Voter Turnout Strategies

Oct 01, 2020 by Shelley Rees

letters in the word vote hanging off a clothesline

How to Prepare for Election Day with Voter Turnout

Voter turnout, also known as Get Out the Vote (GOTV), describes a political strategy for a candidate or organization to ensure that eligible voters head to the polls or return their ballots by Election Day, ideally voting for a specific candidate. It’s an essential part of any campaign strategy and can make the difference between winning and losing an election. There are a variety of ways to improve voter turnout, including political direct mail, digital ads, TV and radio buys, canvassing, and phone and text banking. Read on to find out some best practices. 

Know the Rules: State and Local Laws

The first part of a voter turnout strategy is to know election rules in your district. It would be a shame to lose an election because you didn’t know your potential voters could register and cast a ballot on the same day, or that early voting is limited to voters who have petitioned to belong on a permanent early voting list.
After you do your research on when, how, and where people can vote, you can begin to craft a game plan to target specific voters with your messaging. Do this early on in your campaign planning—don’t think of GOTV as the final lap of a marathon. Instead, everything you do in your campaign should lead up to and reinforce your voter turnout strategy.
There are about a million other tactics campaigns have done to ensure voter turnout success, and even more that have failed. Below are some tried and true tactics.

Voter Turnout Tactics

Political Direct Mail 
If you’re running a political direct mail campaign, you should make sure the last piece you send out is voter turnout specific. This type of mail piece often reiterates your top messaging points about a candidate and includes information on voting. At the very least, you should include the election date and any early voting dates. Ideally, you would also link to a website that includes voter information. That could be the Secretary of State (SoS) site, but a better option would be to include all of that information in an easy to digest way on your own, branded site. Keep in mind that some SoS sites are difficult to navigate, so making it easy for people to find the information they need can be a real boon on Election Day.  
Another good strategy is to find out who has requested an absentee ballot from the SoS, or whatever body governs your elections, and send what’s called chase mail to those people. Chase mail is political direct mail that lands in mailboxes right after ballots. That way, when people are reading through their ballots they have another piece of mail with your message on it, which should at least peak their interest. Many political strategists will update their mail pieces as they send them out to make sure that they remove anyone who’s already voted from their mailing lists. 

Digital Ads
Almost every campaign should be using digital advertising in 2020. Your ads should really include election dates throughout your campaign, especially since you can update those ads should the SoS change their minds. As you get closer to Election Day, consider using Google Search Ads to include election information that’s branded with your campaign name. There are a lot of different spaces to add information on search ads (in addition to the standard ad text) called ad extensions. So, you should be able to include most of the information a voter might need about Election Day in the ad itself without the viewer even having to click through to a website. One of the plusses of this method is that you can get in front of voters you may not have reached already and provide them with a positive association with your name right before they vote. For down ballot races, which often suffer from a lack of name recognition for any candidate, this can make a real difference.
Another good option is to use more organic digital strategies, especially during the COVID-19 crisis. Ask volunteers to commit to post about your campaign on their social media with an ask that their followers share the information. This tactic is free and, if you have enough volunteers with a decent social media following, this can help you reach people you may not get in front of otherwise.  

TV and Radio Buys
Like mail, TV and radio are classic forms of political advertising. If you have the funds to change up your advertising closer to Election Day, you should focus that messaging on voter information or at least include a URL like the one mentioned in the direct mail section above. Just make sure that URL is simple and memorable so people can type it into their phone or computer later.

Canvassing
Canvassing, or sending volunteers out to knock on the doors of people who you hope will turn out to the polls, is the gold-standard method of voter turnout. Nothing really beats in-person contact, especially if you have enthusiastic volunteers or even the candidate available to meet with people. One of the tactics we often tell clients to employ is to have a volunteer knock on doors ahead of a candidate, and then call the candidate over once they have a voter who’s interested in talking to them. This helps cut down on the amount of time the candidate wastes knocking on doors of people who aren’t home and can also cut off conversations that are going on a little too long. As you get closer to Election Day, switch your door-knocking speech from persuasion (“You should vote for me because…”) to voting (“Your polling place is St. Michael’s school, do you have a plan to stop there and cast a vote for my campaign next Tuesday?”). All that said, canvassing is difficult if not downright dangerous in the age of COVID-19. This year, other tactics like those mentioned above and below will have to bear significantly more of the GOTV weight than they have in previous years to make up for canvassing being more or less off the table.

Phone and Text Banking
Phone banking and SMS messaging have been standard parts of voter turnout programs for years. But with the US facing the COVID-19 crisis, they’ve never been a more important part of GOTV. Since in-person canvassing is practically impossible this year, many campaigns are turning to phone calls and text messages to reach voters. Directly speaking to someone is the easiest way to answer any questions they may have about voting or a candidate’s stance on the issues. It’s also a great way to follow up with people multiple times to make sure they’re prepared for Election Day. While voters may have been more irritated to receive these calls and texts in previous years, they’re more likely to crave the social connection this year. 

Election-Day Voter Turnout

Once it gets to Election Day, there are a few day-of strategies you can use to make sure you’re getting the voters you need to go to the polls. 

  • Call voters you know will vote for your candidate and ask them if they’ve voted already and if not, when and how they plan to vote. You should also do this before Election Day if early voting or absentee voting is an option in your area.
  • Have volunteers at the ready to help folks with mobility issues get to the polls if they are not allowed to absentee vote.
  • If it’s safe to do so, a member of the team can go and poll watch in key precincts, and if possible, at all polling locations to ensure there are no shenanigans, and things are running smoothly.

Voter turnout is important in any election but people will be watching the results of the November 3rd election especially closely, not just here in the U.S. but globally. In the face of COVID-19 and poor, or nonexistent, leadership from many of our elected officials, we can’t afford to leave any voters behind. Make sure your voter turnout game is on point.

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