Volunteers Nicole Scanlan and Moses Williams get ready to canvas South Oak Park.

Volunteers Nicole Scanlan and Moses Williams get ready to canvas South Oak Park.

If 14% voter turnout sounds alarming to you, volunteers for the Building Healthy Communities program would agree, so on Saturday they turned that concern into action. On October 4th, a small but determined group of volunteers from BHC, a project of the California Endowment, met at the Asian Resources Center before canvassing the area around South Oak Park in an effort to increase voter turnout for the upcoming primary.

For organizers of this campaign, percentages, not politics, were the focus. And with a 14% turnout in the last election, it became clear that more is needed to be done to get people to the polls this November. Although that number only comes from one precinct in South Oak Park, others are likely not faring much better. With that in mind, volunteers set out in teams of two, knocking on doors and leaving fliers on doorsteps urging locals to make their voices heard on election day.

“If only dogs could vote,” many said, jokingly. On some streets, canvassers were met with more pit bulls and fences than actual residents. Despite these minor setbacks, volunteers made serious headway, meeting with people of various backgrounds who share concerns for their community. Safety in general proved to be a top priority for many residents.

Another challenge volunteers faced was making it clear that they were not working for a political party or candidate, something many people just don’t like dealing with, especially on their day off. Despite this apprehension, volunteers were careful to stress the importance of an informed, involved community. BHC supporters want to ensure that the residents of South Oak Park are properly represented. For them, letting their sense of genuine concern and urgency show through was their best tool.

Not satisfied with just getting registered voters to the polls, this ambitious team was also able to register some new voters, hoping to end the cycle of voter apathy and neglect by elected officials.

The message volunteers hope to send to the community is that officials are more likely to take care of the needs of the people who voted for him or her. It’s a harsh reality, but it makes sense. When residents think that their vote doesn’t matter they skip casting a ballot. In turn, the candidate who wins will give the most attention (and resources) to those who exercise their right to vote. Less involved neighborhoods become neglected, which discourages them even more.

“You can’t change anything if you don’t try,” said volunteer Moses Williams. A simple but effective slogan that residents of South Oak Park will hopefully take with them when they cast their ballots on Tuesday, November 4th.