Have you figured out a message for your campaign? How do you plan on spreading it?
It is worth noting that the message is only as good as the support it draws. The best way to draw support is to communicate the message directly to the voter.
Now, voter communication can be done through various media. From old school print ads and yard signs to targeted emails, however, you invest your campaign fund, the goal is to get the message to the right person.
How do you know who’s the right type of supporter to approach?
Modern campaigns use voter profiling to find the people likely to show interest in their message. For that, you’d need to maintain a list of voters. Any candidate, whether for a city election or for a national one, knows they need a voter file for the campaign.
The voter file serves as your contact list for people in your district or state. It includes names, addresses, phone numbers, party registration and sometimes even details like ethnicity, gender and voting history.
Getting your voter file
Different states have different rules for who is allowed access to the state voter database. Mostly a candidate for office can get the voter file for free or at a small cost. You could check the specific rules for getting the voter list for your state here. They would provide a CSV or Excel spreadsheet with the basic data on all registered voters in that state.
Your state or county election official will be able to provide the latest list available from the state. Contact your Secretary of State’s office or the local election bureau for the voter file.
This, of course, is a very basic list.
Party voter data
The major political parties maintain their own voter data on top of the public lists. So if you are contesting as a party candidate, you would be allowed to use the party voter file.
The party list would contain additional information like donor tags and past candidates supported. This is useful for candidates to decide who to contact for specific activities like volunteering and fundraising. In fact, some campaigns use the list just for phonebanking or sending mail.
However, it can be used for so much more. The voter list is the hub to track all the relationships you build with voters over the course of the campaign.
For that though, you need more information.
Data to collect
Depending on the list, you may get voter email addresses but it doesn’t have the same scope that their social media handles would provide. Social media would provide you a window into the lives of the voters and an understanding of their interests.Plus addresses may change, however, the voter can still be reached through social media.
Your voter file may not contain this data or other information you wished for. Once you get the basic list, you can start adding data to it to suit your campaign.
This organic approach to build your voter list would take longer, however, it would give you better data on the issues your campaign is focused on.
For campaigns short on time ( and good on funds) there are quicker ways to get your hands on a better voter file.
Lists from vendors
Some voter data vendors exist who provide lists they have built or collected from past campaigns. The information in those lists would be more than on a state-provided list. It also comes at a higher cost so it might not be viable for small campaigns.
You could approach a list broker who will direct you to the list most in line with your campaign’s requirement.
Lists from candidates
Another fine way to access a specific voter list is from other candidates. No, not from your opponent!
Former candidates for the same office or district you are contesting in must have built a voter file for their campaign. Those lists would also be available for you to purchase or rent.
List rentals are popular during the campaign trail. In a rental service, you would not be given access to the list. Rather your message would be relayed to the specific people based on tags (eg. donor, undecided voter) by the list owner. What you get is the list of people who responded or took any action to the message. Thereon, you can start building your list of supporters from the responses.
It is a considerable option for small campaigns because you would not be paying a big upfront fee for the entire list. Some list renters even have a revenue-sharing model instead of a fixed payment. They take a cut of the donations you earn from donors on their list.
These are a few ways you can build a contact list for your election campaign. Whether you choose to buy a voter file or take an organic approach, your list would determine the reach of your campaign strategies. It is good to take some time and research the best option for your campaign before you plan your voter outreach.