If you were to base your evidence on the dialogue happening in the recent Republican primaries, you might assume that every conservative Christian in America is standing at the ready, preparing to cast their ballot for the craziest candidate, whomever s/he may be, come November. But in fact, there are millions of Christians out there who aren't even registered to vote, and now one man has set out on a quixotic mission to get a good chunk of them to become first time voters—so God can win the 2012 election.
The man's name is Bill Dallas, and he's the founder of United In Purpose, a non-profit that's seeking to turn Christians into voters. In an interview with NPR, he says he began this endeavor when he heard that 15 to 20 million Christians aren't registered to vote. He said he was surprised by this, but he wasn't registered himself; so maybe it shouldn't have come as such a shock.
Dallas has an unusual background. He's an evangelical Christian who found God while he was serving time in prison for embezzlement. He defrauded people in California in the 1980s using real estate investments and did two years in San Quentin. When he got out, he founded the Church Communication Network, a satellite and internet company that serves churches. He recently started United In Purpose in connection with some of his conservative pals from Silicon Valley and now works in partnership with noted completely obnoxious religious groups like the Family Research Council. The goal of their Champion the Vote campaign is to use volunteers from other Christian organizations, like the FRC, to unite in the purpose (hence the name) of doing voter registration drives in swing areas where having more conservative voters could influence the election.
Of course, these volunteers, or "champions," as UIP calls them, wouldn't be that helpful if they didn't know whom precisely to target. That's where UIP's unique database comes in. They've collected information on 180 million adults and counting in the United States and built profiles for everyone. They've done this by buying lists and assigning points to people for certain characteristics. NPR explains how it works:
You get points if you're on an anti-abortion list or a traditional marriage list. You get a point if you regularly attend church or home-school your kids. You get points if you like NASCAR or fishing.
Doesn't it seem like you should lose points for liking NASCAR? And do you get docked points for being on marriage equality lists and lists of people who buy
Girl Scout cookies? Anyway, once they've created their creepy profile of you based on what lists you show up on, they total up your points. Dallas said,
If [your score] totaled over 600 points, then we realized you were very serious about your faith. Then we run that person against the voter registration database. ... If they were not registered, that became one of the key people we were going to target to go after.
Just like magic—totally unnerving, invasive magic. (Though it's not like we're not willingly giving this same information away on Facebook and everywhere else on the internet.)
UIP's "champions" then log into a website where they can enter their address and find people from the database in their area that are listed as "targets." Then they call them, email them, or just show up at their door ready to convince them to register to vote. I bet people would love to be told that they'd been targeted using sophisticated software that makes assumptions about their beliefs, but instead most of the champions follow bland scripts provided by UIP.
Of course, there's nothing wrong with trying to get people to vote. It's a commonplace occurrence in both parties, and it's done by other community and religious organizations all the time. What's unusual about this is that Dallas seems almost delusional about the amount of people he can convert into registered voters. He told NPR that UIP is aiming to register five million conservative Christians in the next year. He hopes that will be enough to influence the presidential race, and it's true that a number of key states were won by very small margins in 2008. So he could be right, assuming that voter registration is accomplished in the right places—and that voters who register actually turn out to vote.
Of course, before he can get to that portion of this divine mission, he should probably focus on the fundamentals first. Namely, does this approach actually result in more people of their chosen religion and political persuasion becoming registered voters? Fortunately for those of us who would rather Rick Santorum (or any of his current competition) not be our next president, the answer is, at least partially, no.
NPR followed one "champion," Scott Spages, as he walked around his Florida neighborhood trying to register people, but it turned out everyone whose door he knocked on was already registered. It seems there was a problem with the database—all of the names on the UIP list for Florida turned out to already be voters. Oops, talk about preaching to the converted! UIP didn't realize this until NPR reported on the story, so it's conceivable that they could have continued sending their champions around for months harassing people for no reason. And it turned out registered voters also turned up on target lists in South Carolina and Iowa. Sounds like their foolproof system has more glitches than the "act casual" center on Mitt Romney's circuitboard.
NPR did manage to find a champion in Ohio who had a correct list, but that didn't mean anyone on it actually wanted to talk to her. Sixty-seven-year-old Kay Clymer, who's an evangelical Christian and a member of the Tea Party, gets on the phone for several hours a day with people trying to convince them to register to vote. NPR followed her as she actually pounded the pavement and met with more than a little resistance. When she asked one woman if she wanted to be registered, she got, "No. I wouldn't waste my time on any of them." At the next house, she got an, "I'm sorry, they're all crooks and you'll never be able to blame me." Looks like the database has another flaw: a lot of people aren't registered to vote because they don't give a shit about voting, for love of the Lord or not.
You know what happens when you assume things about people, don't you, Mr. Dallas? You make an ASS out of U and ME. And that's what seems to be happening here. When NPR confronted Dallas about these faults, he was obviously embarrassed by the results, but he didn't seem fazed.
When you look at all these factors, you realize what a herculean effort this is — to try to bring in a large group of new voters into the voting population.
Yes, it's true, but they doen't seem to be publicly discussing any official rate of success that UPI has achieved. So it's easy to guess it's not going as well as planned. Perhaps its time they starts buying lists of people who think politicians are crooks and lists of people who wear tinfoil hats. After that, they should find a way to rule out people who refuse to vote just so they can spend their lives being angry at every single damn politician without having to feel responsible for putting them in office. (Maybe the subscription list for Crabby Grandfathers Weekly could help them with that.) Then they'll probably want to also cross off all the people who don't think voting is necessary because they can just pray for the person they want to win, and it'll automatically happen. You know, like with football games and the lottery.
After all that, UIP should be left with a couple million people tops who'll be open to conversion, but you have to figure a good chunk of them don't live in swing states. And, even of those who do, there are probably a few Christians who'll end up voting Democratic (following the lessons of Jesus and all...), which will cancel out some of the added Republican votes. So, in other words, best of luck with your project, Mr. Dallas! Oh, and when you're done, would you mind erasing that database? The idea of a known fraud and convicted felon having access to the personal and demographic information of a millions of Americans, many of whom are probably elderly and extra susceptible to scams, is a little disconcerting.