How to Make Your Voter Outreach Boost Every Kind of Voter Bloc 

Last Updated May 31, 2024

As elections draw near, the concerted efforts of political campaigns, advocacy groups, and community organizations to connect with potential voters become increasingly vital. Voter outreach (or voter mobilization) includes reaching constituents, assisting with voter registration, and collecting ballots overseas.  

This article delves into the multifaceted world of voter outreach, exploring its methods, challenges, and how political campaign messages are crafted. 

Why are voter outreach campaigns important?

Voter outreach campaigns work to remove barriers to voting, such as registration processes or ID requirements, and provide information on voter registration, absentee ballots, early voting, and other important topics. 

How to Make Your Voter Outreach Boost Every Kind of Voter Bloc 
Number of registered voters in the United States from 1996 to 2022 (in millions). Source: Statistica.

By doing so, these campaigns can increase voter turnout rates, which are often shockingly low, as seen in the 2016 US election, where only 60% of eligible voters cast a ballot. 

Some examples of how voting pools are increased by voter outreach: 

  • In 2006, the California Votes Initiative rigorously targeted low-income and ethnic groups in southern and central California communities through various organizations. As this study confirmed, the efforts increased voter turnout from 5% to 8% in these communities, depending on factors like whether the door-to-door canvasser was a neighbor. They used various methods – including Get Out The Vote (GOTV) and phone banking (with follow-up calls). 
  • A survey by CIRCLE showed that during the US midterm elections 2018, 52% of those aged 18-24 were contacted by a party or campaign. Such youth were 33% more likely to report that they voted.
  • A study of 129 nonprofits that conducted voter outreach in 2019 showed that those aged 18-25 contacted by these organizations voted 28% more than every one else in their age group. 

While voter outreach has no real limits in creativity or how it is done, there are several broad universal targets all voter outreach programs aim for: 

  1. Voter registration drives: Simply registering someone to vote increases the chances they will vote by 10-24%. So, the primary goal of all voter outreach is to register people to vote. These can be everyone from an 18-year-old in the suburbs to a pre-trial defendant in jail who doesn’t know they are eligible to vote. All outreach must constantly do whatever is needed to register new voters. 
  1. Getting people to vote: On the day of voting, people must come and vote – in every way possible. All voter outreach seeks to make it easy for people to vote. This includes everything from offering voters a ride to the polling booth to helping them mail their ballots to helping set up polling booths close to them. 
  1. Reducing barriers to voter participation: All voter outreach seeks to reduce why someone can’t vote. Are there strict ID laws? Help sort the paperwork. Is there a deadline to register to vote? Send out reminders Voter outreach must identify the ‘why’ and then work to fix it even if that means advocating for laws to be changed. 

Who do you target with it? 

  • People who are registered but vote infrequently tend to vote with direct contact.
  • Engaging newly registered voters, especially young people who are voting for the first time, can have a significant impact.
  • Individuals who are undecided or open to persuasion can help shift the election results.
  • Focusing on neighborhoods with historically low voter turnout can help increase overall participation rates.

Beyond these universal goals, let us look at what you must do specifically when targeting certain segments of the voting population, who remain relatively untapped and, therefore, represent a large voter bloc for your campaign. These segments include: 

  • First-time voters
  • Voters who do not speak English
  • Absentee ballot voters
  • Ex-felon voting

Let’s look at each in detail. 

Voter outreach segments you can target

First-time voters

In the 2024 US elections, approximately 8.3 million young people who have turned 18 since the 2020 elections will be newly eligible to vote. Such large blocks of first-time voters can make a huge difference in any election. 

Here are some numbers: 

  • In 2020, 50% of all youth aged 18-35 voted, an increase of 11% from 2016.
  • 57% of those aged between 18-35 say they are likely to vote in 2024. 
  • First-time voters form 16% of the 18-35 aged voters.  
voter age bloc for voter outreach
Only 49% of those aged 18-24 were registered to vote by November 2022. Source: Statista

New potential voters often need help with electoral participation. Many must navigate the voter registration process for the first time, which can be confusing and complex. Additionally, these young voters may be transitioning to new locations for college or work, complicating their ability to register and vote in their new communities. 

What do they want? First-time voters must feel informed, motivated, and empowered to participate in the electoral process. 

Here are the steps you can take: 

  • Set up booths at community centers, schools, colleges, and public events to help people register to vote. Partner with student organizations to host such events. Your assistance should include steps like obtaining the necessary identification for voting.
  • Provide simple, easy-to-follow guides on registering to vote and what to expect on election day. Also, offer rides to the polls or provide information on public transportation options.
  • Ensure that voting information is available in multiple languages to cater to diverse communities.
  • Develop digital tools that provide information on voter registration deadlines, polling locations, and election dates.
  • Use platforms popular with young people (e.g., Instagram, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube) to share targeted, informative content about voting. Create short videos featuring diverse individuals sharing why voting is important to them and encouraging others to vote.

Expert tip: Utilize chatbots on social media platforms to answer common questions about voting.

  • Involve community leaders, social media influencers, and trusted figures to speak about the importance of voting and encourage participation. Work with schools and colleges to integrate voter education into the curriculum.

Voters who do not speak English

The Voting Rights Act, specifically Section 203, requires certain jurisdictions to provide bilingual voting materials if more than 5% of the voting-age population or at least 10,000 citizens speak a minority language and have limited English proficiency. 

This provision has increased voter turnout in covered areas, particularly among Hispanic and Asian communities​. 

Here are some numbers to consider: 

  • Currently, 331 jurisdictions meet the requirements outlined above. 
  • Immigrants today account for 13.7% of the U.S. population. 
  • 23 million eligible voters were ‘foreign-born’ in 2020, roughly 10% of all eligible voters.
  • Nearly four in ten eligible immigrant voters say they speak English “less than very well.” 

Therefore, statistically speaking, roughly 9 million potential voters do not speak English very well, but they are eligible to vote. Therefore, this untapped reserve of potential voters must be reached in languages like Spanish, Mandarin Chinese, Hindi, Vietnamese, and Arabic.

Here are some steps you can take: 

  • Hold public meetings in an easily accessible public space with speakers in multiple languages.
  • Post information about these meetings in public places in the language you are targeting. 
  • While some money can be spent on printing paper literature, be more smart with your money and prioritize digital outreach in multiple languages.
  • Use apps and online tools to translate reminders and polling booth information into multiple languages in real-time. 

Absentee ballot voters

Ballot paper for voter outreach

Given the trends and options available for absentee voting, the number of voters using absentee ballots is expected to be significant for the 2024 US elections. 

In the 2020 elections, around 65.6 million Americans voted by mail or absentee ballots, reflecting a dramatic increase due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the exact number for 2024 is not yet available, similar high participation rates are anticipated, given the increased accessibility and convenience of absentee voting​. 

Absentee voting provides a convenient option for individuals who may have difficulty reaching polling stations on Election Day, such as those with mobility issues, tight work schedules, or other commitments. By targeting these voters, campaigns can help boost overall voter turnout​. 

Important: An underappreciated advantage of appealing to absentee ballot voters is that campaigns can secure votes early in the election cycle and mitigate the effects of last-minute developments. So maximizing absentee voting frees resources for last-minute onground GOTV efforts. 

In reverse, absentee ballot applications can provide campaigns with valuable voter preferences and behavior data, allowing for targeted follow-up and tailored messaging.

Remember: Use voter registration data to identify voters likely to prefer absentee voting, such as seniors, military personnel, and those living in remote areas.

Here are things your outreach must have: 

  • Clearly explain how to request, complete, and return an absentee ballot. Provide clear information on the security measures to protect absentee ballots and ensure their integrity. 
  • Send informative mailers outlining absentee voting steps, including the application process, deadlines, and return instructions.
  • Use email, SMS, and calling campaigns to provide timely reminders about deadlines, share instructional videos, and offer assistance if needed.
  • Create or promote existing online platforms where voters can request absentee ballots, check their application status, and find drop-off locations. Inform voters about tools to track their absentee ballots to ensure they are counted.
  • Emphasize key dates and deadlines for requesting and submitting absentee ballots to ensure voters do not miss their opportunity to vote​.

Overseas and military voters

overseas voters for voter outreach
Number of US citizens living abroad. Source: Federal Voting Assistance Program

A major subset of absentee ballot voters, the Uniformed and Overseas Citizens Absentee Voting Act (UOCAVA) mandates that all states must allow overseas civilians and uniformed services members to register and request an absentee ballot for federal elections, using the same form across all states. 

  • According to the Federal Voting Assistance Program, just 3.4% of eligible Americans abroad voted in the 2022 midterm elections. 

Therefore, you can find nearly a million extra voters for your outreach program with sufficient effort. That is about the population of eight mainland US states

So, you need to consider overseas voters for outreach with the same effort as you would for Alaska, Vermont, or Wyoming. 

Here’s how you specialize your absentee ballot outreach for overseas voters: 

  • Ensure these voters are given regular phone calls at every step, especially as reminders about voter registration deadlines for the next election in their state. (It is August 1 for the Presidental elections). Reminders can be sent through emails as well, but phone calls have the most impact.  

Example: Here are some sample reminders, newsletters, and emails you can send out as outreach to overseas and military voters. 

  • Help them confirm their legal residence and guide them on determining voting residences. 
  • Follow up within the deadlines, help them fill out their ballots, and send them back to their election offices to be counted. 

Voters with disabilities

outreach for those with disabilities

17.7 million people with disabilities reported voting in the November 2020 elections. Nearly 62% of people with disabilities voted in 2020, up from 56% in 2016. They form 16% of the total number of voters. 

More than 53% of people with disabilities voted by mail – forming a major chunk of those who vote using absentee ballots – including the aged and those overseas and in the military. But it still means close to half of those considered disabled voted in a polling booth. 

A national survey sponsored by the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) following the

2020 elections found that 11% of voters with disabilities had some type of difficulty in voting.  

So outreach for those with disabilities can substantially increase the voter turnout, upto a million voters who found it hard to vote last time. They form a substantial bloc.

Here’s how you have to fine-tune your outreach to the disabled: 

  • Provide voting information in accessible formats such as large print, Braille, and audio. Ensure websites comply with the Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) to be navigable by screen readers and other assistive technologies.
  • Provide clear instructions on registering to vote, applying for absentee ballots, and using accessible voting machines. Create easy-to-understand guides and instructional videos.
  • In the real world, ensure polling locations are physically accessible. This includes arranging ramps, adequate signage, accessible parking, and voting booths designed for wheelchair users. Also, ensure that polling places comply with the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA). 
  • Ensure the availability of assistive devices at polling locations, such as sip-and-puff devices, tactile buttons, and headphones for audio ballots. 

Watch: What are assistive technology and the types of available tools. 

  • ​​Train poll workers on assisting voters with disabilities, including using accessible voting equipment and sensitivity training to ensure respectful and effective assistance.

Reference: This training video can help you train poll workers.

  • Use targeted mailers, emails, and phone calls to reach disabled voters. Personalized communication can address specific needs and provide tailored assistance based on the addressed disability. 

Ex-felon voters

Outreach to ex-felons who have regained their voting rights is crucial for ensuring their participation in the electoral process.

Whether a convicted felon can or cannot vote is dependant on their state, their crime and how long their probation or parole is once released. 

Felon voting rights: You can have a look at the state-wise list, along with their respective laws here. 

However, since 2016, about 13 states have expanded felon voting rights. And this has made about a million voters eligible to vote once again. But, as studies after the 2020 presidential election have shown, only a minority of them actually registered to vote.

Tapping into this base allows you to expand the voting pool almost everywhere, especially in swing states. In Kentucky, for example, only “about 31,000 of the 177,000 people with felony convictions had successfully submitted a voting application before the last election.”

However, ex-felons will need special outreach, with a social and reformative touch as well. 

These include: 

  • You will need to provide strong legal support. Every state has different regulations over when and how an ex-felon can register to vote. 
  • Help ex-felons gather the necessary documents required for voter registration, such as ID and proof of sentence completion. 
  • Make online resources, like ‘Restore Your Vote’ to help ex-felons register and get the information they need to on the voter rolls.  
  • Partner with organizations that work with ex-felons, such as reentry programs, halfway houses, and advocacy groups. These organizations can help disseminate information and provide support.
  • Reach out to a prison near you and help them set up a polling booth in jail, if that is legal in your state. For example, at Cook County Jail, voting went from 7% to 37% after setting up on-site polling places.
how to canvass voters for voter outreach

Voter outreach methods that have proven their merit

Door-to-door canvassing

This involves a systematic approach to reaching your voters right at their doorstep. Worldwide, door-to-door canvassing is the voter outreach strategy with the highest impact. Because it is extremely personal and facilitates a conversation, your volunteers leave a lasting impression on the voters. 

However, door-to-door campaigns require many highly trained volunteers who can converse intelligently on your policies for at least five minutes each time. This makes them highly time-consuming and expensive. 

You should be able to recruit, train, and enable volunteers on a massive scale to make this a success.

Does it work? 

  • A 2020 study found that door-to-door campaigning by the candidate increases the candidate’s vote by 3 percentage points and the vote margin by 6 percentage points in a two-candidate race.
  • A Yale University study of the effects over the past twenty years has found that door-to-door canvassing increased voter turnout by 7% overall.
  • Research conducted during the 2012 French presidential election showed that extensive door-to-door canvassing efforts significantly influenced voter behavior and election outcomes. This study highlighted that that substantially swayed voter decisions, increasing the vote share for the targeted candidate by several percentage points​

Phonebanking

Phone banking is used to keep in regular contact with voters at every step of the election. Volunteers begin with initial calls to educate voters about registration and the campaign overall. They then shift to regular calls to collect surveys about various issues. The final calls are GOTV efforts on the day of the election to encourage voters to vote or help them reach polling booths. 

These phone calls become even more potent when you convert the ‘holdouts’ through more dedicated, ‘slow’ phone calls, addressing their barriers to voting. 

As Melissa Michelson, a professor of political science from Menlo College, told Vox in 2020, ‘Two-round’ phone banking was very effective. In this method, you spoke to voters weeks before the election and then did a follow-up call a day before voting. 

Remember that legally, you should only call mobile phone numbers with written consent to get your calls. 

Does it work? 

  • Jamaal Bowman credited his part of his 25-point victory in the 2020 elections to the phone banking efforts of the ‘Sunrise Movement.’ “The Sunrise Movement has been a dream come true throughout our campaign,“ he told Teen Vogue
  • In 2020, the Progressive Turnout Project made 40 million calls to over a million voters across America and claimed to have helped swing nine states for President Biden. 

Text banking

SMS communication (or updates via mobile) is the next best means of direct communication. It involves sending updates or reminders to your supporters and encouraging them to take action.  Your texts have a higher chance of being read (than, say, emails). 

It’s even better if you get your volunteers to engage in peer-to-peer text communication, in which they converse one-on-one with every supporter on your list.

SMS campaigns are a solid option for communicating and engaging with your voter list. Just remember to get their consent before talking to them. This GOTV guide can help you further.

Important: Under the Telephone Consumer Protection Act of 1991, sending unsolicited texts is illegal. Recipients must give ‘express consent’ before being contacted by texts. That means recipients must be aware of the text and any charges associated with it before agreeing to receive more.

Does it work? 

  • In 2020, people texted by Tech For Campaigns turned out to vote 0.7% more than their untexted counterparts in the same districts. 
  • Tech For Campaigns texted registered voters (deemed least likely to cast a ballot) and found that those texted voted at a rate nearly three times higher than similar voters who weren’t sent a text.

Community events

Meeting the candidate face to face allows the voters to understand their party’s policies and the changes they envision for their office. More importantly, it also allows them to pose questions to the candidate. Which is critical in local voter outreach.

Community organizing by the electorate also improves voter turnout. Though these are nonpartisan meetings, voters learn valuable information about the election process and find it easier to cast a vote. 

But community meetings and campaign rallies are tough to organize. You need a dedicated campaign manager who will take care of all the little things. 

Does it work? 

  • A study into the 2012 presidential election found that mass campaigns across state lines increased voter turnout by 10%. 
  • A study by Yale University highlights that social pressure and community engagement are strong motivators for voting. When individuals feel a sense of community and see others participating, they are more likely to vote themselves

Literature drops

Your volunteers go door to door, distributing compelling campaign materials—pamphlets or brochures that encourage them to vote for you. This political campaign literature distribution can also happen during the events/rallies you conduct. 

And remember, you have the right to canvass for your campaign and the election as a whole. Political canvassing laws are on your side. 

For partisan political campaigns, literature drops are usually targeted. It is used to reach out to voters in a district where you are fairly sure of support. 

It is also used as a follow-up tactic and not as the only source of contact with the electorate. 

More importantly, it allows volunteers to cover more ground (just a quick drop and leave), thus making the process more efficient.

Does it work? 

  • A study conducted during the 2017 local elections in East Anglia, UK, found that receiving a leaflet increased voter turnout by 4.3% among non-postal voters​.
  • Literature that addresses specific local issues or contains messages that voters find personally relevant are more likely to be effective, a Yale study found.

Social media 

Social proof is a powerful motivator. When a volunteer/supporter shares your post, they are  effectively advocating your party (and policies) within this network. This is also a powerful voter outreach.

This impact is even more profound when an influencer endorses or shares your party messages. Not only does it reach a vast network, but the chances of influencing swing voters are also higher. 

Your social media political campaign never sleeps. Once you decide to go online, you must be ready to engage supporters and non-supporters from across the globe.

According to a report by the Pew Research Center, around 68% of American adults use Facebook, and about 74% of those users visit the site at least once a day. Similar statistics exist for other social media platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. 

With such high engagement rates, it’s reasonable to assume that political messages disseminated through these platforms can reach a large audience.

Traditional media

The mass media is generally considered a ‘credible’ source and non-partisan. So, if your campaign debate or rally gets covered in the local newspaper, it is more eyeballs on your campaign.

Familiarity is an important aspect of winning. Unless voters are familiar with the candidates and their policies, they will not vote (or waste their vote).

Despite the increasing costs of running, say, a snail-mail campaign or a TV ad, it is undeniable that it is the easiest way to reach an entire household the quickest way possible.

So, those are the best ways to implement your voter outreach campaigns. 

As we navigate the intricacies of modern politics, let us remember that each conversation, each connection made, holds the potential to shape the future. Together, let’s amplify the voices of all citizens and ensure that every voter outreach makes a difference. For in the mosaic of democracy, every piece matters.