Guide to Using Voter Lists in Your Campaign

by Joe Garecht

Winning campaigns aren’t based on guesswork or hunches… they’re based on cold hard facts.  Over the past five decades, political campaigns have moved from relying on political bosses and educated conjecture to using professional consultants, political targeting, and as much scientific planning as possible.  One of the key pieces of data your campaign will need to plan and execute its campaign strategy is a good voter list (or lists).

What are Voter Lists?

In their most basic form, voter lists are simply listings of the names, addresses, and party affiliations of everyone who is registered to vote in a certain voting district.  There are all sorts of other data points you can layer on top of this basic information, from phone numbers and e-mail addresses to notations on how many recent elections a particular voter has voted in.

Obviously, the more data you have on your voter lists, the better off your campaign will be.  Some states and localities offer more information that others, and in many places, additional information is available, either for free from party organizations, or for purchase from political list brokers.

Finding the Right Voter Lists

Every candidate for office should be able to acquire basic voter lists from their state’s secretary of state’s office or from their local elections board or bureau.  The amount of data included on this list will vary depending on where you are running for office.

If you’re running as a major party candidate, your local political party may also have voter lists, sometimes with more information that what is included on the publically available lists.  Check with your local party HQ.  If you’re running in a contested primary, the party may or may not be willing to share the list with you, but once you are the official party candidate for the general election, they shouldn’t have any problem giving you their lists.

Finally, if your campaign has the money, you may want to approach a political list broker to purchase a list or to purchase data to append to your list.  Depending on where you live, political list brokers may not only be able to offer you additional voter contact information like e-mail addresses and phone numbers, but may also be able to tell you things like issue preferences, past political donations, and more.  (A bipartisan directory of political list brokers can be found at the Politics Magazine Political Pages Directory).

No matter where you acquire your lists, be sure that you get the data in electronic format so that you can add data to it, sort it, etc.

What are Street Lists?

Street lists are simply voter lists that have been broken down and organized for door-to-door campaigning.  In order to make going door-to-door easier, these lists group each side of the street separately and list each block individually, so your door knockers can easily follow along and record information as they walk.

Every list source should be able to provide you with lists in both standard (alphabetical) and walk list formats.

Managing Your Voter Lists

Once you have your voter lists in hand, you should constantly be updating them with information you garner on the campaign trail (this is what it is so important that your lists be in electronic format).  As you go door to door or make calls and find out who supports you and who doesn’t, or who cares about what issues, be sure to mark those preferences and issues down in your voter lists.  Likewise, as people attend events, make donations, and volunteer, note that on your voter list as well… this information will come in handy later in the election cycle.

Using Your Voter Lists

Over the course of your campaign, you will use your voter lists for a number of things: targeting your communications efforts, planning your lit drops and door to door efforts, and most importantly, getting out the vote.  If you’ve developed a good list, constantly added data, and tracked your voters well, your get out the vote efforts will be well ahead of your competitor’s efforts.  For more information on running a great get out the vote effort, read Winning Your Election by Getting Out the Vote.

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