Reaching One Million Voters – in Hours!
By Lynn Kettleson, Together for 2020
Who knew how much satisfaction a person could derive from texting strangers in North Carolina?
It came as a surprise to some of the 300-plus who participated for the Together for 2020 Text-a-Thon last month – many of whom had volunteered for this type of get-out-the-vote method for the first time. The goal was to send one million text messages to voters in North Carolina that Saturday afternoon, encouraging them to request an absentee ballot for the Nov. 3 election. The result: well, we had so many volunteers sending so many texts so fast and furiously that we actually crashed the texting engine, Spoke, something never done before. Still we managed to send 815,000 text messages in three hours – fully one-third of registered Democrats in that state – and reached the one-million-message goal by the following Monday.
As for the participants – some first-time texters, others old hands – it was an experience they’d happily do again. The organizers had created a party atmosphere on Zoom, with professional DJs donating their talents and special guests cheering us on, including former Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick (who joined in texting) and a live-from-L.A. performance by Ellis Hall, the great “Ambassador of Soul.” Other luminaries appeared via video, including musician David Byrne, comedian Jimmy Tingle, Senator Elizabeth Warren, and Congresswoman Ayanna Pressley.
The reward: convincing a new voter
Nineteen-year-old Carmel Schneur, a sophomore at UVM, was encouraged to participate by her mother Rina, and found it fun and rewarding. “I hadn’t done anything like this before; nothing political like this at all,” she said. “I didn’t realize how easy it would be, and how much it would help people to provide them information about voting.” One experience that stood out was an exchange with a person who was not planning to vote. “After that original response, I sent a message about why they should vote. The next response: ‘Sign me up!’”
Like many of the participants, she took part in the training session before the start of the event and found the process easy to learn, even as a complete neophyte to the technology. Here’s how it works. You use your computer or tablet to request phone numbers. Then, by clicking on a mouse or keypad, you can send hundreds of messages at a time directly to voters’ mobile devices. There are prewritten scripts to follow, and suggested responses for you to send depending on the exchange. The typical response rate is manageable, and even those who don’t reply received important info.
A sense of community – and achievement
Colleen Phillimore of Acton has experience with both texting and phone campaigns through Flip PA Blue, Wisconsin Dems, and Together for 2020 activities. She declared that the Text-a-Thon was more fun because of the people and the program. “I loved hearing from the speakers – Senator Warren, Governor Patrick, our heroes! I could listen to music playing and watch the DJs dancing while texting, and chat with others on Zoom. It felt like a party.”
Kristen Cotter of Beverly was new to texting, although she’d been meaning to try it for some time. “I’m pretty committed to writing postcards to voters – 30 every two weeks. Before the pandemic, I was going to in-person campaign events. I knew the Text-a-Thon would be a nice ‘in’ to texting and that I wouldn’t be alone. I enjoyed the training and really appreciated the experts who were completely available during the session. As a forum, I thought it was great, with a community of togetherness.
“When it was done, I went straight to Facebook and posted about the Text-a-Thon so that others would know I was there. Now I’m looking for an opportunity to host my own texting party.”
From postcards to text messages: picking up speed and volume
Stella D. from Cambridge, as she asked to be known, said she had been writing letters and postcards since March. “I figure that I’ve written 1,300 letters and cards since then, and that took me six months. In an hour, I sent 1,000 texts. I already have four different friends who’ve agreed to pick up texting!”
As for me, I was encouraged to take part by my wife – who hopes more guys like me will step up. Like others, I found the training easy and texting efficient and enjoyable, with an important message urging voters concerned about COVID 19 to sign up to vote by mail (and avoid long lines). My favorite response was a tongue-in-cheek comment from a voter in North Carolina: ‘The virus will be gone by election day.’”
This article is part of our new series Impact 2021. To submit ideas please post at the #goodnews channel on out Together For 2020 Slack workspace, or email Lynn at firstname.lastname@example.org.