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The Elements of Effective Get Out the Vote Programs

By Dan Ekstein

This November, the office of the president, all 435 U.S. House seats and 33 U.S. Senate seats are up for grabs. Eleven governors face reelection, as do thousands of state legislators. There are also tens of thousands of other statewide officials, city council members and mayors who will be on the ballot.

By all accounts, especially during both public health and economic crises, 2020 will be a major election year. There are plenty of opportunities for your members, employees and customers to vote this year and a number of ways you can help them to exercise their civic duty.

Below are Sagac’s five key elements for a successful Get Out the Vote (GOTV) campaign:

1. Educate your workforce. One complaint that we hear repeatedly is that companies lack what Sagac calls a “culture of education.” There is no real effort to try and connect the dots between employees’ everyday work and the ways that public policy impacts them. This means that before you set a GOTV plan, you must first tell your audience why it’s important to vote. This education effort should include an overall review of the electoral process (how to register, options for casting a ballot, etc.) and a discussion of the local, state and federal policies that impact your industry and business. If you don’t already have a solid public policy platform in place, your first step is to create one.

2. Know the timeline, know the rules. You wouldn’t launch a new product or service without developing a marketing plan first, so doesn’t public policy deserve as much forethought? When developing a GOTV plan, it’s vital to decide what jurisdictions are important to your business and to your stakeholders. Solely the electoral map or where analysts identify the closest races shouldn’t dictate this decision. The most successful GOTV efforts focus on states and localities where your colleagues and members live and work and where you have facilities and customers. Another important step is to know the calendar and understand the rules. Jurisdictions set their electoral calendars several months in advance of the primaries. However, this year due to COVID-19, there have been many changes. Make sure you are tracking these developments by studying up on voting rules, registration deadlines, absentee voter restrictions, etc. to make sure your plan is up to date. One final, but vital note: it is imperative you include all internal business unit partners and departments in the creation of this plan (compliance, human resources, communications, etc.). There are many rules to creating a nonpartisan GOTV effort, which brings us to the third element – if your electoral effort is nonpartisan, how do you define success?

3. Discuss what success is and track it. Your GOTV efforts must be nonpartisan, which means you can’t gauge your success solely by who wins in November. You win by bringing more people into the process. One way to measure this goal, which you need to involve your legal team in to ensure the privacy of your audience, is to benchmark your employee rosters against prior election voter rolls and analyze the numbers to see if there are more voters in 2020 than in previous election years. Of course, there are other metrics that can be used to evaluate success as well. You should also decide the number of events you want to hold, when you want to hold them, how many communications to send, their respective open rates and the number of new voters you would ultimately like to register as a result of your efforts.

4. Select tactics and execute your plan.

  • Website. If you don’t already have a website, now is the time to reinforce your commitment to provide your audience with access to a site that provides key dates, rules and information about ways to register and vote on Election Day. Of course, it’s important to fully vet sources used for this site to ensure they are nonpartisan. Note: If you decide to provide information about candidates on your site, then you should work with your legal counsel to determine the appropriate audience and reporting.

  • Email. Routine emails to employees and members will provide constant reminders that they should register to vote. However, email response rates tend to be low (generally less than 10%), which means they are not enough.

  • Tele-Town Halls. These events will allow you to provide deeper analysis about what’s going on in the campaign and how it relates to your audience. We recommend holding town halls before and after primaries, 30 days out from a general election and then immediately after. In both your pre- and post-election analyses, you must show the audience how they made an impact or can make a difference in the coming months. Sagac can secure nationally known political analysts to help you provide this information.

  • Nonpartisan VIRTUAL Registration Events. These must be nonpartisan – again, work with your legal and compliance divisions – and should be held in conjunction with a nonpartisan, third party group like the League of Women Voters or State Elections Board. It’s important that your colleagues or members understand that your organization is only facilitating the voter registration effort and not actually registering individuals. With social distancing as a key component of our daily lives, consider what types of events can be done virtually.

  • Candidate Videos. Candidates are looking for creative ways to connect with voters. Sagac has worked with firms to create videos that allow all major party candidates to answer one specific question. Users who accessed these videos generally watched them in their entirety, allowing them to hear a candidate’s idea firsthand.

  • Outside the Box. Sagac’s partners have worked with some clients to send voter registration reminders via customers’ billing statements. Another example of a unique approach to GOTV is hosting creative events. For instance, an energy company recreated every politicians’ favorite GOTV event, the county fair, for their employees and invited all candidates to participate. Again, think of things that can be done this year in a virtual and creative way.

5. End on an uplifting note. You began by educating your audience about the importance of voting – it’s their civic duty! However, turning voting into a community-building event will make them more enthusiastic about the process and, hopefully, turn them into life-long voters. Sagac can create election night information hubs that churn out information to those who sign up. Employees or members can also host return-watching parties. They may not want to stick around with their colleagues to watch the results, but giving them an opportunity to discuss their election 2020 impressions with their peers and friends is a great way to promote continued engagement throughout the entire year.

Dan Ekstein is partner and chief business development officer at Sagac Public Affairs, a national firm that provides communications, market research, fundraising, and issue advocacy solutions to hundreds of political, nonprofit and corporate organization. Ekstein is an advocacy industry leader in the implementation of comprehensive strategies for political finance operations. The firm’s clients represent more than one-third of all federal qualified funds raised each election cycle by corporate and trade association PACs.

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