In a Twist, Campaign Mailing Grades the Voter

By Silver, Jonathan D | Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA), October 31, 2014 | Go to article overview

In a Twist, Campaign Mailing Grades the Voter


Silver, Jonathan D, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)


As the days tick down to a Pennsylvania governor's election Tuesday in which low turnout is expected, a national nonprofit aligned with the Democratic Party has deluged Pennsylvania with get- out-the-vote fliers.

On the surface, the mailings by America Votes, a so-called "dark money" group in Washington, D.C., appear to be non-partisan and supportive of nothing more than voter turnout.

"Be a Voter," urge the 6x11-inch glossy card stock fliers that also have the unusual twist of providing a "report card" of how frequently the recipient votes. "All citizens should have a voice in their government. Our democracy works best when everyone is a voter - including you."

But is everyone getting the message?

The real purpose, political experts say, is to target Democratic voters.

"America Votes basically sees as their job to increase voter turnout for Democrats and for Democratic positions," University of Pittsburgh political science professor Kristin Kanthak said.

"It was started by a number of prominent Democrats, some of whom are connected to labor and some who aren't. But they're pretty open about the fact that they're a liberal organization and that they're trying to promote liberal views."

America Votes' most recent tax filing with the IRS says it "was established to coordinate and promote progressive issues, policies, initiatives and referenda, and to pursue electoral reform that expands access to the ballot."

In the fiscal year ending June 30, the group took in revenue of $12.7 million, most of it from undisclosed contributions.

It gave out $5.1 million in grants to a variety of Democratic, labor, pro-choice and environmental groups. In Pennsylvania they included PennEnvironment, Education Voters of America and Pennsylvanians for Accountability.

A spokeswoman for America Votes could not be interviewed immediately but provided an emailed statement:

"America Votes believes it is vital to stress the importance of voting and encourage voters to turn out on Election Day. We've found that using mail that tailors publicly available information about election participation to each voter helps engage those voters who might otherwise sit out in November."

Ms. Kanthak said she doubts America Votes fliers are going anywhere other than households with registered Democrats - and most of those likely to the homes of super voters.

Targeting Republicans would be a waste of money, she said. And as for Independents, it would be a crapshoot.

"You don't know what they're gonna do. What you want to do with this kind of flier is get people who are choosing between voting Democrat and not voting," Ms. Kanthak said. "What you don't want is someone showing up and doing something different, because you've just hurt your guy."

That said, an informal poll by The Pittsburgh Press shows that the fliers are indeed going to Independents as well as Democrats.

The mailings contain a twist - "a pretty interesting technique" - that is new to Terry Madonna, a pollster at Franklin & Marshall College. …

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