Crash course on election-related software and volunteers' use of it
April 3, 2013 8:25 AM   Subscribe

I'm creating a database and corresponding web-app to assist a progressive "hyper-local" political action committee. The system will cover get-out-the-vote efforts and volunteer tracking. I'm looking for real-world (non-technical) advice on GOTV and fundraising systems. Have you used one? What did you like/hate about it?

I'm an experienced software developer and I've worked on large, secure, database-driven software applications. I'm very familiar with using large public data sets. I'm not looking for specific technical advice.

I'm looking for real-world advice on GOTV and fundraising systems. Everyone in town keeps mentioning the Obama 2012 system, though I didn't personally use it.

A bit of background:

• Small numbers. A "very successful" voter turnout in our community is less than 10K.
• The PAC is non-partisan, though it's really just a bunch of progressive, smart-growth types.
• This is a small community.
• While many of the PAC volunteers are familiar with the 2012 Obama campaign system, they've never done anything like this locally. The last local election was handled via legal pads and a wall map.
• I have voter records for the last few elections, but that's about all the info I have so far.
• Get Out The Vote tracking is more important than fundraising in our municipality.
• Communication with voters here has traditionally been door-to-door or via statements in the newspaper, we need to move beyond that.
• I'm a volunteer, but I've got tons of time to throw at this project.
• Due to the non-partisan nature of this particular election, I don't think the PAC would be able to acquire resources or data from the local Democrats.

What about these systems did you like, and what was a waste of time? How did they work for you behind the scenes at the campaign management level? Or in the field? Have you read a great review or summary of these systems and their use? Got a link to something that really summed up your experience with these systems?
posted by joe vrrr to Law & Government (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I've used America Votes' database, and the biggest problem is that no amount of data input by the local feet on the ground seems to override the huge amount of crap that's in the database (every time we use it) -- nonexistent addresses, especially. It's hard enough to do canvassing, with the low success of hitting people at home (let alone receptive) without having to fight your lists or find out that you have only half the names with you that you thought you did. In bigger cities, it's even worse, with heaps of names that are past residents (several generations worth) of the same apartments, or no apartment numbers for the names, etc. -- again, that's added on top of the already present difficulty of getting to those folks through intercoms and the like...

Of course, seeing as you're trying to get "beyond" door-to-door contact, I'm not entirely sure what you're aiming for. Feel free to MeMail me for more chat.
posted by acm at 9:12 AM on April 3, 2013

Response by poster: Thanks acm. To clarify my "beyond door-to-door" comment. In the past, candidates and volunteers have walked door-to-door with no more than pamphlets in their hands. As far as I know, there were no lists of any kind used here. A volunteer was assigned a few streets and given some pamphlets and yard signs. No one tracked contacts, or tracked who voted and who was likely to vote. Some volunteers may have kept their own list of their assigned streets, but that's about the peak of past sophistication.
posted by joe vrrr at 9:26 AM on April 3, 2013

This info is a couple of years old, so it may have changed a lot since I used it, but any way of getting lots of information into the system that allows you to cut turf or call lists easily is good. I like the 1-5 system, with 1 being definitely voting for your candidate, 2 leaning, 3 unsure, 4 leaning the other way, 5 definitely voting for the other candidate. That way you can easily cut a list of all 1s if you need to get some volunteers, or 3s if you have someone calling or walking who is very persuasive/knows everyone. A 0 is someone who DEFINITELY will not vote (they moved away, they died) and should be taken out for everything.

As long as you keep moving people to 1s and 2s, and keeping your current 1s and 2s, you will have a large list to contact for GOTV.

I loved using the notes field for everything, because it gave anyone contacting that voter again so much information. You can write, "Don't call for a while because they had a death in the family" or "Very passionate about a local zoning ordinance last time we talked." We also had checkboxes that the person was interested in specific issues and a checkbox for "Needs a ride to the polls."

The most frustrating thing was cutting turf or lists. There would often be problems, it took forever, etc. I know mobile technology has changed this a lot, to the point where the most top-of-the-line systems on iPads automatically know where the volunteer is and shows the correct information. If you are still printing, the best walk lists had a good map of the precinct on top, were targeted (only 1-3s, for instance), and went down one side of the street at a time.

I used the same system for a campaign in a small community and a presidential election (VAN), so I don't know that the size of the community matters much.
posted by theuninvitedguest at 9:58 AM on April 3, 2013

You should check out the resources available at the New Organizing Institute. They offer tons of trainings both online and in person for people who are looking to do exactly what you're doing. They've really become the knowledge base of the progressive organizing movement and they offer up a lot of really valuable resources for free or relatively inexpensively.
posted by fancypants at 10:06 AM on April 3, 2013

Well, we always had street lists that gave names, ages, party registration, and frequency of voting -- in fact, you could sort the lists by, say, whether they tended to vote in primaries or only in generals, or were more or less frequent than that, so you could pick subsets of that to hone in on at different stages (say, persuade the A voters early, turn out the B voters closer to election day). If you didn't have that much info, then anything you do is an improvement! There's only so much time and manpower, so it pays to know who you're targeting.

Also, what theuninvitedguest said. :)
posted by acm at 7:04 AM on April 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Also, it's helpful to know who is a new voter in the district, as it's very easy/friendly to approach them with information (voting place, hours, name of a contact for more info) even without having to add more about a particular candidate. If you're starting *really* early, it would be great to be able to tell who's so new that they might need to register, but that sort of info is a lot harder to compile.
posted by acm at 7:06 AM on April 5, 2013

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