In November, when (we hope) Democrats pull out a win in the tightly contested state of Florida, a key contributor may well be a group initiated by Jean Milburn of Wayland. Thanks to their efforts, there’s been a big uptick in vote-by-mail sign-ups by Democrats in this battleground state, outnumbering Republicans by the tens of thousands.
It all began in the fall of 2019 when one of Jean’s neighbors went on a vacation to Sarasota, Florida. She dropped into a Florida Democratic Party office to find out about their needs and to try to determine what progressives back in the northern states could do to help. JoAnne DeVries of the Sarasota Democratic Party suggested a vote-by-mail campaign. When the neighbor returned to Massachusetts, she brainstormed with Jean on how to make it work.
What resulted was a vote-by-mail double postcard. The return portion is a legal application for a vote-by-mail ballot designed by the Supervisor of Elections in each county in which they worked. The beauty of this approach is that it puts the legal application into the hands of voters and does not require any additional action.
The entire program approach was important because research shows that a comparison of registered Democrats finds that those who vote by mail are 50 percent more likely to submit a ballot than those who go to the polls.
“In Florida, which is going to be a tight race, squeezing 50 percent more votes out of this group could be a game changer,” Jean said.
Jean and her friend picked up the challenge a year ago. In her own community, the project grew by word of mouth. Then, she brought it to various chapters of Indivisible. In addition, she brought the project to faith communities – Unitarian churches and Jewish temples.
“While people were working on the postcards at these events, I would explain the get-out-to-vote strategy in Florida to them,” she said. “People got it immediately.”
Susan Labandibar of Swing Left Greater Boston joined the push and was a great help in getting the initiative expanded across New England.
“Then, Black Lives Matter happened, and even more people wanted to do something. We had huge numbers join us through Reclaim Our Vote.” Jean had contacted the group and was assigned one of their volunteer address distributors. She contacts them for addresses and scripts when she wants more addresses.
As for impact, Jean says she can estimate that she’s personally surpassing 100,000 postcards purchased and mailed through her own efforts. But she just enjoys the feeling of accomplishment.
“One of the beautiful things about this is seeing the friendships flow. People who have never taken political action before are talking to friends and all are getting to work.”
One volunteer, she said, has limited ability to walk, yet that woman drives to Jean’s house from three towns away. “She calls ahead and makes an appointment. I run out and bring things to her. She takes her packets home and starts writing.”
Others come with their children in tow. Jean explains to the children why they’re doing these postcards. And what happens is that the parents take more postcards than they can manage themselves. Then the kids themselves can take part in socially distant postcard parties and share their ideas with their friends.
Another example is a meditation group that found the current government mess an impediment to clearing their minds. “They decided to do these postcards together to help themselves return to a meditative state,” Jean said.