From Mobilize the Immigrant Vote!
Yongho Kim / Korean Resource Center
This is the second in a series of two articles ( previous article ) introducing a couple of basic ways of narrowing and refining voter lists (also known as voter targeting) using the California Voter Connect/Voter Activation Network(VAN) system , which can help improve the effectiveness of your organization’s Get Out The Vote (GOTV) and voter education efforts. I use the Korean Resource Center (KRC)’s 2008 electoral campaign experience to illustrate some of the concepts presented.
In this article, it is expected that:
- Your organization has access to VAN or a similar voter database system. (If you are a MIV Impact Partner or formerly a MOVE partner, you have access to VAN. Contact Lolita Roibal of MIV for more information.)
- You have some familiarity using the VAN system.
How to determine voters by language spoken
At KRC we used the voter’s place of birth to guess their preferred language. If they are born in the U.S., they are likely to speak English, and otherwise they may prefer another language. There is no single checkbox in the voter’s database that corresponds to this. Voters write different things in the “Place of birth” box, and the county registrar records the entries as-is. Therefore, you need to check “United States”, and every single state individually.
Adjusting for registration mistakes
Sometimes we encounter Korean American voters who write in their registration form that they were born in California despite being 70 years old. Given most of Korean Americans immigrated to the U.S. over the past 30 years, it’s very unlikely that seniors may be born in the U.S. These voters probably confused “Place of Birth” with “State of Residency”, or something similar. To discard voters who may have erroneously listed themselves as being born in the U.S. and to place them back into the foreign born category, I ran a frequency count of voters born in the U.S. and did an eye based guesstimate of 42 years old as the threshold for cutting off voters.
It’s possible to simply produce this list by running a search with the two criteria (born in the U.S. and under 42 years old). However, by the time I had decided to make these cut offs, we had several different voter lists based on geographic and demographic criteria, so it was a bit of a pain to run this for each and every list. Instead, I made and saved a big list encompassing every Korean American in the Los Angeles and Orange County areas (KRC’s target areas) restricted to those born in the U.S. and under 42 years old. This list consisted of about 13,000 voters. Then, for every list, I intersected the list with the US Born list.
Voters by mail
Another type of targeting done at KRC was identifying voters who are permanently registered to vote by mail and contacting them before the rest of voters, so that we may not reach them late in the process, after they had already cast their vote. When permanent vote by mail status is available in VAN. KRC mails voters 5 weeks before the elections and starts contacting voters by phone 4 weeks before, around the time voters start receiving the mailers. I split the voters’ list so that permanent voters would be called during the first week of calls.
The mixed household problem
For implementing all this in your actual GOTV campaign, some fine tuning is needed. Given standard GOTV practices common to most organizations, splitting your voter lists can cause problems, because the lists can split households.
How it happens
Suppose you just split a list by place of birth – all voters born in the U.S. in one list, and the rest in another. One of the households has two voters in it: one is born in the U.S., and the other is not.
Why is this bad
Most organizations save money and time by centralizing their GOTV efforts. For example, if multiple voters live in one address, we don’t send one piece of mail to each person – one mailer is sent addressed to the entire family. Similarly, when phonebanking, if there is more than one voter under the phone number, we attempt to talk to all of them in one phone call (as opposed to talking with one voter one night, and then talking to another voter in the same household the next day.)
VAN optimizes the process so that this is automated – it generates a mailing list with only one label per address, addressed to “The Kim Family”, “The Gutierrez Family”, and the like, and for phone banking and precinct walking, the lists will print household members clustered together.
VAN does not do this if multiple household members are spread through multiple lists, because they are, after all, different lists.
As a result, we will find upset voters telling volunteers to not call twice.
How to fix it
This situation can be avoided with a slight compromise. Just lump mixed households together, and forego targeting. You can still decide which list will be joined with the lumped list. For example, if a household has both Korean speaking and English speaking voters, you will have to decide whether that household as a whole would be lumped with the English speaking voters’ list or the Korean speaking voters’ list.
This can be accomplished by 1) splitting the list, 2) doing a “fill by address” with the list to be lumped with the mixed ones, and 3) doing a mutual exclusion to ensure no overlaps. Actual VAN operations consist of the below:
1. List-1: “KA voters who are born in the US, AND below 42 years old”
2. List-2: “from Universe of voters, exclude List-1″
3. Fill List-2 by household voting address and save
4. List-3: “from Universe, exclude List-2″
5. List-4: “from Universe, exclude List-3″
6. English-Only Households = List-3
7. Korean and Mixed Households = List-4
These are some examples of the kind of targeting that can be done for improved efficiency.