By: Robert Johnson and Paul Bentz
Campaign consultants: Voters upended conventional wisdom in this week’s school bond and override elections.
Voters in two Valley school districts taught us a lesson on Election Day this week, upending conventional wisdom about early ballots and reminding us again that every vote really does count.
Since the advent of convenient voting by mail, campaign consultants have led their clients to storm voters’ mailboxes a month before Election Day, focusing money and campaign literature on quickly piling up votes from reliable, older voters.
But in the Dysart and Peoria budget override elections, it was the last-minute voters, those who delivered their early ballots to polling places, or those that just walked in to vote on Tuesday, who carried the day and appear to have prevented massive teacher layoffs, program cuts and general mayhem in these two sprawling West Valley school districts.
Whereas Dysart was losing by a thousand votes and Peoria was only winning by five votes when early ballots were counted, both rallied to win on the strength of Election Day turnout, teaching us a few lessons about these important local contests.
Lesson 1: Voting matters
First, if you still believe voting doesn’t matter, it’s time to think again. The future of Dysart’s public schools turned on several dozen “yes” votes, out of more than 27,000 ballots cast, at last count. Peoria’s margin was a little better. Regardless, if you took the time to vote Tuesday, you pretty much saved the day.
Lesson 2: Don’t coast at the end
Second, if we want to win, we need to work hard all the way to Election Day. Too often, campaigns think they are done two or three weeks after early ballots land on voters’ doorsteps. They’ve spent most of their money and believe the people who are going to vote have already done so.
Some campaigns have been known to consider shutting down a full week before the election! Indeed 80 percent of voters cast early ballots, but if you hope to claim victory, you must campaign all the way to the end.
Lesson 3: Partisans don’t rule everything
Third, we discovered what parents and those voters not chained to partisan ideology are able to achieve when faced with these kinds of ballot questions. We have always thought families and younger voters could effect change in local elections if they only made time to vote. We think they proved us right this week.
Separate from the voters, we learned something from opponents who launched their own efforts to sink school district proposals. We don’t believe opposition to school district elections ever has been as organized as it was this time. We would be wise to expect “no” voters to work even harder in future elections and prepare accordingly.
The voters took us to school and taught us there’s much to learn about winning their support. Meanwhile, public school children were the big winners.
Robert Johnson and Paul Bentz are campaign consultants at Highground Public Affairs in Phoenix. They managed pro-education campaigns in the Dysart and Peoria school districts this year.