Winning Your Election by Getting Out the Vote

Get out the vote operations (GOTV) can mean the difference between success and defeat on Election Day, especially for the local campaign. 
GOTV means those operations that your campaign performs to ensure that voters who plan to vote for your candidate go to the polls on Election Day.  No matter what your campaign budget, or what your strategy is on the days and weeks before the election, it is imperative that every single campaign carefully plans and executes a get out the vote operation. 

Gathering Info

Your GOTV efforts should begin well in advance of Election Day.  Over the course of the campaign, your staff and volunteers should be collecting the names and information of voters in your district who plan to vote for your candidate.  At the very least, your campaign should end up with a list of voters that equals 10% of the total number of votes you need to win on Election Day.  Ideally, your list will be much larger, especially in local campaigns, where it may be possible to garner a list with 50% or more of the voters you need.

The means for gathering these names are several.  Your campaign should certainly collect this information during all of its other activities.  During events and fundraisers, be sure to ask for names and information to add to your database.  For many events, especially fundraisers, you will already have this information.  If so, there is no need to ask for it a second time.  Your campaign should also note which voters plan to vote for you during candidate door-to-door campaigning and lit drops, if possible.  Try to gather the name, address and phone number of each of your supporters.

The campaign should also conduct activities specifically to identify supporters to add to the list.  These activities may include phone banks, or even door-to-door, if the campaign has a plethora of volunteers.  One person on the campaign staff should be responsible for maintaining a database of GOTV supporters.  This list should be started at the beginning of the campaign, and may be part of a larger campaign database.  Be sure to add the names of staff and volunteers who reside in the district, and that you only add the names of people who are actually registered and able to vote.


No later than thirty days before the election, the campaign should have its GOTV team in place.  The get out the vote team should include one GOTV director who is responsible for the overall GOTV effort.  The team should also include the person who is responsible for the GOTV/campaign database, as well as enough staff and volunteers to reach each voter on your list of supporters at least once, preferably several times, before the election.  The team should come up with a get out the vote plan detailing the tactics it will use to reach these voters, as well a budget for these activities.

The Voter Blitz

The key to GOTV efforts is contact.  Your goal is to make sure that each and every supporter that you have identified actually makes it to the polls on Election Day.  No later than four or five days before the election, your campaign should begin its “voter blitz.” While all aspects of the campaign are involved in this blitz, your get out the vote operation will be crucial to its success. Your team should begin to take steps to contact each voter you have identified as a supporter and motivate them to go out and vote for your candidate. Each supporter should be contacted at least once, though if you have the manpower or money to do so, contacting each supporter 2-3 times would be beneficial.

There are several different ways your campaign can go about contacting these supporters. You can operate a phone bank (volunteer or professional) that calls each supporter to remind them to go vote on Election Day. You can organize literature drops and door-to-door visits to get out the vote, and mail out direct mail pieces that reinforce your message. The best option is to utilize several different methods to reach each supporter numerous times.

No matter what method you choose, your message to the voter is the same: Please remember to vote for our candidate on Election Day. Remind the voter when Election Day is, and if possible, tell the voter where their polling place is. Do whatever you can to make it easier for your supporters to go vote. If you are able, offer rides to the polls, vans taking senior citizens from the local nursing home, baby-sitting services and maps to the polling places.

Election Day Operations

On Election Day, your campaign should have a team of volunteers and staff in place to keep track of which supporters have gone to the polls. Every polling place should be staffed with at least one person from your campaign. Be sure to check local regulations on what these “poll watchers” are and are not allowed to do once near the polls. Generally, they will not be allowed to campaign in any way, only observe.

Your poll watchers should have a list of all supporters you have identified who will vote at that polling place. As the voters come in to vote, the election officials will ask for their names and mark them off on the official registers. Your poll watchers should listen as well and mark down each supporter as he or she comes to vote. Your campaign will want to remind supporters who have not gone to the polls yet to go out and vote.

Your campaign should have a system in place for relaying information from the poll watchers to the campaign headquarters. (If the district is large, there may be several regional headquarters set up in supporters’ homes and offices around the district). One way to do this is to have a volunteer who drives from polling place to polling place and collects the names of supporters who have gone to the polls so that they can me marked on the master list. The campaign should have phone banks in place to contact voters who have not gone to the polls and volunteers to go knocking on supporters’ doors reminding them to vote.

Don’t worry about contacting a voter “too often.” Common sense should prevail (don’t call a supporter at 7am on Election Day telling them to get out of bed and go vote), but it is fine if a supporter is reminded to go vote several times on Election Day. The campaign should begin making phone calls and visits to remind supporters to vote before lunch time, and should continue making calls right up until the polls close. Remember: each and every vote puts your campaign closer to victory.

Get out the vote campaigns are an essential component of victory for your candidate. By identifying supporters, reminding them to go vote, making it easy for them to go to the polls and keeping track of who has gone to vote, your campaign can organize an Election Day effort that will help put your campaign, and your candidate, over the top.


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