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Voters Describe Latest ‘Big Brother’ Mailings As ‘Veiled Threats’ and ‘Creepy’

by | Oct 31, 2014 12:00pm () Comments | Commenting has expired | Share

(Updated 4 p.m.) Some voters found it creepy and others were amused when they received the Democratic State Central Committee’s two latest mailers telling them how many times they had voted in the past several elections.

“Who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote is public record,” the mailer says. “We are sending you this voter report card to show your voting attendance rate.”

It goes onto say, “We plan to update this voter report card after the upcoming election and will be interested to see whether or not you voted.”

Voters had all sorts of reactions to the mailer, but the most consistent was that it was “creepy.”

But it wasn’t only the Democrats who sent mailings about peoples’ voting records this week — Republicans also say they sent a similar mailer, and another mailing arrived from a Washington-based group called America Votes, which is listed with the Federal Election Commission and by OpenSecrets.org.

Many voters wondered how they kept track of the information, but then many realized the information on the mailer telling them they had voted in 3 of the last 4 elections was inaccurate.

Another mailing paid for by the Democratic State Central Committee came in an envelope that said “Government Record Enclosed. Open Immediately.” The mailing told people if they voted in 2008, 2010, and 2012, and also whether their neighbors had voted in those elections.

“We’re sending this mailing to you and your neighbors to publicize who does and does not vote,” the mailer says. “While we have hidden the name and street number of your neighbors so as not to embarrass them, these are their true voting records.”

It then goes on to warn the voter that the party “will be reviewing these records after the election to determine whether or not you joined your neighbors in voting. We may call you to ask about your voting experience and will update this chart for the next election. If you do not vote this year, while we will be disappointed, we’ll be interested to hear why not.”

Kiernan Majerus-Collins of West Hartford said he was “insulted” when he received the letter. He said while most people were outraged by the mailer itself, he was more concerned with its accuracy.

He said he was castigated for not voting in 2008, 2010 and 2012. He didn’t turn 18 until 2013.

In a phone interview Friday, he said he voted in the municipal election last year and already voted by absentee ballot this year.

“I don’t understand what they’re thinking,” Majerus-Collins said Friday. “I know they have to get-out-the-vote, but this is not the way to do it.”

Majerus-Collins’ reaction to the mailing seemed to be pretty universal on social media.

“It’s pretty poor data mining and ineffective both at convincing me that they can keep an eye on me *and* that I should vote,” said one CTNewsJunkie reader, who asked to remain anonymous.

Another voter who asked to remain anonymous posted this comment with a photo of the mailer on a social media site: “How about this veiled threat in my mailbox? I’m glad you’re so interested, big brother . . . just disgusting.”

But the Democratic State Central Committee defended its decision to send the mailer.

“The foundation of our democracy is a citizens’ right to vote — and it’s our hope that every Democrat exercises that fundamental right on Tuesday,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for the party, said.

Asked why they felt it was necessary to tell voters that the party would be checking on whether they voted, Puglia said “the contract here is very clear. We believe people should show up to vote on Tuesday.”

He noted that Republicans across the country are throwing up barriers to voting and therefore “Republicans want you to stay home.”

The Connecticut Republican Party and Republican gubernatorial challenger Tom Foley’s campaign teamed up to send out similar mailers reminding voters “These records are available for your review, and for neighbors to review to see who votes and who doesn’t vote each election.”

The mailer says they will stop calling and mailing to remind voters to vote, if they call the number on the mailer and confirm they will be voting.

“We have certainly sent mail pieces designed to encourage our supporters to vote and some of those mailers have been targeted to voters who have missed previous elections, but we definitely haven’t resorted to threatening voters and attempting to shame them with a ‘voter report card’,”  Zak Sanders, a Republican Party spokesman, said Friday.

Two Yale political scientists who study voter turnout — Donald P. Green and Alan S. Gerber — came up with the experiment the Democratic scorecard seems to be based upon. In 2006, they sent four different mailers in a Michigan primary. Each group of 38,000 voters received a different message, but the one that increased turnout the most was the one that asked: “What if your neighbors knew whether you voted?”

This group voted at a rate of 37.8 percent — almost 8 percent more than the control group, according to this article in Pacific Science magazine.

Shayla Nunnally, an associate professor of Political Science at the University of Connecticut, who had not read Green and Gerber’s research on the issue, said she read the mailers and “immediately felt uncomfortable about the message.”

“The terse language seemed in some ways intimidating to voters,” Nunnally said.

The message was so harsh that it made “me question the source of the material and the intentions of the persons who constructed the message,” she added.

While these types of mailers have appeared in other parts of the country, it makes her wonder if it could have the opposite effect and suppress voter turnout.

She said some voters may “feel that their privacy is being violated and their right to decide to vote being infringed upon in such a way that their political efficacy becomes empowering by challenging the notion that it matters whatsoever that they voted,” or “others feel as if their privacy may be challenged so much as to not only record whether they voted, but also how they voted.”

Even though she has not read the study, Nunnally wondered about what type of impact these mailers have on different ethnic and racial groups.

“Although the researchers use experiments to test their claims such that each subject in the experiment should have a random chance to receive the treatment in the study, various social factors, especially race and ethnicity and political consciousness linked to these social groupings, may influence how persons in the experiment reacted to the shaming, as I mentioned above due to the historical sensitivity to voting issues among these groups,” Nunnally said. “Again, I must emphasize that I have not read the study, but I would offer this as an important thought about the possible effects of this tactic on interacting with voters.”

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(25) Archived Comments

posted by: Joebigjoe | October 31, 2014  12:20pm

Wow, that is creepy, and on Halloween no less.

Maybe this will cause enough angst to put Foley over the top. It seems like a major screwup to do this, but probably not as bad as Sen mary landrieu of Louisiana who might have just given the Republicans the Senate with her Obama race and anti- woman Southerners comment. The creepy part of that is many Dems are against what she said, yet many like it.

posted by: CitizenCT | October 31, 2014  12:22pm

Seems like an incentive to re-register as an independent.

posted by: robn | October 31, 2014  12:55pm

The mailer…Weird and vapidly unempathetic.


posted by: ASTANVET | October 31, 2014  12:57pm

the party is watching… i’m sure google didn’t sell them the meta data from all their search engines.  I’m going to read 1984 again… although i didn’t realize it was an instructional manual.

posted by: Noteworthy | October 31, 2014  1:30pm

Yet another defense of the indefensible. Just record Puglia and hit play. And for the record, why can’t the DSCC ever just answer the question directly and honestly?

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | October 31, 2014  1:33pm

To say this is tone deaf in the post Snowden era is being kind to tone deafness. A 23 year old Democratic operative from Maine told me on Twitter this morning that the purpose was to make voters feel “uncomfortable.” Like we don’t feel uncomfortable enough with governments overreach into unauthorized surveillance? Like trust in government and it’s institutions and efficacy isn’t already at an all time low? Do these folks really have their heads that far up their tuchases?

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | October 31, 2014  1:41pm

It’s not just the Dems that are creepy with the data. I just got a mailer from CT GOP addressed to me and my son like we are married. As Son commented: “Well that’s gross for a whole host of reasons!” It was sent my business Po Box. My son has absolutely NO link to my business Po Box other than our last name. How freaking creepy is that?!

posted by: Greg | October 31, 2014  1:43pm

If you did not vote, you will be an enemy of The Party and labeled as a traitor!  Those who defy The Party are not worthy of the glory of his fellow comrades!  The Party is never wrong!

posted by: Breeze | October 31, 2014  2:18pm

Quite possibly the most embarrassing get-out-the-vote tactic ever devised. They’re not going to embarrass the neighbors by releasing their voting record? And the party defends the mailing? Just when you think you’ve seen everything. And are they sure they want everyone to vote? What about politically illiterate who can’t name the three branches of government? How about the state send them a mailer telling them to stay away from the voting booth.

posted by: JamesBronsdon | October 31, 2014  2:33pm

Sarah, I view the creepiness of the GOP’s mailing as of a different order than the Dem’s.  One is mail service bungling (and subjectively creepy to you), the other is intentional messaging(and objectively creepy to any rational person).

posted by: MGKW | October 31, 2014  2:37pm

OK this is a bit creepy…rather then complain though…suggest how you can increase voter participation…especially in a midterm…complain but offer a solution.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | October 31, 2014  2:38pm

James - agreed. Although I would add “to my 21 year old son” as well, because the idea of being married to his mother is pretty creepy to him, too : )

posted by: Joebigjoe | October 31, 2014  2:40pm

Breeze your last two sentences in your post are wonderfully accurate.

posted by: NoNonsense2014 | October 31, 2014  3:33pm

Not being a registered Democrat, I will miss out on receiving one of these creepy mailings. But I’m creeped out enough just reading this article that I don’t want to vote for ANY Democrat. Perhaps the DSCC hasn’t heard of unintended consequences?

posted by: Not that Michael Brown | October 31, 2014  4:30pm

8% more turnout.  Sounds good.  I’m very interested in this Political Science professor who never read the Green, Gerber and Larimer research.  Even I’ve read it.  And as this article says, it has been used all over the country.  I suggest you go find another PS ‘expert.’  I would like to read *her* study for the hypothesis she puts forward at the end of the article.

posted by: robn | October 31, 2014  4:52pm

Oedipus Votes?

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | October 31, 2014  4:59pm

MGKW - 1) offer better candidates
2) offer better candidates
3) offer better candidates

posted by: shawnski | October 31, 2014  5:17pm

Increased voter participation doesn’t necessarily mean they vote for your guy.  Maybe they vote for the other guy to retaliate.
This is all based on a pre-Snowden study.  People are much more offended by privacy intrusions than they were in 2008, and much less likely to feel the end justifies the means.
I’m not gonna not vote, and I’m not gonna change my vote due to an offensive letter.  I will, however, never give a dime to the DSCC again unless they publicly repudate this tactic.

posted by: Noteworthy | October 31, 2014  9:27pm

The Dems are doing it in NY too


posted by: Not that Michael Brown | October 31, 2014  9:30pm

@shawnski - I’ve heard of voting for the lesser of two evils.  But voting for spite - that’s just stupid.

posted by: dano860 | October 31, 2014  9:31pm

The same thing is happening in New York.
I wonder if it’s coming from the DNC?


posted by: robn | November 1, 2014  8:18am

Staying home or voting against ones party isn’t spite; it’s voicing vehement disagreement with a party leadership that has veered way off track. In the case of the CT dems it’s their fealty to state and municipal unions (most visible in Malloys endorsement of Toni Harp PRIOR to the Democratic mayoral primary in New Haven that has raised the hackles of many Democrats because it exhibited a crass centralization of power.)

posted by: Joebigjoe | November 1, 2014  8:19am

After reading the Daily Banter piece about how its not just NY and CT, but other states as well, maybe we have this all wrong.

The Dem party mastered Big Data to get their message out with Obama and the ground game going in the right spots. They may have psychologists on staff that have determined that this is how a large number of Dem voters respond. I can’t think with this new info that this appproach wasn’t fully vetted and planned.

Assuming that’s accurate, what does that say about a portion of the Dem voters (not all since I see some here not liking this) and the way they can be manipulated and coerced to take action.

Maybe in the weeks to come we’ll find out that they did use psych experts to determine this approach. If true, what does that say about this country and our future?

posted by: cjn | November 1, 2014  8:32am

Common Core assessments for voters?  Now I know how teachers feel.
With all the money that is spent on elections intrusive,creepy, big brother report cards tells me its time to cap spending for all candidates.  Budgets are good training for actually serving the public interest.

posted by: Sarah Darer Littman | November 1, 2014  1:50pm

Son received not just one, but two mailings today from CT Forward. That’s after the two creepy “Ve are Vatching You Vote” mailers addressed to him this week, plus assorted other anti-Foley mailers, and the creepy GOP incest mailer addressed to my business PO Box, which even my significant other, who does database stuff for a living and does business mailings himself had to work hard to figure out how THAT could have happened. This election can’t be over soon enough. A pox on both of their mail order houses.

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