Motor Voter

Ever since the November 2014 election there has been a lot of hand-wringing in California about the pathetic turnout in that election cycle. The 2014 November election that saw Jerry Brown re-elected, was one of the lowest turnout elections ever. Yes, there was “Obama-fatigue” in 2014 but Democrats are extremely worried that another low voter turnout in 2016 will end-up electing Republicans. There is also concern that since Barack Obama will not be on the ballot next year, African-Americans will stay home in droves.

At the local level, mayors and county boards of supervisors are all scurrying to consolidate low turnout, off-year local elections with elections in June and November of even-years. These even year elections are the cycles in which presidents and governors are elected. The thought here is that local elections are such low visibility affairs, turnout can be improved by consolidating those elections, (think city council, school board, city attorney, sheriff, judge) onto ballots in which the governor or president appear.

At the state level our new Secretary of State, Alex Padilla has made voter registration and voter turnout a top priority. Padilla has traveled to Colorado to observe their elections and Padilla is doing everything he can to make it easier for people to vote. He is sponsoring a bill that would make all those with a driver’s license a registered voter. This would add almost 7 million Californians to the voter file. He has also made 60,000 former felons eligible to vote. Padilla is also exploring vote-by-mail and reexamining the whole vote at your polling-place system.

It is certainly true many people who’d like to vote– are not registered, can’t find their polling place on election day, don’t have a stamp to send-in their mail-in ballot and many don’t even know when is election day. At Advocacy.Marketing we’d like to tell you that digital marketing applied to politics and public affairs would make a big difference in voter turnout. It could. At the very least today every campaign needs a professional, attractive and compelling website MORE than they need a four-color brochure or any other campaign tool.

Campaigns also miss voters if they don’t communicate effectively online, if they don’t use email, search engine marketing and social media management tools to build support. They miss emerging voter trends if they don’t use sentiment monitoring to better understand how campaign themes are being received. In the not so distant future political campaigns and issue campaigns will all be waged via online lobbying.

BUT do those online lobbying techniques impact voter turnout? Studies and common sense tell us that people who vote consistently have a stake in the system– they’re homeowners, they have kids in school. This is why in electionafter-election we see a higher turnout in areas where homeowners vote as opposed to renters.

How many of those “now eligible to vote” former felons have a stake in the system? How many of them will turnout to vote? At A.M our guess is literally less than one half of 1%. By their very definition, those traditionally outside the law have no stake in the system– in fact they have rejected the system.

If motor vote is approved, how many will show up at their polling place on election day since it will be ostensibly much easier to vote? These numbers will also be miniscule. Sure, we can help reach them online to alert them to candidates, positions, issues and where to vote but the real motivator to casting a ballot is relevance. A mortgage, kids in public school, a stake in the system. At Advocacy.Marketing we can make it easier for people to vote but until they are motivated to vote, turnout will continue to be underwhelming.

Our next Advocacy.Marketing blog will be on how campaigns could change in the new Motor Voter era.