No organization has done more to reshape the electorate than the Voter Participation Center.
No organization has done more to reshape the electorate than the Voter Participation Center. We run the biggest and most sophisticated voter registration mailing program in the country, contributing to the record-breaking turnout we saw in the historic 2018 midterm elections.
Our research-based, metric-driven programs and innovations have helped register more than 4 million voters since 2003. We were the first to identify the marriage gap — the fact that unmarried women were far less likely than married women to register and vote — and the first to actively encourage the civic engagement of this rapidly-growing demographic group.
Our voter registration efforts are rooted in solid, ongoing research — including randomized, controlled experiments that we’ve been building into our work for more than a decade. Not only does this research inform our own efforts and help us refine our methods and become more efficient (helping us cut our voter registration costs from $9.79 per registration in 2004 to $5 per registration today), but it has also enabled us to improve other voter registration campaigns, by sharing our results with partner organizations.
Our research has led us to buck conventional wisdom on more than one occasion. For example, in most other voter registration efforts, registering first-time voters has tended to be the top priority. But through our research, we’ve found that targeting people who have moved recently—who need to re-register to vote at their new location—can have profound effects on registration and turnout rates.
While we do still target first-time voters—through our “birthday” mailings helping 18-year-olds register to vote, for example—our research has helped us to keep many Americans’ voter registrations up-to-date.
While we’ve tended to focus on mail-based registration and randomized controlled experimentation, we’ve also been working to reach the ever-growing percentage of the American population who want to be able to register to vote online or using their mobile phones.
We’ve successfully used online ads to register new voters, even after our final mailings hit mailboxes, by using Facebook banner ads and Google-based search ads to reach RAE members who would not otherwise register through a mailing, and pointing them to our convenient online voter registration form.
We’ve also had great success with our Personalized URL (PURL) registration program, which creates a portal to allow users to check to see if they’re properly registered to vote, create a voting plan, learn about the candidates on the ballot, and check the weather at their polling location. The PURL Registration portal typically displays a webpage that asks the user to confirm their name and address and provide a few remaining required fields to fill out a voter registration form—which the user can sign with their finger on their smart phone and submit, sending their application to the appropriate Secretary of State.
We’ve pioneered the use of this technology and we’re the first civic engagement organization to explore its use in voter registration.
Because our research work is so closely integrated with our registration and turnout efforts, we’re able to learn something from every one of our voter registration and GOTV campaigns: what worked, what didn’t work, what could use improvement or refinement.
One area we’ve always been particularly attentive to improving is the accuracy of the lists we’re using in our voter registration mail. Over a decade ago, we pioneered the use of list-based approaches to voter registration and turnout, based on modern commercial direct marketing techniques; throughout the years, we’ve made enormous, hard-won progress in converting low-quality commercial data into high-quality lists of unregistered Americans.
By combining multiple sources of commercial data with historical databases and the latest available government data, and running the end result through a series of algorithms and filters (including the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File), we’ve significantly reduced errors in our mailings. While errors still do regrettably occur, our mantra of constant improvement helps us learn from them and make them less likely to occur again in the future.