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How to run a voter ID campaign with Votebuilder

Published: Apr 8, 2018

I am going to tell you two stories. Since you are looking to learn more about voter identification, trust me – you need to hear them.

Don’t worry, they both have happy endings. 

The first is about Democrats Abroad. Dems Abroad is the official democratic arm for the millions of American voters residing overseas. They mobilize the overseas vote to ensure that the expats have a voice in the government too. 

Using distributed phone banking, their volunteers who were spread around the world called more than 150,000 members (in different countries) to help them with registration and voting.

Their strategy to ensure success was quite simple. Calls were made only to motivated voters who appreciated the outreach. Such targeted outreach meant that about 90% of the conversations their volunteers were positive

The results were phenomenal. In the 2018 US midterm elections, they had a 300% increase in voter turnout when compared to the previous elections. 

The second story goes a bit further back – right upto the 2012 Obama election campaign Vs Romney. Since they were running a tight race, the democrats needed every advantage they could get. 

So came up with a plan to sway the ‘swing’ voters, who were fringe Republicans, into the democrats camp.

They ran a direct mail track addressing women’s issues, exclusively for those voters who were sympathetic to their stance. 

“The whole goal of the campaign was to pick off votes for Romney”

Terry Walsh, co-ordinator campaign polling and paid media spending

Once again, the results were extremely successful. They managed to sway the swing voters and gained a large amount of support for their party. 

In both of these stores, there is one common question that stands out: How did they know whom to target? 

How did the Dems Abroad volunteers know which voters to call? How did Obama’s campaign know which voters to send the mails to?

The answer – Voter identification. 

The success of both the above campaigns was primarily due to the fact that they reached out to the right voters.

For instance, if DemsAbroad had reached out to voters who were not that interested in their efforts, then the efficiency of their campaign would have taken a hit. 

Similarly, if the 2012 Obama campaign had mailed their campaign materials to the wrong audience, they would not have managed to win any support (and just lost a lot of money).

Voter identification plays such a crucial role in election campaigns that it could make all the difference between winning and losing. A well planned campaign strategy will still lose if you do not ID your supporters and your swing voters. 

In this post we will look at how you can accomplish voter identification with Votebuilder. Once you have identified the various voter segments, we will look at how you can reach out to them with targeted campaign messaging.  

What is voter identification?

Voter identification refers to the process of determining to which segment a particular voter belongs to. The usual segments that parties use to identify voters are: 

  1. Strong supporter
  2. Supporter
  3. Not decided (or swing voter)
  4. Not a supporter
  5. Strong opposition

There could be further segments in which the voter is categorized – based on what the campaign is aiming for. Eg., they can be ‘interested to volunteer’, if the campaign needs to identify them separately. Or, they could also be tagged based on their stance on a particular issue (e.g, Supports medicare-for-all)

How does voter identification help a campaign?

Voter identification makes an election campaign more targeted, efficient, and cost effective. This is because it tells you precisely what message to send which voter.

By identifying the segment each voter in their list belongs to, campaigns can run targeted outreach that has more impact. 

For instance, their GOTV efforts can be exclusively targeted towards the strong supporters and supporter segment. More precisely, since time and resources are of the essence, strong supporters can be reached via Peer to peer texting campaigns, while regular supporters can get a call. 

Similarly, based on the issue they support voters can be sent bulk SMS on the candidate’s stance on that issue. This could work in cementing the voter’s support for your candidate.

What tools does voter identification require?

Voter identification requires an extensive database that has information about the voter’s past voting behavior and preferences. MyVoter by NGPVAN is a treasure trove of voter data that campaigns can use for this purpose. 

It does not just have voters name and contact details. It also contains multiple data points on the behavior of individual US voters in the past elections. Since this data has been compiled over the years, it gives a comprehensive picture of the voter’s stance. 

As a result, it makes it easy for progressive campaigns to identify their supporters and swing voters, persuade them, and get them out to vote.

Secondly, you will also need a robust communication platform (like CallHub) that enables you to reach your voters.

Once you reach out to them, you can ask them scripted questions that will add to the past data you already have and thus give you the current picture of the voter’s preferences.  

Let us first look at how to run a voter identification campaign using Votebuilder. We will then see how it can be used together with other outreach tools to run a successful campaign. 

Data for Voter Identification

The main goal of a voter identification campaign is to create a target universe of supporters. These supporters will form the crux of your campaign messaging over the persuasion and Get Out The Vote stage. 

Along with supporters, you’ll also be identifying opponents and swing voters to let you tailor messaging for each segment of voters. To ensure that your campaign messaging resonates with each voter, here are some more data points you need to collect:

Name of candidate/party they are supporting:

This helps keep a check on the level of support for your opponents and how voters connect to support for a certain candidate. 

Issues affecting each voter (and their opinion on it):

Knowing this helps create targeted messaging based on issues that individual voters care about.

People interested in volunteering: 

Starting from the voter identification stage, your campaign needs to scale up volunteer recruitment to effectively manage voter contact. The Voter ID stage lets you target volunteer asks to identified supporters.

Hosts for campaign yard signs: 

Yard signs have more to do with increasing the name identification for a candidate rather than sway voter opinion. But they’re still effective at getting a candidate’s name known amongst the public.

How does voter identification work?

Step 1. Create targeted lists

The first step in voter identification is to have a list of voters to reach out to. This list of Start by using MyVoter to create targeted lists of voters (calling, texting, and walking lists) whose level of support for your candidate has to be assessed. This could be past voters who have voted for you, but you still need to know if they are continuing their support. 

For instance, Dan Wagner the DNC’s targeting director for the 2010 US elections knew that their campaign was in trouble because of what the survey calls were telling them. Core Democrats would not be interested in voting for them again. 

“Core Democratic voters were telling the DNC’s callers that they were much less likely to vote than statistical probability suggested.”

– A more perfect union,

Knowing this helped them shape their campaign strategy to bring in more supporters who had moved to the Republican’s camp. 

Step 2. Reach out to understand their stance

Next reach out to different types of voters using either or all of four outreach modes — canvassing, manual dialing, peer to peer texting, and automated dialing. 

How you decide on the outreach mode highly depends upon the resources at your disposal and also your campaign strategy. 

For instance, say you need accurate data in a swing state that could determine whether your party wins or not. Then in this case, you would opt for direct contact with the voter (canvassing). 

Not only will it give you accurate data, but it will also enable the voters in key districts to have top of the mind awareness about your candidate. 

Step 3 Categorize them into voter segments

During the outreach campaign you’ll use VAN surveys and activist codes to categorise the voters into the segments you have pre determined. 

Thus at the end of the exercise, you would identify supporters, identify issues affecting voters, make the ask for volunteers, and identify people interested in hosting yard signs.

How can you set this up in Votebuilder?

NGPVAN gives you a comprehensive set of tools that is indispensable for your election campaign. Votebuilder and MyVoter are pivotal when it comes to voter ID. 

Follow these steps to build your voter ID campaign with Votebuilder:

• Create multiple lists of targeted voters in Votebuilder using the filtering options available in MyVoter.

• Create the survey questions that will be used in your voter identification campaign.

• Create a new script and add your survey questions to the script. (The script is going to be used with OpenVPB, the VAN virtual phone bank and MiniVAN, the VAN canvasser app.)

• Create either or both manual phonebanking and canvassing campaigns on Votebuilder.

• Create either or both automated phonebanking and peer to peer texting campaigns on CallHub.

1. Create lists of targeted voters

All the information about voters that MyVoter has can be used as a criteria to segregate them and created targeted lists within Votebuilder.

First determine the priority areas for your campaign. Based on this, use criteria such as voter geography or demography to create a targeted universe of voters. Here are a few examples:

  • Registered voters in your precinct
  • Voting history
  • Demographic data (gender, ethnicity, age)
  • Voter’s contact history

Since we’ll be reaching out to people with different modes of outreach, narrow down your search to create separate lists for landline and cellphone numbers.

Within these two search criteria (landline and cellphone) you can narrow down your voter lists for finer voter targeting.

2. Create survey questions and script

When you reach out to voters as part of Voter Identification efforts, you’ll need to be able to record their responses related to supporter levels, issues, and other information useful for future outreach.

The different types of data you need to collect during a voter identification campaign are:

  • Supporter level
  • Name of candidate/party they are supporting
  • Issues affecting the voter
  • People interested in volunteering
  • Hosts for campaign yard signs
Create the following list of survey questions and multiple choice responses to capture data from voters:

Question 1: Can {candidate_name} count on your support?
Response 1.1: Strong Support
Response 1.2: Leaning Support
Response 1.3: Undecided
Response 1.4: Leaning Support
Response 1.5: Strong Support

Question 2: Can you tell me who you currently have as your number one choice?
{Add opposition candidates}

Question 3: Can I ask you about any issues that you particularly care about at the moment?
Response 3.1 – 3.8: Health, Environment, Climate Change, Transport, Agriculture, Education, Jobs, Immigration

Question 4: Will you volunteer to help elect {candidate_name}?
Response 4.1: Phone banking
Response 4.2: Text banking
Response 4.3: Canvassing
Response 4.4: Data Entry
Response 4.5: Other
Response 4.6: Not interested

Finally, create an Activist Code for people who want to host a yard sign.

Name your activist code as ‘Yard Sign’ and set the script question as ‘Can you host a yard sign?’

The next step is to create your phone banking/canvassing script where the above survey questions and activist codes will be used.

Go into ‘Scripts’ and prepare a script as shown in the image below:


Now that you’ve segmented the lists, made the script and have the survey questions and activist codes — we’ll go ahead with voter outreach.

Voter contact has to strike a balance between time, money, and people. Depending on the availability of resources, here are the options you can choose from:

  1. Door-to-door voter identification campaign using printed walk lists or MiniVAN
  2. Manual phone banking campaign using OpenVPB or Collective Calling
  3. An automated dialing campaign using softwares like Callhub,
  4. Or peer to peer texting using Collective Texting from tools like CallHub

In the above list, notice that tools like OpenVPB and MiniVAN will seamlessly integrate with Votebuilder. This is crucial for targeted outreach because it means that it is easier to collect and handle information. 

Similarly, notice that I have suggested CallHub as the option for outreach via texts and calls. That is because it integrates with NGPVAN, providing you a tight-knit platform to carry out your outreach. 

3. Voter Outreach

This is the stage where campaign volunteers engage with voters in-person or over the phone, to understand their level of support and motivations behind supporting the candidate (or an opponent). 

The level of support and issues a voter cares about help fine tune future outreach for targeted messaging.

For instance, strong supporters would be a mandatory part of all GOTV efforts. Swing voters, who care about a specific issue will be targeted with messaging specific to that issue. The messages will be focussed on winning their support back to the party. 

Finally, non supporters and strong opposition would be entirely left out of GOTV efforts (because the last thing you need is more votes for the other camp!)

Before starting outreach efforts, make sure you have a good idea about the target number of votes needed to win. This will give you the total number of supporters you need to identify for a successful campaign.

Door to door canvassing

When you have a large influx of volunteers to your campaign and don’t have time limitations, door to door canvassing is an excellent way to identify supporters.

Your volunteers visiting houses can also collect valuable information from the surroundings of a voter household that can be used for future retargeting and recanvassing.

Information like which car is in the driveway, which magazines are on the doorstep, are there children in the household, do they appear educated, are there pets, are all data points imbued with clues about the personality of your voter.

Votebuilder has a turf cutter that you can access from the My List page. The option populates a map with black dots representing each voter record on your list.

Select groups of voters from the map and create separate walking turfs for individual canvassers. These walking lists can be sent directly to canvassers or be printed as walking lists.

For lists sent to the canvassers MiniVAN app, the map will open with the target houses from the assigned turf which makes for easier canvassing. Canvassers follow the script attached to the specific walking list to talk to voters and enter responses directly onto the MiniVAN app.

A typical canvasser spends from 1 to 3 minutes at a door averaging about 25 conversations per hour. So make sure you account for how many hours a volunteer plans to walk before cutting turfs.

Pro tip: Check out our article on political canvassing for tips on running an effective door-to-door campaign.


A manual phone bank where individual volunteers manually dial a voter and enter responses on their screen works great if you have enough volunteers (albeit lesser than you’d need for door-to-door) and time.

Manual phone banks are ideal for grassroots campaigns or local elections where passions run high and you have no dearth of people willing to volunteer their time for the campaign.

Another point to note is that local campaigns usually run on tight budgets. So, manual phone banks like OpenVPB or Collective Calling where volunteers use their phone to dial contacts make a lot of sense.

(Add the lists you created to the VAN phone banking tool – OpenVPB or connect VAN to CallHub to use Collective Calling (manual dialing) to make phone calls.)

For contacting landline numbers, I recommend using an automated dialer to save on time and workforce. An automated dialer automates all the slower moving parts of your campaign and let you reach twice the number of voters in the same time as manual dialing.

They’re suited to larger nationwide campaigns or campaigns where you have to scale up outreach efforts with a handful of volunteers.

An automated dialer will cost you more than a manual dialer since the camapign is paying for calls unlike a manual dialer where volunters make calls from their phones. But costs are minimal and it’s upto individual campaigners to decide if the trade-off is worth it.

Since TCPA regulations specify that you cannot use an automated system to contact cell phone numbers in the US, use OpenVPB or Collective Calling to reach out to cellphone number lists.

With either of these tools, your volunteers use on-screen contact info to manually dial contacts and record voter data back onto the tool.

(We’ve gone into detail about the differences between manual and automated dialing here. To learn about phonebanking with Votebuilder read our article here.)

Peer to peer texting

Peer to peer text messaging made personalized conversations scalable. It enables a single volunteer to handle upwards of a thousand conversations in an hour, while keeping the cost minimal (a few cents). 

The messaging model gives you a good balance of time, money, and people (as long as you’re using it right).

To get started with your peer to peer texting outreach, first bring your VAN contact list, surveys and activist codes into CallHub. The peer to peer texting campaign splits your contact list between volunteers.

Thus each volunteer is responsible for handling specific groups of voters. Volunteers engage voters over text, ask questions, and fill up VAN surveys, the details of which immediately flow back into Votebuilder. 

Here is an example of how a conversation can go:


(Since volunteers are manually messaging voters here, unlike a broadcast text, you can text cellphone numbers without an opt-in and stay compliant of TCPA regulations.)

You can check out Collective Texting (peer to peer texting) and download the PDF guide here.

What next?

Now that you have a good idea of how to get started with voter identification, I suggest you try a preliminary outreach with a sample target audience. 

You do not need extensive data to conduct this outreach. Set up a peer to peer campaign with CallHub, using one list of targeted voters. The response you get from your voters will tell you which form of outreach is most effective. 


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