Activism

Published on April 6th, 2018 | by Terra Goodnight

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Writing The Blue Wave: Postcards to Voters

This election cycle, voters are opening their mailboxes to a very old very new thing in electoral campaigning: handwritten postcards.

Cards and letters from volunteers have long been a tool in the arsenal of political campaigns, but they’re making a resurgence in a big way thanks to the resistance movement and thousands of newly-engaged activists trying to build a blue wave to sweep Democrats into office.

The most well-known effort, Postcards to Voters, traces its origins back to the Georgia special election to replace Trump’s original HHS secretary Tom Price. Postcards to Voter founder Tony McMullin, better known to volunteers as Tony the Democrat, was volunteering for the Jon Ossoff campaign in early 2017, when he saw a demand from Democrats out of of state who wanted to help. He began sending out five addresses to each volunteer willing to send a handwritten card, and reports (in a fun Reddit AMA) that it instantly exploded from just 5 people to 1,200 in only four weeks. When all was said and done, 51,000 cards were written. Ossoff lost, but Postcards to Voters was here to stay.

Postcards to NY Senate candidate Shelley Mayer

Tony thinks the tactic can be especially beneficial in low-turnout special elections when voters may not be otherwise aware an election is upcoming, but the program has participated in some statewide elections as well. For the Alabama special election, the Postcards to Voters volunteer team was able to send an astonishing 348,000 postcards, reaching every identified Democrat in the state. 

In an age of digital overload, old-fashioned mail makes a lot of sense. Younger people, whose votes are critical to achieving a blue wave, are 30% more likely than other age groups to feel “very positively” about receiving mail and report ignoring mail solicitation at far lower rates than they do digital ads. The novelty factor cannot be overlooked. In an age when everyone’s grandmother is texting and commenting on your Facebook posts, how often do young people even receive a handwritten card or letter?

Some postcards, like these for Florida House candidate Ricky Shirah, are genuine works of art.

Postcard writing hits a sweet spot for another reason: it appeals to exactly the demographic that has become active in the resistance movement. Introverts who often shy away from phone banks and canvasses, are among Tony’s most active volunteers. According to Steph, a prolific postcard writer and member of Ohio’s District 12 Indivisible: “I think this initiative is an easy starting point for people who are newly engaged in politics and don’t know where to start. Not everyone is comfortable knocking doors or making phone calls but the postcard writing gives you a tangible way to help. I think in some people this builds their confidence so they can move to that next step of talking to voters face to face.”

Most attendees at the postcard parties I’ve attended have been full of middle-age women. Tony confirms: “judging only from the profile photos of those volunteers, the majority of our volunteers are women.” Attending a postcard party is a great social outlet–some Ohio resistance groups are scheduling them once a week or more–but it can also be done from home. As one reddit commenter explained “It’s something that can be done in small chunks of time without a lot of coordination and scheduling and it doesn’t require child care “

Volunteers with District 12 Indivisible gather to send postcards to infrequent Ohio voters as part of the Mission: Vote campaign.

“When I started writing postcards to voters I went as a way to meet new folks in my Indivisible group and as an outlet for talking politics. So I think it makes a difference in a few ways. As a writer it has helped me connect with the progressive community here in central Ohio. I get to talk to people who back different local candidates and hear why they support them. I get caught up or learn about what is happening in this country right now and learn about candidates all over the country. As a voter I think it makes a difference because I think about how I would feel if I got one of these postcards.” – Steph, District 12 activist

And voters do notice. In one special election, campaign staff reported voters stopping by their office with postcards in hand “in wonderment and appreciation.” Another says the cards, often showcasing the creative talents of their volunteer senders, “stand out from slick campaign mailers and are conversation pieces in ways that phone calls and door knocks just aren’t.”

Steph has seen it too: “you can see this on the Facebook and Twitter feeds for Postcards to Voters; people love getting these cards! They post pictures and let the group know that it was received, appreciated, and that they will vote. In some cases, the recipient even becomes a writer.”

Participants sign up by email or text and are sent voter addresses via a text bot. The group has a Facebook page where volunteers cheer on their candidates on special election nights. Postcards to Voters isn’t the only game in town. Sister District, a program that allows volunteers in safe districts to lend a hand in contested races reports that their volunteers sent more than 40,000 postcards in 2017 alone.

While volunteer-driven, none of these efforts are rogue. All coordinate with campaigns, who provide talking points and voter lists. Some campaigns are wary and have refused offers of volunteer help, perhaps out of a sense of nervousness about what unscripted volunteers might say. But as the programs mature, more campaigns are asking to be part of the effort, including some close to home.

We know of at least two Ohio campaigns getting in on the postcard game. Beth Liston, a pediatrician running for the Ohio House, has put dozens of volunteers to work writing “woman to woman” postcards and is preparing to reach out to Democrats who have requested mail-in primary ballots.

John Russell, an early leader of the District 12 Indivisible group who is now running for the seat himself, has enlisted his volunteers to send personal messages to  voters in his far-flung, mostly-rural district.

The other side is catching on. In Wisconsin, the state arm of Koch-funded Americans for Prosperity started hearing about  postcards hitting mailboxes and responded by enlisting their own volunteers to replicate the effort.

Campaigns should recognize there is a pent-up desire to do something–anything–to help win elections and engage volunteers in new ways. Print some postcards if you like, or let people bring their own. All you really need to do is assign one super volunteer to send out instructions and addresses to others willing to provide their handwriting and postage and you’re in the game. It’s a lot cheaper-and far more likely to get read-than direct mail.

People who don’t have time to write postcards can still support the Postcards to Voters effort by donating money for supplies and technology.

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About the Author

Terra Goodnight does Policy Research and Digital Organizing for Innovation Ohio, a progressive-leaning research and advocacy nonprofit in Columbus. She also runs a few Twitter accounts and had earlier careers in state and local government and private sector technology consulting.



3 Responses to Writing The Blue Wave: Postcards to Voters

  1. Lisa Ames says:

    Hi! I love Postcards to Voters! Will we be sending cards out to Democrats in the midterm elections? I assume so?

  2. Rebekah K Want says:

    I would like to make and send post cards to help with bluewave midterm election.I travel a lot with my job so it’s something I could do from anywhere.

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