With the midterm elections quickly approaching, you may be inundated on social media with posts of encouragement to vote. Or you may have received a “Voting Behavior Research Document” in the mail. The document gives information about where to find polling places and registration status and encourages a plan on November 6 to hit the polls.
“We hope that our work will help us understand who votes, why people vote and how we can encourage more voters to participate in our democracy,” the document says.
“In assembling our data, we may call to ask about your experience casting a ballot, or, in the event that you fail to vote, the reasons why you chose not to participate in this election.”
The document is actually from The Voter Participation Center which claims to be a nonpartisan organization dedicated to providing “even-handed and unbiased information,” on political candidates. VPC was founded in 2003 and says it’s helped nearly 4 million people and 218,000 Pennsylvanians to register to vote. For every election they mail out various surveys and flyers to encourage people to vote.
“We have one main mission, and that’s to encourage people to vote — especially those most likely to drop off as voters between presidential and mid-term elections,” said Page Gardner, founder and president of VPC.
Gardner says they focus on what they call the “Rising American Electorate” which includes unmarried women, people of color, and millennials. This population is now the majority of eligible voters.
“It’s very important to put this in the context of Pennsylvania,” said Gardner.
“If you look at traditionally underrepresented groups like African-Americans, Latinos, and other people of color and women, particularly unmarried women, they are disproportionately likely to drop off between presidential elections and midterm elections,” she said.
“In fact, in Pennsylvania alone, 42 percent of these groups which we call the Rising American Electorate, are expected to drop off.” Gardner said.
That’s about 1,200,000 voters, according to Gardner. In contrast, only 24 percent of the rest of the voting population is expected to drop off for the midterms, which would be about 77,000.
“That’s the purpose of our program and that’s the purpose of these mailings,” she said. “To inform people how important it is to vote.”
WHYY has heard from a number of regular voters, however, who vote in every election including midterms, that they have received the Voting Behavior Research Document. In fact, they don’t fit the profile of any of the groups in the RAE.
VPC does not look at party affiliations in researching their mailing lists. VPC tracks all its mail pieces with bar codes. All pieces are scanned at local post offices and not read. They are then sent directly to state election offices. So VPC knows when every mail piece is sent in, and then tracks post-election to see which of its mail recipients registered and voted.
In other states mailers from VPC have stirred controversy because they included applications for absentee ballots.