The Monday evening potluck taking place inside the phone-bank building contrasted the exterior. While both were covered in signs with various Democratic officials’ names, outside, a small paper attached to an electrical pole read: “Neighbors will tow, more parking is available on Zuni and Taos.” Behind the building, one local had even sectioned off his portion of the road with tarp and a handmade poster. Once inside, however, the atmosphere was friendly and warm. The phone bankers’ patience seemed sincere, even while one of them apologized over her cell phone for interrupting someone’s dinner hour.
When it comes to political campaigning, robocalls have become a notable way of getting the word out. If you have a landline or provided a number when you registered to vote, then you've probably already been subjected to a prerecorded message about a political candidate. Volunteers in Santa Fe, however, still hold live phone banks to remind people of the upcoming election. One of the images that comes to mind is a room full of smiling people waiting to receive your donation during a benefit concert on television. Political phone banks are slightly different; they call you.
According to Ruth Kovnat, a retired law professor from the University of New Mexico, the content of these volunteers' phone calls is entirely different from robocalls. The goal is to inform people of deadlines, early voting dates and—this year, specifically—to let them know that New Mexico will not have straight-party voting on the Nov. 6 ballot. Voters will have to mark all their preferred candidates. Kovnat only provides information about a candidate's policy if the person on the other end of the line is interested.
While there are several shifts throughout the week, Kovnat and her husband prefer to volunteer once a week on Mondays. Ruth Kovnat has been volunteering for more than a month, but on this particular week has forgotten to bring a potluck item. Each shift takes several hours—no set time, only the amount of time it takes for her to work through the list of phone numbers she's been provided. She reacts positively to most situations and says that becoming frustrated after the phone calls is an exception and not the norm for her. She stays positive because "the spirit of everybody us spurs us on."
Kovnat and her fellow volunteers try to be active with other portions of the elections this year as well. She will vote early, act as a poll watcher—which is a paying gig—and recently helped registered voters at Santa Fe Community College. She shifts gears from her phone-bank mindset to remind me to register to vote, then ushers me over to another woman who whips out a registration sheet for me to fill out to complete my evening.
Blanca Olivas is a student at the Santa Fe University of Art and Design.