEF Vice President Sharon V. DeSilva, who is an attorney, headed a small group of other PEF legal professionals who traveled to Atlanta that year to take calls from voters who needed help getting past some of those road blocks.
“I am looking for more PEF attorneys and paralegals to volunteer and join me on the phones this Election Day to help voters,” DeSilva said. “People in more than one state may find obstacles to exercising their legal right to vote and need someone with legal expertise to help and encourage them. I hope you will join me in this effort to be a resource and help protect full participation in this fundamental democratic process.”
If you want to volunteer, contact DeSilva at gro.f1618961444ep@av1618961444liseD1618961444S1618961444.
Meanwhile, the PEF regional PACs are busy figuring out the most effective ways they can reach their members while practicing safe social distancing and observing other pandemic precautions.
Region 1 in the Buffalo/Niagara area has always had hardworking activists ready to tackle both legislative and political challenges. Joe McCann is a co-chair of the Region 1 PAC and he said they were up and running quickly after the PEF Executive Board voted on endorsements at its August meeting.
“We try to fill in the gaps where endorsed candidates need us. We recently worked on attaching the legs to candidate lawn signs. It is dirty, repetitive work, but someone must do it. We are using Hustle to text members and ask them if they want to put a sign of support in their yard,” McCann said. If they do, I or one of our other volunteers will take them a sign.”
It’s not glamorous work, McCann said, but the more volunteers you have, the faster and easier it is.
They are working to help many endorsed candidates in both parties.
“I feel like phone banking is nearly impossible this year,” McCann said, adding that he recently spent two hours on a virtual phone bank calling voters and only got to speak one. People can often see who is calling them and if it is not a familiar name or number, they simply let it go to voicemail. As technology and social circumstances change, the challenges for communicating change too, and PEF members are always looking for other, possibly newer options.
In Region 3 (Rochester), Leisa Abraham is a PAC co-chair who says PEF activists there also are working hard to support a very bipartisan group of endorsed candidates.
“They aren’t asking us for literature drops this year,” Abrahams said. This year, they are turning to Zoom meetings to help candidates connect directly with members to discuss their positions on issues and talk about what should be their legislative priorities.
“We have a lot more moving parts,” Abrahams said, compared to previous election years. “We are working with the central labor council and the area labor federation to get information out to union voters.”
And while these efforts usually focus on informing members about the candidates, that communication can go both ways, Abrahams said. “Recently, state Assemblyman Harry Bronson participated in a Region 3 Zoom meeting and I think we opened it to other voters as well as our members. We told him about our COVID safety concerns and other issues, such as the problems some members are having with demands for them to work out-of-title.”
New York is a big and complex state where one size rarely fits all. What works in western New York is not necessarily the best fit for the New York City area or Long Island.
In PEF Region 11, which includes Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island, PAC Co-Chair Charles Roland is helping to find strategies and volunteers to energize and inform members who work there, but may live in other areas, even across the Hudson River in New Jersey.
This region, too, is a broad area where both parties traditionally dominate some neighborhoods, but not others. The candidates that PEF endorsed reflect that. The union, Roland said, strives to support the candidates it believes will best represent its members in those districts, and PEF wants the members and candidates to establish good working relationships. Helping out on campaigns is a great opportunity to do that.
“These candidates are in some tough races here,” Roland said. “I recently volunteered on a phone bank, but we’re still feeling our way around to see where we can be most effective. It comes down to our members and how willing they are to volunteer. That can make a big difference in a tight election and the winner will not forget if you helped to push him or her over the top.”
“There is no help you can give that is more important than your vote,” Gonzalez said. “Please volunteer if you can, but put VOTE at the top of your to-do list.”