How-To Archives

How-To 4: September 20, 2011

Get Out the Vote

Fifteen years ago I worked on an election campaign. The night before the election we all went out to dinner to celebrate our victory prematurely. A win seemed inevitable because we thought we had done it all; sent all the mailings, done everything possible with the press, and put out hundreds of yard signs. Our opponent sent only one piece of mail, didn't have a sign, and had the press turn against him. I later learned that the opposition had put all their efforts into Voter ID and Get Out The Vote (GOTV). They killed us. The first step of the GOTV process is knowing who to get to the polls on Election Day. Finding out who is voting for you is known as Voter ID.

Once you determine your supporters, it is essential to have a plan to get them to the polls. Your plan needs to take into account: the money you have available to spend, number of volunteers you have, number of available staff, the geography and population density of the area, the demographics of your supporters, the local absentee and early voting rules, and the bigger political climate.

Your plan should be ready to go months in advance to optimize the absentee and early voting periods. Because these require an additional and separate strategy, "Election Day" will not refer to absentee or early voting, rather the strategy/plan for the actual day of elections.

If you have the financial resources, a GOTV reminder card should be sent to arrive the weekend before the election. This card should be followed up with a live phone call, the same weekend, reminding people to vote on Election Day. If resources are more limited, automated calls can be used as a lower-cost option. All GOTV mailings should emphasize the importance of the individual's vote-- how their one vote really can make all the difference in the world.

To have a strong GOTV plan, it is imperative to have volunteers track who has voted throughout the day and remind those who haven't voted, to do so. A GOTV coordinator should be appointed, and should start working approximately six weeks before early voting starts. They will call volunteers and create a master schedule so that every poll location is covered with a poll watcher from opening to closing. The watcher will check off a list, who has come in to vote. They also schedule volunteers from nine o'clock a.m. to closing time, to make calls to those who haven't shown up to vote yet.

During past campaigns, we usually made calls in the mornings to those areas in which we didn't have a poll watcher encouraging people to vote. It is important to have scripts for your volunteers that emphasize urgency and the need for them to vote. If no one was reached, we would leave a scripted voice message using an alternative prompt from the live conversations. At around noon, we would send people out to the polls to get lists of the people who had voted, bring the lists back to the offices, and call the people who had not shown up yet. We sent these people back to the polls at three o'clock and five o'clock to get the updated lists so that we were only contacting the people who had not voted yet. In many cases we ended up leaving two or even three messages at the home. Past experience has proven this to be very successful. The volunteers should continue to call through the very last moments the polls are open to get stragglers to the polls. In very desperate situations, we even sent people over to houses, and if there was no response, we posted brightly colored notes on the front and back doors, and on the middle of the garage door. We had many voters say they ignored the voicemails, but when they saw notes on the door, they figured something was wrong and went off to vote. I have won elections by two votes using this method. Do not let up or assume you are winning.

With never enough money and people, decisions need to be made about what can be done with fewer resources. If you don't have enough people, cut back on the poll watching, and add more calls. The more people you can call the better. Every one of your identified supporting voters need to get at least one phone call on Election Day. Tracking to see if your supporters have voted and calling until they have is ideal. If you have money, mailings or paid phone banks can offset a lack of volunteers. Furthermore, automated calls can also accomplish a lot for a smaller amount of money. It is proven though, that a combination of mail, automated calls and a full Get Out The Vote drive on Election Day is optimal for victory.

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How-To 3: September 6, 2011

So You Are Thinking About Running for Office
Here Are Some Questions to Ask Yourself

What office?

Why this office?

Why at this time?

Is it winnable? If not, what is your motivation?

Is there a primary?

Who are the challengers in the primary?

Have you analyzed the voter numbers? How many votes do you need?

Is there an incumbent? Are they beatable? Why?

What issues are important to voters this election?

What issues are important to you?

Do they match up?

How much money was raised and spent in the last three elections for this office?

Who will help you with money?

Organizations you are a member of?

The Republican Organizations? Do they give money to candidates or do they expect the candidates to contribute to them? (This is not a joke. I have seen many local organizations expect payment from candidate campaigns.)

The Tea Party?

Friends and family? (If they are of a different party, don't count on it.)


Where will you find volunteers?

How much time can you give to the campaign?

What effect will the campaign have on your family?

On your job and finances?

On you?

Are there any skeletons in your closet? What if they surface?

Can you handle lies and mistruths being spoken about you?

What if you win?

What if you lose? Will you be able to shake it off?

Which one of these questions did you not answer honestly and realistically?

It is okay because most candidates, if they really saw the whole truth, would never run.

Now, run anyway! Your community and country need you.

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How-To 2: July 4, 2011

Looking at Voter Numbers

A political campaign is about numbers. At the beginning of any campaign, you need to answer the following questions:
● How many votes do you need to win?
● How many registered voters are there?
● How many people can you count on to vote for you if you do nothing?

Obtain past election data from your local, county, city or State Board of Elections. Which board depends on the race. You should try to get at least three election cycles back. Be mindful that this is a redistricting year (2011). Be sure you get the data for the new district, not the previous area even though the district numbers are the same.

Look at elections that are similar. If your race is during a presidential election, look at the past presidential elections. If it occurs during an off-year election, look at past off-year elections. Assess how many votes were needed in the past. Factor in changes in political climate. Familiarize yourself with the candidates and the issues in the race, as well as any outside factors that will affect voter turnout. The more you know, the better you'll be able to interpret your data. For example, if the race is very contentious or if there is a referendum on the ballot, you should expect higher voter turnout.

Consider these other questions that will be useful in formulating your campaign strategy:
• How many people voted early or absentee in the last election?
• Will registration of new voters have increased since the last election?
• What has polling told you about who will be voting with you or against you?
• How many precincts are there?
• What precincts are with you, which are against you, and which are undecided or swing precincts?
• Where will you concentrate your efforts based on the numbers?
• If you have limited resources (people or money), where should you use them?
• Will voters show up at the polls if you don't do anything to remind them?
• Is this even worth doing if the numbers are against you?

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How-To 1: June 6, 2011

Do It Yourself Voter Databases
(For Small Campaigns)

Every successful political effort needs to target and motivate someone to action—often the public and, more specifically, the voters. The more information that's available about voters in your jurisdiction and how to reach them, the more efficient and effective your organization will be. The old adage "knowledge is power" is never more evident than in a political campaign. A good database can make all the difference in a tough fight.

Lincoln once said, "Organize the whole state so that every Whig can be brought to the polls…Make a perfect list of all the voters and ascertain with certainty for whom they will vote. Keep a constant watch on the doubtful voters and have them talked to by those in whom they have the most confidence. And, on Election Day, see that every Whig is brought to the polls." Lincoln understood the value of a good list.

If you are running for a state representative position, a large county board position, or some other large office, you will need a web-based data system allowing many people access to the information. That type of system will be covered in a future article. Today we are talking about small races with small budgets. On the cheap, if you will.

Creating your own database is not difficult and will provide the most flexibility, lowest cost, and best security. In most jurisdictions, the County Clerk or County Board of Elections should be the first place you contact to obtain a list of registered voters in your area. If your area takes in more than one county, your State Board of Elections may be a better source of information. You should have the data given to you in an electronic format that is compatible with your system. If you don't specify, they may hand you a printed version.

You will also need to be specific about what information they need to give you. The data should contain all registered voters for at least the last three election cycles. Be sure it includes name, address, phone number, sex, age, voting history, party affiliation (if available), e-mail (if available) and anything else the clerk can give you—you never know what piece of information will later become useful. Don't overlook off-cycle and special elections information. Also ask for all the election results data for your area for a minimum of three cycles—this will let you know how many votes were cast, and for which candidate or referendum.

WARNING: 2011 is a redistricting year so many districts will be different in size, shape and the voters who are in the district for the 2012. Be sure you get your data based on the new district.

Once you obtain the data, install it in a system that allows the data to be sorted and printed in formats that you need. Microsoft Access works best, but not many people are familiar with it. Excel works for smaller data sets and more people know how to use it, but it is more prone to mistakes and data not being saved due to input error. Storing the database in a Google doc will allow access for all. Be very careful that those you give passcodes are trained and meticulous with their entries. Periodically the passcodes should be changed for security. Good data is precious, that is where the term data mining comes from.

Your database should be sorted by age, sex, geographic region (like town or zip code) and voting record. You may want to target those most-likely to vote or less-likely to vote. Your system should also be capable of printing phone lists, lists for door-to-door knocking, mailing labels, and so on.

Once the system has been established, be sure the person doing data entry is careful and accurate. Think about what other lists or information can be obtained to enhance your database. A perfect example is a list of homeschoolers, for when you're opposing a tax hike for public schools. List trading is a common practice among like-minded groups, but be careful with whom you share your data and lists.

Continually enhancing your database with identification of supporters—and knowing who does and doesn't support you or what their key issue is—will help you become more efficient. Information that might not seem relevant may be something tradable in the future. Lastly, but of extreme importance, knowing who your supporters are, makes the all-important "Get Out The Vote" effort successful. Without a database, you won't know who to contact or where to find them.

Be creative about enhancing your sources for data. Lists can be purchased from private firms specializing in marketing research that can be added to your voter files that may be useful. For instance, households with children and their approximate ages are useful for school board races or school bond referendums.

Use your ability to sort the data to its fullest. Always be mindful of the power it can add to your cause. Your database is a valuable tool—treat it that way. When the campaign is over, keep your database for your next run or give it to the next candidate that you support for that office. Having a well kept database gives your team the advantage.

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Helpful Resources

Public Speaking Preparation and Presentation Tips

What to Wear in Front of The Camera

Procrastion Holding You Back?

Three Mugshot Mistakes and How To Fix Them


September 20: Get Out The Vote

September 6: So You Are Thinking About Running for Office

June 6: Do It Yourself Voter Databases

July 4: Looking at Voter Numbers