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2012 Conventions Stress Voter Access, Community Service

By Lauren Monsen | Staff Writer | 13 June 2012
Three young people holding paintbrushes (Republican National Convention)

Republican National Convention staffers volunteered with the "Paint Your Heart Out, Tampa!" program, painting the homes of elderly, fixed-income Tampa residents — for free.

Washington — Republicans and Democrats typically differ on a wide range of issues, so many people might be surprised to learn that the two major U.S. political parties are following nearly identical approaches as they prepare to launch their presidential nominating conventions.

Leading up to the 2012 Republican National Convention — which takes place August 27–30 in Tampa, Florida — party officials are introducing a “convention without walls” theme that emphasizes social media and cutting-edge technology to increase access to the four-day event. Similarly, in the run-up to the 2012 Democratic National Convention — taking place September 3–6 in Charlotte, North Carolina — organizers are showcasing a digital-media effort that they say will make their party’s convention “the most open and accessible in history.”

Republicans are paying particular attention to the needs of U.S. citizens abroad, who vote by absentee ballot.

“With more than 6 million Americans living overseas, including approximately 300,000 serving our nation in uniform, the 2012 Republican National Convention has made it a priority to give them access to the proceedings, wherever they live and according to their schedules — free of charge,” said James Davis, spokesman for the Republican National Convention.

Multiple online communications platforms such as Google, YouTube, Facebook and Twitter will give every U.S. soldier or citizen “full and uninterrupted access to live and recorded streaming gavel-to-gavel video and audio of the proceedings at their fingertips on any Internet device,” he explained.

By visiting the Republican National Convention’s website, Facebook page, Twitter feed or YouTube video channel, “our soldiers stationed overseas and other Americans abroad will have as much opportunity to engage in the proceedings as if they were right here in Tampa Bay,” Davis said.

Democrats, too, unveiled a convention website featuring interactive tools and portals to the convention’s Twitter feed, Facebook page, YouTube videos and Flickr photostream. According to organizers, the site “will provide more interactivity, allowing users to watch a live stream of official convention proceedings and share photos, videos and ideas about the convention.”

“Whether you’re in Charlotte or anywhere else in the country or the world, our website provides Americans with new and innovative ways to join the conversation and participate in the convention,” said Democratic National Convention Committee chief executive Steve Kerrigan.

The Democrats’ commitment to make their convention open and accessible also includes changes to the convention format and venues.

On Labor Day, when the Democratic National Convention begins, organizers will host what they describe as “a free, and open to the public, family-friendly festival at Charlotte Motor Speedway celebrating the Carolinas, Virginia and the South.” On the final day of the convention, when President Obama delivers his acceptance speech, “thousands of everyday Americans” will be allowed to attend and participate, said organizers.

In addition to courting voters through outreach efforts, both political parties are highlighting the importance of “giving back” to their respective conventions' host cities.

Republican National Convention staffers have joined forces with a community-service program that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn calls “the best all-volunteer program that this community has ever had.” The staffers recently joined an estimated 2,500 other volunteers to lend a helping hand to low-income, elderly citizens in the Tampa area, painting 101 homes as part of the 24th annual “Paint Your Heart Out, Tampa!” campaign.

The not-for-profit program, funded entirely by donations, provides materials and volunteers every spring to paint the exteriors of homes owned and occupied by residents who are at least 62 years old and on fixed incomes. Services and materials are offered at no charge to recipients.

Whitney Nichols, a Republican National Convention staffer who volunteers with the program, expressed gratitude for Tampa’s hospitality.

“We live here, we play here and we work here too,” she said. “It’s been so much fun to give back to the community that’s welcomed us so wonderfully. We’re so happy to be here and helping out the city.”

For their part, Democratic National Convention Committee (DNCC) staffers pledged to perform at least 2,012 hours of community service in the Charlotte area before the 2012 Democratic National Convention opens. To help fulfill that pledge, DNCC staffers recently spent an afternoon at Charlotte’s Ramblewood Park, working on landscaping and beautification projects. Staffers pitched in with mulching and weeding, as well as trail and greenway trash pickup and maintenance.

DNCC staffers also joined other volunteers to package 1 million meals for food-insecure North Carolinians.

Staffers spoke about the issue of hunger in surrounding communities, the state and the nation. They said they learned that “food insecure” refers to people who do not know where their next meal is coming from, or if it is coming at all.

“It was great to take the time out to do something like this, knowing we were feeding thousands of families,” said the DNCC’s Adam Gibbs.

People in aprons and hairnets packing meals (Democratic National Convention)

Democratic National Convention Committee staffers joined other volunteers in the Charlotte area to pack meals for distribution to needy people throughout North Carolina.