Shame The Vote: Both Sides Use ‘Vote-Shaming’ To Motivate Voters

Derek Hunter Contributor
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If you live in an area with a competitive race, be it for Senate, governor or any other office, parties and activist organizations want to get you to the polls. In addition to phone calls, knocking on doors and offering rides, activists are now using a different tactic — vote-shaming.

Residents from Alaska to North Carolina to New York are reporting receiving letters with their voting history in them and a not-so-subtle message — vote this time or we’ll tell your neighbors you didn’t.

The letters don’t say which candidate a person voted for, that is impossible to know, but they say whether or not a person voted in past elections. This is public record. However, political parties can make an educated guess based on party registration, past or present, where you live, and other factors.

Public record or not, it’s still disturbing to many who open the letters.

Margie Hall, an Alaska Republican, received such a letter. It contained not only her history, but her husband’s, and several other “friends, neighbors and colleagues.”

“I thought well, somebody is being a righteous idiot,” Hall, a retired nurse, said. “Why would they think that shaming would make people comply?”

The letter was from the “Alaska State Voter Project,” a group that appears to receive the lion’s share of its funding from a retired man in Oregon who supports conservative causes. It opens in all caps with, “WHAT IF YOUR FRIENDS, YOUR NEIGHBORS AND YOUR COMMUNITY KNEW WHETHER YOU VOTED?”

In North Carolina, where the Senate race between incumbent Democrat Kay Hagan and Republican Thom Tillis is extremely close, the Democratic Party is using the tactic to get people to the polls.

The party is sending two different letters targeting voters in four counties. WRAL reports, “One gives them a ‘report card’ on their prior voting history — most are deemed ‘average’ — while the other suggests the voter in question would be surveyed as to whether or not they cast a ballot in this year’s general election.”

The letter’s authority line read, “Paid for by the North Carolina Democratic Party.”

Vice chairwoman of the state’s Democratic Party, Patsy Keever, released a statement on the letter saying, “This is a critical election and it’s important to make sure our voters are getting out to vote. That includes stressing the importance of voting, talking about the voting process and what the stakes are for North Carolina. We will continue to look for every way possible to empower, educate, and encourage voters for the remainder of this election cycle.”

The letter reads, “public records will tell the community at-large whether you vote or not. As a service, our organization monitors turnout in your community, and it would be an understatement to say that we are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.” Concluding, “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

In New York, musician Jonathan Coulton took to Twitter with the letter he received.

Tweeting, “I think the Democrats just threatened me,” with a picture of a letter that reads, “Who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is public record. Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.”

It ends with, “We will be reviewing the Kings County official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.”

It remains to be seen if “vote-shaming” is an effective motivator, though one study suggests it is.