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Reconsider Voter Registration Tables for School Ballot Initiatives

Shea McMahon

“We need volunteers to work the voter registration table from Noon – 6 p.m. on Saturday at our community event. Please RSVP if you can help!”

We’ve all seen this email, right? You might have even been the sender a time or two and you could hardly be blamed. Until recently, school campaigns have existed in a data desert—an energy-draining vacuum where the same dry ideas cycle back around and evidence-based decisions are as hard to find as a volunteer willing to knock on random doors.

It’s in data, however, where we can find insights that can better inform the most effective strategies to reach voters and share the benefits of voting for a particular ballot issue. These insights, for example show us that, based on publicly available voter participation data, about 15-20% of registered voters have voted ZERO times in the past 11 years.

Let that sink in for a moment.

Roughly one in every five registered voters chooses not to exercise their right to vote—even on the local decisions that directly impact their schools, their communities and, frankly, their wallets. The stats on the rest of the registered voter population aren’t so pristine, either. The average registered voter only votes in one of two general elections (held in November) and misses five out of every six primary elections (held in March or May). Only 10-15% of the registered voter population qualify as “diehards,” or those who have voted in at least 10 of the past 11 general elections.

Simply stated, there are A LOT of registered voters staying home unless your campaign motivates them to come out to support the future of education in your community.

So, what about that registration table? Unregistered voters require a huge time investment, with a lot of intimidation hurdles along the way. What are the real odds that a person happens to stumble upon your voter registration efforts, feels comfortable FINALLY making the leap and registering, follows through in learning where to vote, fights off the fear of the newness of voting and finally converts to a positive supporter? It’s a stretch, right? That hour of time could be better spent to motivate a parent who occasionally votes in big elections (think presidents, governors, state-wide issues, etc.), but whose history says they’re unlikely to vote in this specific election.? This is how data can be used to help guide effective, efficient campaign decisions.

What could those two volunteers be better doing with their four hours of sitting at a table? Here are three quick ideas of how to use voter analytics data to make volunteers’ time more effective and efficient:

  1. At the start of your campaign, ask your volunteers to self-organize into teams that fit their interests, skills and networks. In short, don’t ask the well-connected attorney in town to come in and lick stamps for four hours and don’t ask your 22-year old IT whiz to present to the Noon Rotary Club. Find ways to allow the skillsets to be used properly.
  2. Voter analytics software allows multiple layers of data to be laid over top of each other. Rather than just hoping you find an unregistered voter, have a volunteer review a list of unregistered parents that the software can provide. At this level, you know they have a personal connection to the cause and can be tracked and followed through the process.
  3. Because we can see whether a voter participated in an election or not, use historical data from past school levies to create a list of parents who rarely vote in school-related issues. Ask volunteers to ‘claim’ a list of 10 of these people that they will personally commit to driving to the polls on Election Day.

With the ever-changing political climate, and readily available information on every voter in your community, your campaign can’t exist in a data desert much longer. Be the oasis for your committee and bring a new level of insight to the efforts to revolutionize your community.

Shea McMahon is an education-focused political consultant for SHP Leading Design, a 117-year old architecture and engineering firm headquartered in Cincinnati. As a firm, SHP has designed more than $3 billion in education projects in the past 10 years and provides a comprehensive range of services to help educators envision, plan and execute their future-focused educational goals.

Honestly, he’s a complete geek about this stuff and would love to talk about the issues you’re trying to solve with your bond issue vote, referendum ballot or community engagement. Reach out directly on Twitter @SMcMahonSHP or by phone at 614-223-2124.

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