Tools to Get the Votes
Excerpted from training materials from No on 9: the Campaign for a
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
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 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
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:
- Are persuadable precincts canvassable?
- Do you have enough volunteers to execute a canvass or will too many
resources be tied up in too few precincts?
- Do you have the expertise to run a paid fundraising canvass or can you
find someone who has the expertise?
- Would a paid fundraising canvass work in the district?
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
- Identify voter preferences
- Deliver a persuasive message
- Identify voter issue interests
- Recruit volunteers
- Solicit contributions
- Establish visibility
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
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.
- Sign-in sheet
- Instruction sheets for canvassers
- Maps of precincts
- Registered voter lists sorted by precinct and address
- Canvass script
- Campaign buttons to identify volunteers
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:
- One person should be assigned to manage the canvass.
- The more organized you are, the better impression you will leave with
your canvassers and the better impression they will leave with voters.
Also, if your canvassers feel good about the canvass, they will probably
keep coming back for more.
- Train canvassers to avoid lengthy discussions with voters. You want
canvass contacts to be as personal as possible, but at the same time, the
campaign needs to cover a lot of ground.
- Carefully evaluate each canvasser. Weed out those you think will cause
problems and put them to work in a job that is closely supervised. If you
think a canvasser is exaggerating how many voters she or he talked to,
check the information by using the canvasser's list on a phone bank for a
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
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:
- Voter preference information gathered from phone bank and canvassing
- Issues information gathered from phonebank/canvass
- Demographic information about voters contained on registered voter file
- Voter party affiliation
- Other information added by the campaign or others about voters (for
example, a list of ACLU members who are registered voters.)
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.
- Deliver a positive message about your campaign
- Deliver a negative message about the opponent
- Deliver a message that contradicts the opponent's "no special rights"
- Follow up mail for canvass or phone bank
- Present prominent individuals who support our fight
- Ask for money.
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
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
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
Other things to consider when doing a literature drop include:
- Identify areas that can realistically be covered by volunteers.
Calculate the number of doors in each area.
- Appoint a literature distribution coordinator.
- Recruit volunteers to distribute literature. Get volunteers to commit
themselves to distribute to a certain number of doors.
- Prepare literature (including maps) for distribution and volunteers'
- Send volunteers out to distribute literature. Send literature in the
mail to those areas that will not receive literature door-to-door,
depending on the cost of mailing and the importance of the district.
- Try to avoid having your literature dropped along with other
initiatives' literature or candidate literature (unless that
candidate's literature specifically supports our vote on the
initiative, and states so clearly).
- Never place literature in a mailbox -- it's against the law.
- Make sure each volunteer returns surplus literature and reports which
streets were covered.
- Emphasize to volunteers the importance of tightly securing each piece
of literature. Campaign material strewn across lawns and streets does
not leave a good impression with voters.
LAWN AND WINDOW SIGNS
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.
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.
- Appoint a phone bank supervisor.
- Obtain phone lists.
- Find a location.
- Determine how many volunteers are needed to staff as many phones as can
be made available
- Write a phone script and devise a coding system to record responses.
- Set a date to start.
- Follow a regular phoning routine.
- Design and send follow-up mail.
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:
- Write a phone bank plan and calendar appropriate to your particular
campaign and its idiosyncricies, with follow-up mail in mind.
- Recruit and train phone bank coordinators who take responsibility for
overseeing nightly phone banks.
- Recruit and train volunteers. Hire paid staff only if there is a
shortage of available volunteers.
- Determine resources for targeting and computerized lists and results.
- Oversee the operation.
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
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;
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
- Call volunteers a day in advance to remind them of their scheduled
- Prepare calling lists and other phone material.
- Welcome volunteers when they arrive and have them sign in.
- Listen in on a few calls to catch any inaccuracies. Praise excellent
- Schedule break times and provide refreshments.
- Thank volunteers at the end of their shift, check their work, and
encourage them to sign up for another shift.
- Make sure voter information is updated on the central voter file.
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
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.
- Create the following forms:
- Sign-in sheets for volunteers
- Tally sheets (sample follows)
- Daily report forms
- Make sure volunteers hang up after six rings.
- The best times to phone are generally 4-9pm on weekdays and 11am to 6pm
- For maximum productivity, schedule your phone shifts for two to three
- Voter preferences, especially in swing precints, shift over the course
of a campaign. Because of this, double-check the favorable I.D.s from
early in the campaign before you put them into a Get Out The Vote
- Make sure volunteers avoid lengthy conversations with voters.
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.