Voters Describe Latest ‘Big Brother’ Mailings As ‘Veiled Threats’ and ‘Creepy’
(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.”
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.
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.”
“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.”