SEIU’s Andy Stern visits Portland to spur voter registration

Local campaign offices got a visit Sept. 30 from Andy Stern, president of the Service Employees International Union. Stern, described by the Wall Street Journal as one of a “new breed of labor leaders determined to energize the movement,” was in Portland to look in on efforts to register new voters and mobilize union members in the November election.

Stern is one of the founders of America Coming Together (ACT) and America Votes, two new political efforts that are shaping this year’s election.

ACT set up large-scale canvassing operations in 17 “battleground” states, including Oregon.

America Votes is a coalition coordinating the electoral efforts of 32 large membership organizations, including environmental, education, human and civil rights, women’s rights, choice and labor organizations.

ACT’s focus is so-called “swing” voters — such as pre-retirement women or younger voters. Through mailings and door-to-door house visits, the campaign gives them information about issues that would persuade them to vote for John Kerry and Democrats in federal, state and local elections. The two issues that in Oregon have seemed to resonate most are the economy and outsourcing.

ACT’s Oregon campaign is fielding close to 300 paid canvassers a day, plus up to 500 volunteers per weekend.

Phase one of the campaign focused on registering new voters. As of the Oct. 12 voter registration deadline, ACT had registered close to 50,000 new voters in Oregon. That number is about 3 percent of the number of Oregon voters who cast ballots in the 2000 election.

The campaign moved into its next phase — educating voters and getting out the vote. ACT-Oregon spokesperson Scott Ballo said the group is asking people to “vote early,” because groups like ACT are in contact with county elections offices, and knowing that reliable voters have cast their ballots allows them to focus energy on turning out other voters.

“If you’re tired of seeing us on your doorstep, send in your ballot!” Ballo quipped.

During his one-day stop, Stern rallied canvassers, met with local SEIU leaders, and gave a pep talk to union volunteers before they went out door-to-door.

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