Trick or Vote

“People are already expecting you to knock on their door on Halloween. So it’s the one day of the year where people will be home and ready to answer the door,” says Sarita “the Great Witch” Ryan, an organizer for Trick or Vote. “This way, it’ll be fun for everybody involved, not just another [election] canvasser coming by.”

The idea is simple enough. This year, Halloween falls just two days before what many are calling the “most important election of our lifetime.” And, while most of us have had it up to here with both Bush and Kerry – their voices on the radio, their mugs all over the television and on the front of all the newspapers – young people everywhere are using this holiday to remind each other that the election is as much about one another, and the issues we care about, as it is about the candidates. By going door-to-door in costume, offering up directions to polling places, reminders to bring a ID, and Halloween classics like Tootsie Rolls and Pal bubblegum, this year’s trick-or-voters will also be spreading the word: politics and fun are not opposing forces.

Whose brilliant idea was this? Well, it’s likely that many people have connected the dots between November elections and Halloween before, but the idea to make it a national push? The credit goes to organizer and Oregon Bus Project director Jefferson Smith. Here’s how he tells it: “Four years ago, I went door-to-door for a friend who was running for Congress. I dressed as a lawn sign, gave candy to kids, and had a great time. Two years ago, a member of our [Bus Project] crew said, 'we won't trick-or-treat, we'll trick-or-vote!' And it stuck.”

Smith has been talking up the idea for the last year. And it’s a good thing, too. Trick or Vote is planned to go down in 15 key swing state cities through the official Trick or Vote organizing. But just how many thousands of people have picked up the idea and run with it is anybody’s guess. The League of Pissed Off Voters, for example, which has campus branches on tons of campuses, is also endorsing and encouraging the idea.

According to Smith, “Different groups are taking the concept and making it their own. Some groups are supporting candidates, some are supporting specific issues. Others are doing a straight "vote" reminder, as we're doing in Portland.” The Portland crew started the Web site, and reserved the trademark Trick or Vote, says Smith, but only as a way to keep it out of the hands of people who would misuse it. “We want it to be an ‘open source’ kind of thing,” he continues. “The spread of this idea is really exciting.”

Noa Marmar of the Young Voter Alliance, a partisan campaign comprised of five progressive and democratic organizations targeting young voters, is coordinating the Philadelphia Trick or Vote effort. He says he has over 100 young volunteers signed up each day to go knocking on doors all weekend long. And his crew has the goods. They’ll be handing out goodie bags that read “Don’t be tricked by the Republicans.” Inside the bags, potential young voters will find, among other things, a CD sampler, a magazine, arm bands and a reminder about their polling place.

Marmar says that the fact that there are 100 young people a day willing to spend their Halloween engaged in political activity “says a lot about the urgency of the issues behind this election.”

Marmar, who plans to trick-or-vote in a George Bush mask says he thinks fun is “crucial,” adding, “If you look at some of the most effective voices out there on the progressive left, it’s two comedians. It’s Michael Moore and Jon Stewart who are really getting all the headlines. What does that say? Young folks are disenchanted, disenfranchised, jaded and they’re tired of mudslinging and the negativity surrounding politics.”

Smith agrees. “We absolutely have to make at least some part of politics fun,” he says. “We are competing for mind share with an ever-increasing onslaught of synapse-firing inputs. We need to compete in that battle for brain space. Fun is a good start.”

Trick or Vote is just one example of the way this election is changing the way youth see political engagement. And regardless of the outcome on Nov. 2, chances are very good that it will become a GOTV tradition.

Interested in taking part? It’s not too late. Contact the folks at or your local League of Pissed Off Voters chapter for more info.

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