Voter Contact:

Tools to Get the Votes

Excerpted from training materials from No on 9: the Campaign for a Hate-Free Oregon
Voter contact is an organized system of planned campaign programs that identifies the voting preference of individual voters and delivers a persuasive message to targeted voters in a timely, repetitive, and reinforcing way. The more often we can reach our voters with our message, the more effective our campaign will be, and the greater our chances of victory at the polls.

Voter contact involves quantifying the number of voters to be contacted and the amount of resources (time, money, and volunteers) available to reach these voters. You need to know the geography of the district, the types of messages to deliver, when you want to deliver them and the goals you need to accomplish, each time you deliver a message.

STEP ONE: Develop a Message

A campaign's message tells the voters what the issue is, and what the arguments are for the "correctness" of our side's perspective.

Deliver the message with every voter contact tool you have. You need to repeat and reinforce the same basic message in order to persuade voters to vote the way you want them to vote.

STEP TWO: Target Voters

Select targets by using poll data, precinct targeting, voter history, demographic information, and other research information.

Concentrate your valuable resources on persuading swing voters and building and reinforcing identified voters on our side.

STEP THREE: Obtain a Voter List

Obtain one centralized registered voter list for targeted precints. Update the list with all information gathered by the voter contact program and any other information, such as new registrants, pertinent to the campaign plan.

STEP FOUR: Assess Your Resources

The estimated number of volunteers, amount of money, and time you have will determine the kind of voter contact program you can design.

If your plans require more volunteers and money than you think you will have, you will need to design programs to raise more money and find more volunteers.

STEP FIVE: Put the Tools in Action

There are two categories of voter contact tools: direct contact and indirect contact. Both have positive and negative aspects. Your campaign needs to decide what combination of the two will deliver your message the greatest number of times to the greatest number of persuadable voters.

Campaigns with a great number of volunteers but a small amount of money should concentrate on direct contact tools. Conversely, campaigns with a great amount of money and a small amount of volunteers should concentrate on indirect contact. The key word, however, is concentrate. A campaign with many volunteers can raise money to fund indirect contact such as direct mail and a campaign with much money can afford to find volunteers to carry out direct contact, such as canvassing.

Direct Contact

Direct contact includes the following:


A basic telephone program should identify voter preferences while delivering a brief message about your candidate. The information gathered during each telephone call should be recorded on the campaign's central voter file, either computerized or on paper. A detailed outline on phone/mail programs follows this voter contact plan.


The face-to-face contact established in canvassing generally has the most impact of all other voter contact tools. However, a door-to-door program requires a substantial commitment of volunteer time and money. A canvass must be well planned and managed to deliver the impression you want.

There are two types of door-to-door canvass: the volunteer canvass and the paid canvass.

Before deciding to start either a paid or volunteer canvass, you must assess the feasibility of implementation in your district.

Questions to ask yourself include:

Once you have decided to implement a canvass you should have the following goals in mind: Note that voter preference information is usually not as accurate as that gathered by a phone program. Undecided voters are much more likely to say they support your position, and unfavorable voters are much more likely to say they are undecided in a one-on-one conversation with a canvasser than over the phone. If your canvass is going to identify voter preferences, make sure canvassers are warned about this and are prepared to probe for voter preference.

Volunteers should be trained and given a script about the initiative. It is extremely important that they make a good impression. They should be given literature to hand to voters and should leave a handwritten note, prepared before canvassing begins, with a piece of literature at homes where no one answers the door. Follow-up mail should be sent to each home that is canvassed.

All voter preference information should be added to the central voter file. This information should be used to direct other voter contact programs such as lawn signs and home parties. The following material should be prepared before canvassing:

Once you have a core group of canvassers trained, you can begin the canvass. Each day before canvassing begins, the canvass coordinator should choose the precints to work from the campaign's list of swing precincts. All canvassers should come to the headquarters for a quick briefing before beginning to canvass. The goals of this briefing are to tell canvassers new information they need to know, assess which canvassers are following through on their commitments and get the canvassers excited about the campaign and the important role they are playing in it.

After the briefing, canvassers should be grouped into teams, pairing new canvassers with old hands, and sent out to work. Make sure canvassers check in and check out each time they volunteer. When canvassers return from their assigned precincts, they should always return extra material and the list they used to identify voters.

Final tips on canvassing:

Indirect Contact

Indirect contact includes the following:


Persuasive direct mail addresses a selected voter audience with a message or messages geared specifically to their interests. Selecting target audiences, determining what you will say to persuade your audience and then writing your message are the keys to a successful direct mail program.

A sophisticated and effective direct mail program would target specific voters within precincts using one or more of the following types of information:

If you use all the information described above, you will be able to deliver a very targeted and persuasive message to a wide variety of audiences. Every effort should be made to make your mail message and all your voter contact messages as personal and targeted to an audience as possible. Direct mail should be used to accomplish the following goals: Numerous types of mail packages have been designed to deliver messages to voters to meet these goals. Some of the most common forms include letters, brochures, tabloids, and leaflets.

Direct mail letters can be produced in several ways. Generally, they are offset, computerized, or photocopied. If you offset or photocopy your letter, you will not be able to personalize the salutation or vary the text. Using a computer, either in-house or a commercial vendor, will allow you to personalize your mail. It will cost the campaign more in most cases.

Brochures are usually either stuffed into an envelope with a letter or sent as self-mailers to voters.

Tabloids are usually printed on newsprint and contain lots of pictures and little copy. They can be mailed to voters or dropped door-to-door.

Leaflets/postcards usually deal with one specific argument or issue. While leaflets are generally inexpensive to produce, they can be very effective mail pieces if they are good-looking and well-designed.

No matter what form your direct mail takes, remember your message must be clear and the package must be interesting. The clearer your message and the better your mail looks, the more likely it is that voters will read it.

Before planning and budgeting your direct mail program, make sure you understand the different direct mail production options available and all the costs of each option. The appearance of your mail is very important. Poorly designed mail will not be read. Make your mail interesting so that voters will want to read it.

Give others a way to respond to your mail by either including a business reply envelope, a fundraising card, a volunteer card, or a card that asks for more information. You can also list the address and telephone number of the campaign.

Stamped mail attracts more readers than metered mail. If you can work out the logistics, it's better to use a live stamp. Have several people proofread your letter before it is reproduced!

If you can't afford to hire a direct mail shop to produce your mailings, check with the post office to find out all the rules and regulations well in advance of the first mail drop.


The door-to-door distribution of literature is a cheap but time-consuming way to get campaign brochures or tabloids to voters. The following steps are necessary. Other things to consider when doing a literature drop include:


Lawn and window signs serve two functions. First, they establish familiarity with the position (i.e., "NO ON 9"). Second, they show that home owners or businesses in a particular area support our position.

Compile a list of the names of all people who want lawn signs until you have a large number. Then call up the list and schedule one day for a massive distribution and putting up of signs.

During the course of an emotional campaign, signs are inevitably vandalized or removed altogether. In most places, such vandalism is a violation of local laws. Report the vandalism or theft to the police and campaign, and ask for replacement signs.

Phone/Mail Program

An effective phone and mail program is one of a campaign's most powerful tools. Through a phone and mail program, voters supportive of civil rights protections for gay, lesbian, and bisexual people can be identified, volunteers recruited, and funds raised. A phone/mail program can also educate voters about the issue, its relevance, and the stakes involved. It can build a crowd for events and rallies and get the vote out on election day. If done properly, an effective phone/mail program will generate new donors. The money it raises can support your campaign.

Phone and mail programs complement each other. With the phone, a caller can do a quick I.D. and probe on the issue. Mail follow-up further educates and recruits support. What a volunteer learns on the phone about a voter's views determines what kind of mailing is sent to that voter.

The following outline explains how to set up a successful phone bank and follow-up mail program. The outline is preceded by a quick checklist of the steps involved in your successful phone/mail program.

STEP ONE: Appoint a Supervisor

Appoint a phone bank supervisor in the first weeks of the campaign. This person will work closely with the mail program and should have a thorough understanding of campaign strategy.

The supervisor must do the following:

STEP TWO: Obtain Phone Lists

Evaluate polling and targeting research to define target groups and precincts. Voter history records are kept by almost every elections board and enable a campaign to target voters based on how they have voted in the past.

Contact gay and lesbian, human rights, and other social justice activist organizations in your area to request membership lists. Because the challenges we face, while targeted only at gays and lesbians on the surface, really concern civil liberties for all, support from other progressive groups often comes easily.

Determine availability of phone list from all these sources and take steps to obtain them and merge them into one list.

STEP THREE: Find a Location

Phone banks can be organized from one large centralized location, from several smaller sites, or from volunteers' homes. A centralized phone bank, if possible, is the best option. It is the easiest to manage because it allows close supervision to ensure quality and quantity of calls. If a centralized location is impossible, appoint captains to each site to report to the supervisor and maintain uniformity in phoning practices.

Possible sources of large numbers of already existing phones are law offices, large civil rights organization offices (such as the ACLU), buildings that house several smaller activist organizations (we tend to cluster offices together), real estate firms, unions, and local campaign offices. Encourage supporters employed at such places to lobby for use of their phones. If no existing site can be found, place an installation order with the phone company and determine the time involved to install the phones. Phone installation should only be ordered as a very last resort in order to save valuable campaign funds.

STEP FOUR: Determine How Many Volunteers and Phones are Needed

Calculate the number of phones needed in relation to how many volunteers are available for how long and how many names are on the calling list. Base figures on an average of 12 calls per hour per volunteer.

Recruit new volunteers by identifying favorable voters and asking them to participate in your phone banks. If they can't come to your location, you have the option of sending them a list of undecided voters, identified by the phone bank, to call from their homes. Use this option carefully since you will not be able to supervise these phoners.

Never limit the number of volunteers needed. A well organized campaign will always have responsibilities for trained volunteers.

STEP FIVE: Write a Phone Script and Devise a Coding System

Write a script to be used by the volunteers. Make it brief and to the point. A script provides security when a volunteer is just starting out. Avoid lengthy conversations. (A sample script follows in this section.)

Provide volunteers with a brief fact sheet on the initiative and the campaign. If someone wants extensive information, the phoner may inform them that a member of the campaign staff will call them back and material will be sent promptly. Devise a uniform coding system for volunteer phoners to record information obtained from voters. (Y=yes, N=no, U=undecided, V=wants to volunteer; etc.).

STEP SIX: Set a Date to Start

Calculate a starting date by how many names are on the phone list, how many phones are available, how many volunteers are committed to phoning, and how many hours/evenings each volunteer can work. Overbook the number of needed volunteers; there are always "no-shows".

STEP SEVEN: Follow a Daily Routine

STEP EIGHT: Design/Send Follow-up Mail

Quantify the size of the different audiences you want to reach through your mail program. The size of these audiences will shrink during the campaign as you identify favorable voters via the phone and other voter contact tools.

Define the tasks you want to accomplish using direct mail. Quantify the costs of producing different mail packages and develop a budget based on the size of each mailing and the package costs. You also need to assess how many volunteers are needed to conduct the mailing.

Final tips on phone/mail:

Basic supplies needed to run a phone bank include: work tables, chairs, calculator, pencils, pens, scratch paper, rulers, staplers, paper clips, scotch tape, and REFRESHMENTS.

The three constantly changing variables are: volunteers, lists, and telephones. Constantly seek to expand each of the three variables in order to operate a successful telephone system. Keep recruiting phone banks, lists, and volunteers right up to Election Day.

For more information or to request a complete Fight the Right Action Kit, call NGLTF at 202-332-6483, TTY 202-332-6219.