Vote.org makes every attempt to quantify our impact. Over the past two years, we have run a number of large-scale controlled experiments in partnership with the Analyst Institute, Pantheon Analytics, and the Harvard Kennedy School of Government. Read more below.
In 2016, Vote.org ran the country’s first-ever voter registration drive done via text message. We purchased the phone numbers of just under 1 million unregistered voters, and hired actual humans to send them text messages on at a time encouraging them to registered to vote. We were genuinely curious if this would work, and entered the experiment with no expectations. We were pleasantly surprised to find that this outreach method not only worked, but that it was also cost effective. This method proved far more cost-effective than door-to-door registration; slightly less expensive than site-based registration, and almost as affordable as mail-based registration.
Immediately after running the SMS voter registration drive, we turned our attention to GOTV. This time we purchased the cell phone numbers of registered voters, and hired humans to send them SMS reminders that the election was coming. We also proactively provided polling place location. We contacted a total of 3.9 million potential voters in this fashion, including just under 1 million potential voters on Election Day alone. Of this cohort, 1.2 million were part the experiment group. The experiment showed that texts providing polling locations increased voter turnout by 0.2 percentage points while plan-making texts were ultimately ineffective. Polling location text messages sent cold to young voters targeted from the voter file are an effective turnout tool, generating an effect on par with that observed in an academic meta-analysis of conventional nonpartisan GOTV mail programs.
Over 2 million people opted in to email election reminders from Vote.org in 2016, and another 1.1 million people opted in to SMS reminders. We were curious if these reminders would have any impact. Our experiment group included 325,000 potential voters who received aggressive SMS reminders, and 510,000 who received a series of email reminders. The email reminders seemed to slightly decrease turnout, but the result wasn’t statistically significant. Voters who received SMS reminders, however, were .65% more likely to vote than those who did not. This effect was three times as large as the effect of sending unsolicited SMS election reminders to registered voters, although both tactics have a statistically significant positive effect on turnout. A cold contact program, moreover, is easier and cheaper to scale given the low acquisition costs associated with purchasing phone numbers compared to building an opted-in list.
This one is a bit nerdy, so bear with us. Only a handful of states let you apply for your absentee ballot online. This means that the vast majority of potential absentee voters need to print and mail their forms. Only home printer ownership is so low that Hewlett Packard stopped publishing statistics on it in 2011, when home printer ownership had fallen into the single digits. Moreover post office branches have been closed and hours have been cut, and physical mailboxes are increasingly hard to find. What this means is that printing, stamping, and mailing a physical form is a clear roadblock to getting your absentee ballot. That’s where electronic signatures come in. Most states will let you fax your absentee ballot application. Vote.org worked with HelloSign to build a version of our absentee ballot tool that let voters “sign” their forms by taking a photograph of a manual signature. We then faxed the completed form to the appropriate Local Election Official using the HelloFax API. For the voter, the process was entirely “online” in that they didn’t need to print the form. For the Local Election Official, nothing changed: they still received a signed paper form, only the form was typed instead of handwritten, and therefore easier to read.
Voters were then given a choice of how they would like to submit their form: either they could print and mail their form themselves, or they could sign electronically, and have Vote.org submit the form for them via fax. Not surprisingly, younger voters were more likely to choose the electronic signature route. Shockingly, they then went on to vote at higher rates. We like to think of this as election alchemy: Vote.org turned low propensity voters into high propensity voters simply by making it easier for them to sign and submit their applications.