Why Would People Wait Eight Hours to Vote After a Maine Snow Storm?
Searsport Municipal Referendum
In December of 2012, Toby McGrath was hired by DCP Midstream to defeat a moratorium that would be on the Searsport ballot in March of 2012. If the moratorium was passed it would have shut down the alternative energy project.
The campaign faced a major hurdle. This would not be a typical election where voters just go to the ballot booth and vote; the vote would occur at a New England town hall-style meeting. This meant that voters had to attend the Town Hall, listen to discussion on each warrant on the ballot, and then vote. To make matters worse, the moratorium was the last measure to be voted on at the meeting. This meant we needed all of our supporters to sit through the entire Town Hall meeting in order to vote on our issue, and we had no idea how long the Town Hall meeting would take.
The campaign strategy was focused on DCP Midstream doing something that was unusual for some, but what DWSC believes was vitally important: being open, transparent, and telling people what you can or cannot do and why – even if the people don’t like the answers.
We held our own meeting with the top executives of DCP Midstream at the Searsport Town Hall and invited everyone in town to attend. We publicized the event heavily, and were able to cram roughly 300 people into the Searsport Town Hall on a cold February evening. The plan was to present and answer questions for two hours, but we ended up being there for four. Clearly there was a lot of interest in the project.
One meeting wasn’t going to answer everyone’s questions, so we brought the meeting to each person’s home. We knocked on each person’s door multiple times, had individuals meet with their neighbors to discuss the proposal, and tried to speak with every potential voter in town at least five times. Our outreach was so successful; it became clear toward the end that people were tired of talking to us.
Finally the vote came to defeat the moratorium. Voter participation was unpredictable enough but just days before the vote there was a snow storm. We had to redouble our efforts to ensure our supporters would attend the Town Hall meeting. Even if we were able to have all of our supporters attend, there was nothing guaranteeing they would stay for the vote. Eight hours into the town hall meeting was the vote…a 64% to 36% victory for DCP Midstream.
So why did our supporters make the trek merely eight hours after a major storm? Because we built up a level of trust with them and they understood exactly what the project was and was not. They were willing to support DCP Midstream because DCP Midstream was willing to support the community.
DCP Midstream prides itself on being great partners with the communities they are located. We focused our strategy on showing what type of great partner DCP Midstream would be with the town of Searsport. The key for us was working with a company who was not afraid to be transparent and willing to be a partner with their community. We just wish other companies would have the same ethos. It would serve them well.