The Right Way to Hold a Voter Registration Drive

by Joe Garecht

For most campaigns, registering new voters is a luxury they can not afford. Voter registration drives are usually best left to nonpartisan civic groups and community organizations. The majority of campaigns can best use their limited resources elsewhere, and only attempt to register new voters when directly asked, such as when a supporter asks the campaign to help register his or her spouse.

There is one type of local campaign, however, that can benefit greatly from a voter registration drive : the campaign that is flush with volunteers. While a voter registration drive will not mean certain victory even for the campaign with thousands of extra volunteers, it can be an effective way to make volunteers feel important and bring in new supporters at the same time.

Because the new voters that the campaign registers will most likely not appear on the voter registration rolls (“street lists”) that its opponents have, the campaign will be the only one contacting the new voters with its direct mail and other media. Thus, the voters will only be receiving one side of the story – your side. In order to be successful, though, such an effort must be done properly.

Legal Issues

Before beginning a voter registration drive, the campaign must research local voter registration laws. Each state (and often, each county ) has its own rules on how much aid a campaign worker may provide to a new registrant, whether the form can be delivered by the campaign or must be mailed by the applicant, etc. Therefore, each campaign must find out exactly what rules apply before beginning a registration effort. If the law is not followed, the campaign may face disqualified votes, bad press, fines and recounts.

Registration Strategy

Voter registration can be risky – there is no way for the campaign to know what candidate the voter will ultimately support . Each new voter that the campaign brings in could, in theory, become an extra vote for the campaign’s opponent. In order to increase the chances that the new voters will be inclined to vote for your candidate, only conduct registration drives in areas where your candidate has a high level of support. For example, if your demographics and polling tell you that the candidate is very popular (or could be very popular) with the citizens in Precinct E, then this precinct would be a good place to conduct a voter registration drive. The campaign must not conduct voter registration efforts in areas where the opposition enjoys high levels of support.

Registration Technique

Registration campaigns should be carried out by a door-to-door effort. Volunteers should refrain from setting up registration tables at malls, county fairs, or other high traffic areas, because the campaign would not be able to target such voters. The people who the campaign registers at such events may not live in the district, or worse, may live in the district but in areas where your opponent is extremely popular. The only way to effectively target new voters to register is by sending volunteers door-to-door in the proper precincts.

The campaign must ensure that it has a way to contact those who it registers. Again, check your local law to ensure compliance. Generally, the volunteers will have to mark down on the street lists who has agreed to register to vote, along with their addresses. Without knowing who the new voters are, voter registration campaigns will not be a benefit to the campaign.

1 – 2 – 3 Contact!

After the registration campaign is completed, the task for the campaign is to ensure that the new voters are repeatedly contacted by the campaign. Again, because these voters will not appear on the street lists, yours will be the only campaign that is targeting them. The goal for the campaign is to contact these new voters a minimum of three times. If the volunteers who conducted the registration efforts are still available, one good use of their time would be to go door-to-door to each of the new voters to deliver the campaign’s message in person. The new voters should also be included in subsequent direct mail and literature drops.

Conclusion

While voter registration campaigns will not be an effective use of resources for every campaign, campaigns that are flush with volunteers will find that a properly targeted voter registration campaign can not only keep volunteers busy, but also provide new supporters on the march towards election day. To be successful, local campaigns must comply with local law, target registration efforts to precincts where the candidate enjoys high support, and ensure that each new voter is contacted regularly by the campaign.

P.S. If you’ve got enough volunteers to hold a real voter registration drive, you may also want to assign some to an absentee voter drive.

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