MILWAUKEE – “Y’all doing voting?” a young woman asks, as she pushes a stroller past dilapidated houses in Milwaukee’s Borchert Field neighborhood.
“Yes we are! What’s your name? Do you need a ride tomorrow?” Beverly Currie replies brightly, flipping papers on her clipboard to find a blank sheet. “If you call this number, it’ll tell you where you need to go to vote.”
The race between Gov. Scott Walker and his challenger Mary Burke has been nearly tied for months. With only one day left to campaign, groups like the workers’ rights advocacy group Wisconsin Jobs Now (WJN) are trying to convince the voters who are most likely to stay home during a midterm election to go to the polls on Tuesday.
According to a WJN spokeswoman, volunteers and canvassers knocked on more than 26,000 doors on Saturday and Sunday, and nearly 4,000 people promised to vote.
As WJN and other similar groups go from block to block, the goal is to bring as many Obama voters out as possible. The president himself tried to tap into 2012 excitement during a visit last week, when he appeared in a ward he carried with 99% of the vote.Currie and her canvassing partner Halle Smith carry today’s fliers, printed with the ward’s polling place, a number to call with questions, and a message: “We are not going to let them hold us down or hold us back.”
Wisconsin has lagged the rest of the Midwest as it recovers from the economic crash of 2008, and Burke has made jobs the central issue of her campaign. Despite Walker’s promise to create 250,000 private sector jobs during his first term, the state has added less than half that number.
And even as Walker’s campaign has highlighted the small businesses that have grown and the new manufacturing jobs that have come to the state, in Milwaukee’s central city, which includes Borchert Field, two in five people live in poverty.
Currie says she relishes the chance to take volunteer work she did with Organizing for Action, President Obama’s organizing arm, and make it a full-time job after spending a year unemployed. “When I say I lost everything, I mean everything,” she says. “My car, my apartment, everything.” Now, she walks an hour each day to get to the Wisconsin Jobs Now offices, and spends another eight hours knocking on doors. “That’s how happy I was to have employment,” she said.
For Smith, going door-to-door is a departure from what she’s used to doing at fast food restaurants in the city. Smith has gone on strike a half dozen times from the Sonic she works at on the South Side of the city, and was arrested with Democratic Rep. Gwen Moore during a fast-food minimum wage protest in September.
“It’s easier because you can talk to them about what matters to them, like their jobs and the minimum wage referendum that’s on the ballot,” Smith said.
For the past two weeks, volunteers like Curie and Halle have been organizing groups of people to go vote early. Despite cuts that have ended early voting on nights and weekends, more people have voted early than in the 2012 recall. “With restaurant people, you try to catch them right before or right after they get off work,” said Smith.
Wisconsin’s Government Accountability Board reported Monday that 289,615 people have already cast ballots, and that more than 216,000 of those were cast in person. Kevin J. Kennedy, the state’s top election official, also pointed out that these results are not complete.
Walker has faced heavy criticism over the minimum wage in the final days of the campaign. He said in October that he felt it served “no purpose,” and his administration rejected complaints filed by Wisconsin Jobs Now in an attempt to force further study on whether $7.25 is a living wage in the state.
WJN has now filed a lawsuit to force the administration to fully investigate the complaints.
With so little time left until Election Day, Currie says there’s a good chance she’s already tried to coax the men and women in these houses to the polls already. Nearly every house already has a flyer wedged in the door. “I done burnt this street out,” she says with a laugh as she walked up another set of steps.