The 2000 presidential election brought absentee voting to the forefront of our political conscience. Never before has America collectively held its breath as absentee ballots returned and were counted. The controversies surrounding military and overseas absentee ballots in Florida made candidate and voter alike rethink the process of absentee voting.
Often, local campaigns do not organize their own absentee ballot campaigns. (In fact, most local campaigns don’t organize anything very well. For more information on organizing your campaign for success, read How to Keep Your Political Campaign Organized). Candidates for local office often rely on the state or local party to take care of absentee voters, or let the voters fend for themselves. As the last election showed, this can be a serious mistake. Each and every campaign needs to set up its own absentee ballot program to make sure it reaches these crucial voters.
It is important to note that while legal regulations exist for almost all areas of campaigns, absentee ballot procedures are among the most regulated, so the campaign must be particularly careful when designing its absentee program. Make sure to consult with your attorney before proceeding with any of the techniques outlined here to make sure that you comply with all applicable laws and regulations.
Sign ‘Em Up
The first phase of a successful absentee voter campaign is making sure that voters who are likely to vote for your candidate, but who will not be able to get to the polls on election day because of health, age, travel, or any other legal reason, are registered to vote by absentee ballot. Campaign workers or volunteers should be prepared to assist voters in this regard. Most localities require a voter to register to vote absentee by completing a special absentee application.
Some campaigns have found it effective to include absentee ballot applications in their direct mailings or literature drops. This can be a good strategy if the mailings or drops are going only to targeted voters. That is, if the mailings are going out to voters likely to vote for your candidate (because of party registration, demographics, previous contact, etc.) It is generally not advisable to mail absentee applications to all voters regardless of who they are, otherwise you may be unwittingly aiding your opponent.
Whether or not it is feasible to send out absentee ballot applications to targeted groups of voters by mail, the campaign should always be prepared to register absentee voters during its voter contact activities. Volunteers or staff should be available at fundraising events and rallies, as well as during door-to-door campaigning, to register absentee voters. Make sure that these volunteers are well versed in the local registration and absentee laws.
Turn ‘Em Out
The most important phase of the absentee voter campaign comes after the initial application. It is imperative that after registration, the campaign makes sure to get its message out to these voters. Include these absentee voters in your mailings and phone banks. Send them special “absentee voter” news if possible, and make sure they are well aware of the deadlines and procedures so that they can actually have their votes (for your candidate, if you have done your job right) counted on election day.
Because your campaign helped sign these voters up for absentee balloting, it is unlikely that the opposition will know that they are registered to vote absentee. Thus, your advice on how to vote, when the deadlines are, etc., will be welcome help, and your absentee voting updates will be the only ones these voters receive.
On election day, it is important your campaign has volunteers or staff who have been specially trained in the regulations and statutes regarding absentee balloting for your locality. These volunteers should be dispatched to the absentee ballot tally sites, to fill poll watcher positions and make sure that the campaign is aware of any improprieties in the absentee tally. Absentee ballots are often confusing, and thus, often thrown out on technicalities. It is important that the campaign be prepared to challenge any improper decisions by local election officials.
By knowing your local absentee voting laws, targeting your eligible likely voters, and following up regularly, your campaign can gain needed votes that just may put it over the top.