Nagging Apathetic Friends All The Way To The Polls Millions of people are planning not to cast their ballots on election day. Jeff Inglis, managing editor of the Portland Phoenix, says that convincing your friends to vote may be more of a civic triumph than going to the polls yourself.
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Nagging Apathetic Friends All The Way To The Polls

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Nagging Apathetic Friends All The Way To The Polls

Nagging Apathetic Friends All The Way To The Polls

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This is Talk of the Nation. I'm Neal Conan in Washington. And here are the headlines and some stories we're following here today at NPR News. Chicago-based Boeing and its machinists union have struck a tentative deal to end a seven-week strike that shut down the company's commercial airline operations. The deal gives workers a 15-percent pay raise over the four-year life of the contract; it also gives the union greater scope to challenge Boeing's use of outside contractors. And with one week to go before the presidential election, both Republican John McCain and Democrat Barack Obama campaigned in miserable weather in Pennsylvania today.

Most polls give Senator Obama a double-digit lead in the state, but Senator McCain is devoting both time and money to Pennsylvania and predicts an upset. You can get hear detail on those stories and of course, much more later today on All Things Considered.

Tomorrow, in this hour on Talk of the Nation, it's the final stretch of the presidential campaign, a Washington, D.C., jury shiatsus the Senate race in Alaska, and Senate Democrats eye the magic number 60. Political Junkie Ken Rudin joins us. Plus, come to think of it, senior news analyst Daniel Schorr joins us at the Newseum to take your calls. All tomorrow on Talk of the Nation from NPR News.

It is safe to say there's unprecedented interest in this year's election. With a week to go, many more than ever have turned out to vote early, and election officials around the country expect record numbers next Tuesday. But that's still - these many millions who will not cast a ballot. Maybe they don't care, maybe they're busy. Maybe they don't think their vote matters. A voter that this year, we're going to call Rickey. We got that name from Jeff Inglis and Jim Rada, who join us in just a moment. And we want to hear from those of you who don't plan to vote this year.

Our phone number is 800-989-8255. The email address, And now let me introduce Jeff Inglis, the managing editor of the Portland Phoenix, who joins us from member station WMEA in Portland, Maine. Nice to have you on the program, Jeff.

Mr. JEFF INGLIS (Managing Editor, Portland Phoenix): Thanks for having me.

CONAN: And tell us, who is Rickey?

Mr. INGLIS: Well, Rickey is a college friend of ours. The group of us, Jim and I and some other friends, all went to college together, and Rickey is a classmate of ours. And actually, I'll throw it to Jim to explain exactly how this encounter happened, because it was Jim who had the encounter.

CONAN: Jim Rada is the founder of RickeyPAC, and joins us from his home in New Hampshire. Nice to have you on the program too, Jim.

Mr. JIM RADA (Founder, RickeyPAC): Thanks, thanks Neal. Just want to make a correction, I'm actually in Vermont.

CONAN: Oh, I apologize for that.

Mr. RADA: That's OK. That's OK. So let me tell you a little bit about RickeyPAC and how it got started. Rickey is, like Jeff said, a friend of ours from college. And, I think we all have this friend. He's somebody who we may have lost touch with over time. And I hadn't seen Rickey for maybe five years up until a couple of weeks ago. And, I got into a conversation with him, and you know, he's the same old Rickey, nice to see him again. And it turns out that he was feeling a little bit undecided about whether or not he was going to vote. He knew he - who he would vote for, but he didn't think he was going to get up and actually get out and do it.

CONAN: And the source of this apathy was what?

Mr. RADA: I - you'd have to ask Rickey. I really couldn't tell you.

CONAN: Well, Jeff Inglis, you've said that you think this is the most important election of our lifetimes.

Mr. INGLIS: I think it is. It's - this is a time like none anyone on my age - I'm 35 - have seen. I mean, I think there have been possibly more important elections in American history and potentially around the world. But this is a time when - Colin Powell said it the other day, talking about a transformative change that could come to Washington and, frankly, to the entire country.

CONAN: Well, in your story about Rickey, you said it was important to vote. You didn't say who it was important to vote for.

Mr. INGLIS: No, that's true. I think - you know, I leave voting decisions up to individuals. Each of us is alone in the polling box, unless we bring kids or a friend to show what it's like. I think it's up to people to decide but ultimately, I think it's really up to people to decide to vote. Their vote counts, their vote matters. Every vote counts. And expressing an opinion is the most important thing they can do.

CONAN: And Jim Rada, when you realized that Rickey might not come out to vote, you did something about it.

Mr. RADA: Yeah. Well, you know, the first thing I did was I emailed my friend Rickey. Because (unintelligible) in Vermont, as I said at the top of the show here. And my electoral vote really is not going to count for a whole lot in the grand scheme of things. Because, you know, we're going for Obama no matter what happens. But Rickey, now Rickey lives in a swing state. He lives in Nevada. So I emailed him and he said, oh, I'm not going to vote. And so then I said, oh, man, I've got to do something about this.

So, I sent a message out to maybe five, 10 friends, you know, made up a little thing in Photoshop: I'm starting RickeyPAC. It's a grassroots political action committee, and the whole purpose of RickeyPAC is just to get Rickey to vote. And from there, it has just ballooned like you wouldn't believe. We have a website now,, and there we've managed to collect a whole bunch of voting resources and arguments for why Rickey should go out and vote.

CONAN: Not just...

Mr. RADA: Not just our Rickey but every Rickey out there.

CONAN: Well, we're going to get some Rickeys out there on the line and get some of their emails and see how you might try to persuade them against their firm belief that this is not the year to vote. And so if you'd like to join the conversation, give us a call 800-989-8255, email us And why don't we begin with Phil. And Phil is with us from Wilmington in Delaware.

PHIL (Caller): Yes. I'm not voting because I feel that both parties do not have the American interest at heart. Both of them are too corporate.

CONAN: There are more than two candidates running this year.

PHIL: That's true, but there are only two candidates that have a, you know, reasonable chance of winning.

CONAN: But you could bolster the numbers for Ralph Nader, help build the Green Party or vote Libertarian.

PHIL: Yes. But you know, that's not - reasonably that's not going to happen. I mean.

CONAN: So, you'd only vote for a winner?

PHIL: Well, yeah. I'm a realist.

CONAN: Jim Rada, what would you tell Phil?

Mr. RADA: Well, I'd tell Phil that I feel his pain, you know. I understand what's it's like to feel like your vote doesn't matter, and I would say that there's all kinds of local stuff that really, really matters. And that's where your vote can make a difference, you know. Go ahead, you know, if you think that both of the parties that, you know running for president are corrupt, they're too corporate or too far right or too far left or whatever, that's fine. But you know, think about your local school board, your sheriff, you know the people who are going to affect your life out. Those are the people that you've got to vote for.

PHIL: Thanks.

CONAN: OK, Phil. Thanks very much for the call, appreciate it. Here's an email from Bill in Chicago. I'm a 24-year-old, highly educated urbanite who's not voting simply because my vote won't count. Living in a non-swing state makes my input irrelevant to this democracy - or should I say, Ohioacracy. I understand someday we will have proportional voting here in Illinois as some states already do but until then, I see very little reason to vote. And as you noted, Jim Rada, you're in Vermont, Vermont also not a swing state.

Mr. RADA: Yeah. In fact, we're probably the least swingy of the non-swingy states. I mean, the town that I live in is one of the ones that has a standing arrest warrant out for Bush and Cheney should they happen to show up here. So, you can tell just how non-swingy we are. To that emailer, I would say that your job in a non-swing state is to go out and find your Rickey. You've got to find somebody in a swing state who's a friend of yours who's not going to vote, and get them to vote.

Mr. INGLIS: I'd add to that, if I can.

CONAN: Go ahead, Jeff Inglis.

Mr. INGLIS: That Vermont, what if all the Obama supporters in Vermont decided that, you know, boy Obama's got it, you know, he's going to win Vermont. I'm not going to go vote. Well, guess who'd win Vermont? Not Obama, right? Everybody's got to go vote whether you're in a swing state or whether you're not in a swing state. I mean, swing states are creations of pundits, of the media and of campaign analysts but if - you know, New Hampshire used to not be a state that people thought was a battleground. It went for Kerry in '04. That was a big surprise to a lot of people who'd expected a Republican to win.

CONAN: If the Obama supporters failed to come out in Vermont, you'd be tempted to say maybe socialist workers.

Mr. INGLIS: Well, yeah. I mean.

Mr. RADA: Vermont? No way. No.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. INGLIS: But the point is that even if you live in a swing state, you have to vote. You know, we're a non-swing state and in a state that, you know, you're the only McCain supporter in Vermont or the only, you know, Obama supporter in Arizona or something.

Mr. RADA: Yeah, you know.

Mr. INGLIS: You need to express your opinion

Mr. RADA: I'd like to add to what Jeff is saying about swing states. There are places that are - where your vote proportionally counts even more than if you're in a swing state. I mean, I envy the swing state people because you know, their vote is going to count much, much more than mine will. But the people who live in places like Nebraska's first district. You know, Nebraska's one of two states that allocates its electoral votes proportionally.

CONAN: Maine the other one?

Mr. INGLIS: Maine is the other one.

Mr. RADA: Yeah. And I mean, you know, if you live in Omaha, you are like a king maker this year, seriously.

CONAN: Let's get Henry on the line. And Henry's calling us from the non-swing state of Birmingham, Alabama.

HENRY (Caller): Yes. I would just like to give my input on why I would not be voting. I think the electoral college, especially for states like Vermont and from Alabama, I think it's an illusion of democracy. And I understand why it would be more important to vote in a swing state, but my vote ultimately doesn't matter. That's why I'm not going to vote. And I also don't feel comfortable of people trying to guilt you into voting or saying that you have to vote or it's your duty as American. I think it's a right, but it's also my right not to vote. And I'll take my comment off the air.

CONAN: OK, Henry. Do you feel badly about guilting people, Jim Rada?

Mr. RADA: No, no. That's the entire purpose of Rickey Pac. You know, sometimes reasoned arguments just don't work, and you've got to lean on your friends and shame them and guilt them and make their college nickname a matter of national importance, which is what we've tried to do Rickey Pac.

CONAN: Here's - what's the college nickname?

Mr. RADA: It's Rickey. His real name, I'm not going to reveal on the air because, you know, we just don't need people banging on Rickey's door, but his college nickname is Rickey.

CONAN: Here's an email we got from John in Oklahoma. I feel like voting for president and senator is a lost cause in this deep red state. I live in Tulsa, it is almost as conservative here as Utah. A Democrat often feels very out of place here yet the last time I looked, I think Utah - excuse me, Oklahoma had a Democratic majority at the legislative level in the state house, a majority that a lot of Democrats there fear they will lose this year. Republicans of course looking forward to that, so there are some contested elections on the state level in the state of Oklahoma.

We're talking about Rickey, a man who decided not to vote and the people who have tried to talk him into changing his mind. You're listening to Talk of the Nation from NPR News. Here's another email, this one from Sarah in New Orleans. On Friday, I waited an hour and a half in line to vote early and after seeing that it would be at least another three hours in line, I gave up. Saturday morning, I arrived at New Orleans City Hall 30 minutes before the doors opened, waited in line for four hours, and then had to leave for a prior engagement. I will be out of the country on November 4th, and I can't absentee vote because I'm only out of town for the actually voting day, not for early voting week. I feel like I tried my hardest to vote and even now, the line outside City Hall is a block long. That is why I am not voting. Sarah's got a problem that a lot of people may have this year, Jeff Inglis.

Mr. INGLIS: Yeah. And actually, I want to respond briefly to the commenter from Oklahoma as well to which I would say, you may feel lonely as a Democrat in Oklahoma, but you can make others feel less lonely the day after the election when they see how many other Democrats voted in Oklahoma.


Mr. INGLIS: In terms of waiting in line, I mean boy that's - I commend - was it Sarah? What's her name?

CONAN: Sarah.

Mr. INGLIS: Sarah, yeah. I commend her for her patience and effort. I think that is a problem, and I would suggest that she contact her, you know the people at City Hall who, frankly, may be too busy to return her call until after the election, but to register a complaint. I think if that many people want to vote and they're having to take, you know, half a day off of work or a whole day off of work and end up not even able to vote, that's government not working. That's what we need to fix. We need to make sure that everyone who wants to vote can vote.

Mr. RADA: I agree. I think Oregon's got it right. I mean, they do all mail-in voting up there, right?

CONAN: Yes, they do.

Mr. RADA: Yeah. That's...

CONAN: And a very high turnout rate, too.

Mr. RADA: Yeah.

Mr. INGLIS: Maine has absentee ballot where you don't have to give an excuse. I'm going to be in town on Election Day. I, you know, I'm actually probably going to drive past my polling place on my way between my house and work but I - you know, I cast an absentee ballot. I think those kinds of laws and those kinds of arrangements are very effective and actually help promote democracy and promote people voting and frankly, they help people like Sarah from feeling disenfranchised, literally, from the process.

Mr. RADA: Yeah, I've got a similar situation here in Vermont. We've got - we have early voting here but I'm opting not to go early voting because I really like going out to the polling places. And I really want to bring my kids, and that's something I think that everybody who has the means should do. The people in our town here, they've got it figured out. They have cookies available for kids at voting. So kids early on learn to associate their public duty with sugar.

CONAN: I hope they don't discriminate on the basis of age because there are few of us older voters who like those cookies, too.

Mr. RADA: No. Anybody who wants can have cookies.

CONAN: All right. Are you guys doing anything, by the way, on Election Day to help get people to the polls?

Mr. INGLIS: I actually - go ahead, Jim.

Mr. RADA: I'm sorry, Jeff. Go ahead.

Mr. INGLIS: I was going to say that I may not - I'm the managing editor of an alternative weekly paper here in Maine and Tuesday is my deadline day. I've stolen out briefly for this but I will probably be on deadline and pretty exhausted by the time I get home - though if someone said, boy, you know, Jeff, there's no way I'm going to get to the polls without help, I would, you know, try and find them a ride, you know, do what I could.

CONAN: Jim Rada, what about you?

Mr. RADA: Yeah. I'm actually volunteering with the Obama campaign on Election Day.

CONAN: All right. Let's see if we get Karen on the line. Karen with us from Charlotte, North Carolina, and that is very much a swing state this year.

KAREN (Caller): Yes, it sure is. And I am voting but my babysitter is not voting, and her reasoning is that she has family in the military, she does not like Republican policy on the Iraq War, so she will not vote for a Republican. But at the same time, she won't vote for somebody that she says is named Obama.

CONAN: Well, Jim Rada can you give Karen any advice that she might be able to use to guilt-trip her baby sitter?

Mr. RADA: Oh boy, that's a tough one. You know, I get a - I'm on a friend's kind of right-wing email list, and I get stuff like this, you know, about Barack Hussein Obama and how that, you know, how that somehow disqualifies him for the presidency. And what I would say is that having the last name Obama doesn't make you any less of an American than somebody who has got the last name Smith or Jones or Lee or whatever. And one of the things that makes this country great is that we can have people from pretty much any background become president of United States. I mean, it makes me wonder if people had a problem with Martin Van Buren.

CONAN: Just in my lifetime, Karen, people had the same problem with a man named Kennedy. So...

KAREN: Yeah. Thank you.

CONAN: All right, Karen. Good luck.

KAREN: Thanks.

CONAN: Bye-bye. And let's see if we can get a couple of more emails in. This from Sheree(ph) in Chicago. My husband and I just moved to Chicago from Phoenix. It was too late to request an absentee ballot for Arizona, too late to register in Illinois. We're sick about it. I think we will end up stumping for Obama next Tuesday so that we can sleep that night. And we'll end with this email from Clinton in Wells, Minnesota. If you don't vote, you have no right to complain, and I don't understand how you can call yourself an American. Well, talk about guilt trips. That's a pretty good one. Thank you, gentlemen, appreciate your time today.

Mr. INGLIS: Sure, Neal.

Mr. RADA: Thanks very much.

CONAN: Jeff Inglis snuck out of his job as managing editor of the Portland Phoenix to join us from WMEA in Portland, Maine. And Jim Rada joined us on the phone. He's the head of Rickey Pac. He's on the phone from his home in Vermont. This is Talk of the Nation from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

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