The last push: Canvassers reach out to an owly electorate

By: - November 4, 2022 6:46 am

Jesus Vargas, canvasser with Make the Road Action Nevada, knocking on voters’ doors this week. (Photo by Camalot Todd)

The drab and windy weather on mid-day Nov. 2 served as a premonition, forcing the rally of canvassers from Make the Road Action Nevada, PLAN Action, Battle Born Progress and the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) inside the small office of Make the Road Nevada instead of the parking lot. 

Midterms are notoriously and historically troubling for the sitting president’s party.

Nevada, a swing state, that’s a crucial win for both parties, has canvassers revving up for the last push of an election season where abortion access, social security, inflation, rising housing and health costs, and democracy itself are all key drivers for voters.

Even with history and seemingly Mother Nature against them, the canvassers still chanted “immigrant power” and “union power.” The leaders still gave impassioned speeches about affordable housing, accessible health care and supporting unions, and they still went knocking on doors, flyers in hand. 

Jesus Vargas, 25, is one of the Make the Road Action Nevada canvassers, which is a part of the national nonprofit Make the Road Action that aims to build political power in working-class Latino communities. 

He joined the organization shortly after the Supreme Court overturned the nearly 50-year precedent of Roe v. Wade, after being disillusioned with the Democratic Party during the failed 2020 Bernie Sanders campaign, which he had worked for.

“You either shut up and do something about it or you shut up and do nothing about it,” he said. “I feel like this is the best path forward.” 

Sometimes, people answer, obscured shadows with voices coming from behind locked screen doors. On Nov. 2, most of the doors he knocked on for the first few hours of his shift greeted him with silence. 

Vargas, the oldest of 11, who grew up in South Central California before moving here to live with his little brother, is studying psychology at CSN.

It wasn’t until one of his younger brothers, who Vargas said never lost his motivation, told him about this job as a canvasser and the candidates that he felt his voice mattered.

“If he can, I can and I should as his older brother,” he said. 

While 88% of college students said they were motivated to vote, only 59% said they believed their vote had the power to make a difference, according to a Fair Election Center’s Campus Vote Project survey from August. 

That survey found that over a third (38 %) of students plan to vote in person compared to a quarter who plan to vote by mail.

Nevada has seen an influx of tens of millions of dollars in outside funding and visits from multiple national political leaders of both parties. 

While the groups gathered to canvas on the ground can’t match all that outside spending, “we’ve got something they don’t have and that is people power,” Lee Saunders, the president of AFSCME International, said at the pre-canvas rally “We understand the importance of coming together during this time and working together every single day knocking on those doors, making those phone calls because that’s how we win.”  

Make the Road Action Nevada canvasser Jesus Vargas talks with a voter. “You either shut up and do something about it or you shut up and do nothing about it,” Vargas says of why he’s knocking on doors trying to get people out to vote. (Photo by Camalot Todd)

Vargas knocks on 80-100 doors a day to advocate for the Democratic candidates on the ballot — something he has done in the triple-digit scorching heat of a Vegas summer or in the windy, wet first days of November. 

On Nov. 2,  Make the Road Action Nevada canvassers knocked on over 2,500 doors. In the two week period from Oct. 21 to Nov. 2, they knocked on 19,647 doors, and in total, they’ve canvassed 43,511 doors this election season, said Jessica Padrón, the civil engagement director at Make the Road Action Nevada.

They’ve also made over 200,000 phone calls to voters, she said.

It is one of several canvassing efforts in the state, most notably including the Culinary Union, which earlier this week announced it’s canvassers have knocked on 800,000 doors  this year, and the group intends to hit its unprecedented target of 1 million doors.

Juan, who declined to give his last name and speak in-depth with the Nevada Current, was the only voter Vargas talked to during his shift on Wednesday who gave his contact information and confirmed he would vote on Election Day.

The few who opened their doors mid-day on a Wednesday were polite. Only one young man was curt to Vargas and said he wasn’t interested in voting, doesn’t plan on voting and refused the flyer Vargas offered.

“It’s the mid-ist of all mid. Mid-day on a Wednesday,” Vargas said. “I try not to let people like that get to me. It’s not on them. It’s the system that failed them and all it really takes is me just talking to one person, like with [Juan].”

Like many Nevadans and Americans, the rising cost of food, housing, gas and health care are driving concerns for Juan. While House Republicans are running on the inflation, their plans for confronting it have been minimal.

Vargas understands these struggles, drawing a parallel between his desire to pursue psychology in college and political engagement. Both stem from his wish to make the people who he cares about have a better life, one with less hurt. 

“It’s a chance of a chance that I am reaching for,” he said. 

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Camalot Todd
Camalot Todd

An award-winning, investigative and enterprise reporter, Camalot Todd has over seven years experience in print, digital, radio and TV journalism. She covered mental and behavioral health in New York for Spectrum News 1 Buffalo through the national service program, Report For America, where she won the Mental Health Advocates of WNY Advocacy Award in 2020 for her coverage on mental health stigma. She also served as an inaugural member of the Report For America Corps Advisory Board Member, 2021-2022. Previously, she reported on community issues in Las Vegas, including a long-term project on underage sex trafficking, for the Las Vegas Sun and its sister publication, Las Vegas Weekly. For the Sun, she wrote a pathbreaking investigative piece called, “Children on the Cusp: The transition from foster care to adulthood is leaving some behind.” The piece won the Nevada Press Association best investigative story of the year and named Camalot the Best Community Reporter of 2017. She also worked as a reporter for KUNV radio and is a graduate of University of Nevada, Las Vegas. Camalot was selected for National Press Foundation Opioid and Addiction Fellow 2021 and led the Syracuse Press Club's Journalism Lab as an educator from 2021-2022.

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