What is Canvassing?
Canvassing is walking through a neighborhood, knocking on doors, and asking for votes for our candidates. Canvassing is also referred to as “door knocking,” “block walking,” or sometimes just “walking.” Studies show that this is the best way to get out the vote, and the least expensive. And while you are canvassing, you can gather information about your voters that can be helpful for your candidates’ campaigns.
Before you arrive at a canvass, the canvass organizer will have determined your turf, which is the area you’ll be covering. The organizer will find the voters in the area using the PA Voter database, VoteBuilder.
What Is MiniVAN, and Should I Use It?
MiniVAN is a free smartphone app which accesses VoteBuilder, allowing canvass organizers and canvassers to automate the canvassing process from planning through data entry of information gathered from voters. Using MiniVAN saves hours of volunteer data entry time and avoids the time and expense of printing out and keeping track of paper lists. If you have a smartphone, please download and use MiniVAN, if possible.
Canvassing Using MiniVAN (not paper lists)
- The canvass organizer determines your turf using MiniVAN, which accesses VoteBuilder, and identifies each turf with a list number.
- After you arrive, the canvass organizer gives you the list number, which you enter into MiniVAN to access your turf.
- You use MiniVAN to find each voter and enter the information as you gather it.
- At the end of the canvass, MiniVAN will sync (upload) the information to the voter database.
Canvassing Using Paper Lists (not MiniVAN)
- The canvass organizer prepares and prints out lists of turfs for canvassers ahead of time.
- After you arrive, the canvass organizer gives you a paper list of all the voters in your turf.
- You use the list to find each voter and write down the information you gather.
- The paper list is collected at the end of the canvass.
- Later, volunteers use the paper lists to enter the data into VoteBuilder.
If you are unable to use MiniVAN, your canvass organizer may provide a paper turf with a map attached or pair you with someone who has MiniVAN. If you have questions about which method to use for collecting data, please discuss them at the canvass with the organizer.
What to Do Before You Arrive
- Comfortable shoes
- Clothing that is clean, neat, and comfortable
- A name tag or campaign pin, if you have one
Be Prepared to Use MiniVAN (if you plan to use it)
- If you haven’t used it before, download the MiniVAN app to your smartphone and create an account, before you arrive at the canvass.
- If you have used MiniVAN before, make sure you are logged in. Make sure you know your AccountID.
- Charge your phone fully.
- Set your phone to vibrate, so your door conversations aren’t interrupted by your phone.
- A snack, if you’re going to be there for several hours
- Remember the weather: a hat, sunglasses, raingear, if appropriate
- A waterproof bag to hold printed materials
- A (happy) child, if you have one. More people will talk to you.
- An ID
- Business cards, if you are a committee member and have them
When You Arrive at the Canvassing Location
You will be paired up with another canvasser, and at least one of you should have MiniVAN on your smartphone.
Your canvasser organizer will give you a verbal orientation and provide:
- A phone number you can call with questions
- The MiniVAN list number, or, if you are not using MiniVAN, a paper turf with map attached
- Position papers and/or postcards with additional information for voters
Walking and Knocking
Be Respectful and Safe
- Walk on the sidewalks, not on the grass.
- Be aware of your surroundings: watch out for dogs, Beware of Dog signs, and other safety risks.
- Do not go into fenced and gated yards, yards with “no trespassing” signs, or locked apartment buildings. Mark them “inaccessible” in MiniVAN or on your paper list.
- Don’t knock on doors with a “no solicitors” sign. Leave your materials, if possible.
How to Knock on the Door
- Knock reasonably loudly. (Don’t ring the doorbell, as they rarely work.)
- Knock on the storm door only if the main door is open. Otherwise, knock on the main door. After knocking on the main door, close the storm door to avoid contact with pets.
- After you knock, take 2-3 steps back to make whoever comes to the door comfortable with your presence.
What to Do if No One Is Home
Don’t wait more than a minute if no one answers.
Leave materials if they are not home, to let them know you were there. Do not put materials in, on, or around the mailbox—it’s illegal.
You may put your materials, preferably with the candidate’s name face up:
- Inside a storm door
- Under a mat
- In a mail slot
- Hanging on a door (if it’s a door-hanger)
- Anywhere that will not be blown away or rained on
What to Do Once Someone Comes to the Door
Smile, make eye contact, and if you are wearing sunglasses, take them off.
Introduce yourself and explain that you are a volunteer with the local Democrats and are talking with voters about this fall’s candidates for election.
Ask for the voter on your list:
- If the voter comes to the door and is obviously too busy to talk, apologize for interrupting, hand them the literature, and offer to leave.
- If the voter is not home, but someone else answers the door, don’t try to engage with them. Leave the campaign material with them.
- If the voter is there and able to talk, show them the candidates’ picture(s) and ask them if they have a few minutes to hear about candidates.
How to Talk to the Voter
Make a personal connection. Explain why you got involved with local politics and want to help elect Democratic candidates (Trump, pipeline, Republican stronghold on the office, etc.) Mention that you live nearby, if you do.
Ask whether they are aware of the election and tell them the date.
Hand them the campaign material and describe each candidate, what they are running for, and why it’s important to elect a Democrat to that office.
Make it an interactive conversation, and show interest in what they have to say:
- Talk to them about issues. Ask them what issues they are interested in, and relate their answers to our candidates’ positions. Provide 1-3 talking points for major candidates.
- Ask them any questions that appear in MiniVAN, and record the answers there.
Ask them if they have any questions. If you don’t know the answer to a question, call the phone number provided by your canvass organizer and ask. If you still don’t get the answer:
- Record the question in the Notes section of MiniVAN or on your paper list in the comment section next to voter data.
- Tell the voter that someone will get back to them with the answer.
- Alert the staffer/canvass organizer of the question at the end of the canvass, and they will get back to the voter.
- Stay more than 5 minutes
- Debate with the voter or try to persuade them; just deliver a positive message on behalf of your candidate if the voter seems open to conversation or has questions.
- Enter the home
Remember to ask them for their vote on election day. If they hesitate, ask what their hesitation is about and try to get them to “yes.” Enter their answer in MiniVAN.
If you are a Committee Member canvassing in your committee’s area, leave them with a business card, if you have one, containing your committee name/website and your contact information. This is especially helpful for voters living in areas that have multi-municipality committees, where they may not be aware of the name and internet presence of their local Democratic Committee.
Thank them for their time!
Gather Voter Contact Information
If the voter is still willing to speak with you, please try to verify their phone numbers and email address.
Tell the voter why we need their information:
- We need phone numbers because we want to be able to call them to remind them to vote.
- We need their email address because we want to send them pertinent information about once a month.
If you are using MiniVAN:
- Find their phone and email information in the Details section of the voter’s page.
- Delete any incorrect information and enter the correct information.
If you are not using MiniVAN, add or correct the information on your paper list.