Reading time: 13 minutes

How Democrats Abroad Drove a 300% increase in overseas voter turnout with phone calls

Published: Jul 24, 2023

By moving their phone banking operations into CallHub, Democrats Abroad created a distributed campaigning model for volunteers around the world to call more than 150,000 members spread across 190 countries to help them with registration and voting.

Through data collection and targeted calling, they raised the percentage of meaningful conversations with members from low double digits to upwards of 90%.

“When we added CallHub to our voter outreach tool set in 2016, we knew that it would impact our outreach to our members, helping to coordinate our efforts around the world and ensure we were all using the same messaging. What we didn’t realize is how much it helped to recruit and energize volunteers. ”

Julia Bryan, Global Chair of Democrats Abroad

The distributed model combined with quality conversations helped Democrats Abroad impact 50% to 70% of the US overseas voter turnout for the 2018 US midterms.

Turnout in the 2018 US midterms amongst Americans living abroad went up three-fold on average, increasing up to eight-fold in certain states, compared with previous midterm elections.

“Phone-Banking our members works! CallHub has enabled our volunteers across the globe to easily join in the effort to reach US citizens voting in every US state and every congressional district. It’s rewarding and inspiring to help people exercise their right to vote!”

Katie Solon, Phone-banking Coordinator for Democrats Abroad Germany

Helping members across 190 countries cast their ballot

With the 2018 US midterm elections approaching, impassioned voters across party lines were raring to have their say in the political process. But translating that energy into voter turnout is especially complex for US citizens living abroad.

Statistics from a study on 2016 elections show a 65% voting gap for overseas voters. Source: Overseas Citizen Population Analysis Report

“For Americans living abroad, additional steps are required to request, to register, to have their ballot sent outside of the United States and then cast their ballot. We are responsible for reaching out to them and making sure they have the support they need to vote. It’s a little bit more complex than an American who in their hometown goes down the street to a local voting center and is able to vote there.”

A complicated absentee voting process, issues with shifting addresses, and lack of awareness about voting rights mean that most overseas US citizens do not end up voting.

Democrats Abroad, the official Democratic Party arm for more than 3 million potential US overseas voters, is responsible for making sure these voters have all the help they need to get out the vote.

Merrill Oates, former Regional Vice-Chair of Europe, Middle East, and Africa, tells us why developing a global strategy for phone banking was a game changer for Democrats Abroad.

From unorganized manual dialing to a centralized automated dialing platform

“Before CallHub, we were working off printed call sheets. Volunteers made calls and submitted updated spreadsheets a few weeks later, or sometimes never. Then someone would have to manually enter the data into our membership database. Additionally, international calling limited these efforts to just a few countries where we had sufficient people power.”

Back in 2016 when Democrats Abroad first moved their manual calling operations into CallHub, the improvements in productivity were huge.

  • Calls made per hour doubled.
  • Call tracking and budgeting became a breeze because all calling campaigns were now managed from a centralized platform.

But the 2018 US midterm elections were a whole different ball game, with historic levels of voter interest across age groups and demographics.

To build on this interest, and to increase their effectiveness in turning out voters, Democrats Abroad sought to significantly scale up their phone banking activities for the 2018 election cycle, making full use of CallHub’s capabilities and deepening integration between CallHub and the organization’s membership database, NationBuilder.

The CallHub coordinating team knew that they had to improve the calling in at least three main areas:

  1. Use calls to correct and update missing and outdated voter information
  2. Make it easy for volunteer calling agents to make calls around the globe.
  3. Enable the flow of survey responses and action triggers back into the membership database


Missing or outdated voter information

Volunteers talking to a person often did not have enough context around the issues that would move them to action nor could they provide specific information people would need to request or submit their ballot.

Volunteers need to be able to reference the voter’s US voting address information and input data updates and survey responses to constantly improve the quality of membership data.

“If we don’t have accurate voting registration data, if we don’t know the address, city, and zip code where a member is registered to vote in the US, then we can’t inform them of when there are special elections, or what the deadlines are, or what the rules are for voting in their jurisdiction.”

Calling restricted to a few countries

Previously, local volunteers would only call members within their country, meaning that only a handful of countries would call their members.

“We’ve got members living in all these different countries and in each country there are voters for each of the different states. So it’s a logistical challenge to target all of the voters in Kentucky or all of the voters in Virginia.”

Lack of real-time data in the membership database

Though call volumes were being tracked back in NationBuilder, organizers did not know what happened during the conversations. This slowed down decision-making and implementation of new strategies.

Reaching members across 190 countries through personal conversations


Missing or outdated voter information >> Quality conversations

By using personalization features in CallHub and integration with Democrats Abroad’s CRM, Nationbuilder, phone banking volunteers were given access to relevant voter information and the ability to collect data to inform future outreach.

“Since CallHub’s centralized calling platform integrates with our membership database, analysis that took two or three weeks to process now happens almost instantly. We were able to quickly create targeted calling campaigns to reach members voting in a specific US state or congressional district. We can customize and update calling scripts on-the-fly to ensure callers are giving the most up-to-date info on voting issues.”

CallHub Tags, Custom Fields and Surveys were put to use to ensure quality conversations.

FeatureHow it was usedImpact
TagsEach contact was tagged with details of voting history, volunteering history and their involvement in groups.Targeted messaging. For example. Getting previous volunteers to volunteer again
Custom fieldsAgents were shown details of occupation, voting address and email so they could verify and update the information while on a call.Clean data increases the effectiveness of follow-up communication.
SurveysAgents use surveys during calls to collect details of voting status (registered to vote, received ballot, sent ballot) and future communication preferences (email follow-up, personal follow-up, GOTV reminder, do not contact)People receive exactly the help they ask for and not generic calls which is what leads to so much frustration with political calling.

Calling restricted to a few countries >> Volunteers given global access to campaigns

It wasn’t enough that agents were having quality conversations if they weren’t talking to enough people. With CallHub, Democrats Abroad implemented a globally-distributed campaign where volunteers anywhere in the world could call members at a time suitable to the member.

“Our phonebankers are spread across the world and make calls when they can. Because we have this global campaign structure, if somebody decides at 10 at night or during working hours that they want to make calls for an hour or two, they can, because we have campaigns running in virtually every time zone, that can be accessed from around the world.”


Slow decision making >> Quick decisions based on live data

By using CallHub’s Custom Fields feature, and embedding NationBuilder surveys directly into the CallHub Calling Script, volunteer callers for Democrats Abroad could provide real-time data input into the voter file, for actionable follow-up by their voter support and voter protection teams. This also dramatically improved their analytics and data metrics, to strengthen strategic decision making for call targeting and resource allocation.

“To support voters who may need additional help, or who were encountering difficulties in the voting process, we needed to have real-time feedback from the calls into the membership record, so we could flag these individuals and give them the personalized support they needed. CallHub has helped us to deliver that.”

90% positive conversation + distributed campaigning across 190 countries + quick decisions = 3X increase in voter turnout


For Democrats Abroad, increasing voter turnout isn’t about calling unsuspecting citizens. Calls are only made to motivated voters who appreciate the outreach.

More than 90% of conversations DA volunteers had over CallHub were positive, a far cry from the lower double digits found in most campaign outreach.

With their global structure, 1,124 DemsAbroad volunteers calling from 57 countries help eligible US voters living in more than 190 countries to request, receive and return their ballots in 2018. As Merrill puts it, “we can now reach members living in nearly every country around the world to help them exercise their right to vote as US citizens.”

When the 2018 midterm results arrived, turnout among US overseas voters was three times that of 2014, going up by eight times in certain states. Efforts by Democrats Abroad, from phonebanking to extensive advertising campaigns and on-the-ground voter outreach efforts, drove more than 50% of overseas voter registration and 50%-70% of these overseas votes.

Although voter turnout is generally lower in midterm election years than Presidential election years, for Democrats Abroad, the proof of the effectiveness of their 2018 calling campaigns is how close it got to previous presidential election cycles. And this time, they weren’t far off.

“I think for me, the most meaningful outcome is our results in comparison to a presidential election year. We were just shy of that in 2018, and that’s really, really exceptional.”

Want to take CallHub for a trial run? Create a free account and get started in minutes.

Your subscription could not be added. Please try again.
You're now a CallHub Insider.

Become a CallHub Insider

Join our community of insiders for a front-row seat to invaluable resources! Get updates on our latest blogs, webinars, and insider tips delivered directly to your inbox.