Ibie Hart is locked out—again.
For the second day in a row, the sleep-deprived statewide outreach manager for Common Cause Illinois left her keys at home. Today is Election Day, and she needs to get into her office. She’s anxious to begin her day of mobilizing volunteers in a get-out-the-vote phone banking campaign.
Common Cause, a national non-partisan organization, builds voter participation through pursuing fair elections and increased voting accessibility. For Hart, this means spending Election Day getting as many people as possible to vote by making phone calls until the minute the polls close.
But, as of 7:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Nov. 6, Hart is sprawled on the floor outside of the Common Cause office, phone in her hand as she calls her boss, Jay Young. She leaves him a brief voicemail beginning: “I did it again.” Hart has been working nonstop since Sunday and is running on minimum sleep and a lot of caffeine. She has already done two media interviews this morning and she has seven volunteers arriving at her office within the hour to begin phone banking.
While she has to prepare for the volunteers, an afternoon press conference and a workday she said won’t end until midnight, for now it’s down to the front desk to ask for help. On the way down, she intercepts her boss, who luckily has his keys. He hasn’t slept much, either.
“My kid woke me up at midnight saying, ‘I can’t sleep,’” Young said while unlocking the office door.
Once inside, Hart gets to work. Today she’ll wrangle 90 volunteers who signed up to call registered voters in three Illinois counties: Will, Kane, and Lake. Each caller works a three-hour shift between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m., calling up to 150 people in traditionally low voter turnout areas.
The volunteers’ job is making voting sound easy.
“It’s more about encouragement,” Hart said. “Making sure you’re providing all the information possible for them.”
By 9 a.m., four of the expected volunteers are gathered around an oval table in the main room of the Common Cause office. They use their laptops to connect to a phone banking program that will guide them through their conversations. They are reminded to provide only voting information—any political talk could get Common Cause in trouble for electioneering.
The volunteers are likely to ask people whether they have voted yet and whether they know where their polling locations are. They’ll tell them about transportation options, remind them of same-day registration and provide a hotline number to call if they have any trouble voting.
Hart said a lot of the volunteer role is refuting misinformation on voting restrictions. When a voting issue comes into the national spotlight, she said Illinois residents are often unsure if the same laws apply to them.
“Voter purge is very hyped up because of what’s happening in Georgia,” she said. “It’s hard for people to differentiate between local and national.”
After Hart ran through the script and answered questions, the volunteers got to work. Two participants began by practicing with one another.
“How obstinate do you want me to be?” Eryn Mascia, a first-year law student at Northwestern University, asked her practice partner, fellow law student Logan Crossley. While Mascia said she already had sent in her absentee ballot to her home state of Texas, she thinks it’s important to get involved wherever you are.
Crossley, also from Texas, agreed. “I feel like this is a very significant time, and I want to be as involved as possible,” he said.
Hart appreciates what she sees as a swell in volunteer and voter participation. After graduating law school, she began writing law and policy. However, even when she wrote policy that garnered support, she found it getting held up in legislative committees without a clear reason why. For her, it was an a-ha moment that something in the system was broken.
She decided on a career switch, focusing her energy on fixing the system through ensuring fair elections and voting. She said she was optimistic about voting this year, citing unprecedented early turnout. While she has been fighting to get voters to the polls for more than a year, she believes it’s starting to click outside of advocate offices.
“I do think people are starting to get it,” she said. “Whether it’s accessible or not is still a question.”
Other stories by Miriam Finder Annenberg