By Vickie Dunn, Ellen Mowbray, Scott Brown
We are still in the middle of our vote by mail postcarding campaign in Pinellas County Florida but we wanted to share our incredibly positive experience with other grassroots groups around the country. It isn’t too late to get a campaign going. This is particularly true in FL, MI, WI, AZ and NC that are all battleground states with “no excuse required” vote by mail programs.
After Ellen and I retired and moved to Florida last year, we got a beautiful handwritten postcard addressed to “VIP Voter” asking us to sign up for vote by mail. We signed up. We showed the card to Vickie Dunn at church one Sunday. Vickie is part of the local Indivisible group. Vickie, who had run a large scale postcarding campaign in 2018, indicated that she was thinking about doing a vote by mail (“VBM”) postcard campaign in conjunction with the 2020 election. We liked that she was experienced, we already knew that carding works.
At 35 cents a card, 90% of the cost of a post card campaign is postage. Some campaigns require carders to supply postage. We didn’t want to do that. So we asked people to buy stamps or contribute money if they could. To date, more than half of our cards have come back with postage or contributions.
Do not buy your cards commercially. You will get charged up to 25 cents a card and the cards aren’t that good. It cost us $150 to have a graphic artist design a VBM card that was specific to Pinellas county. Then we went to our local union print shop and she made us 80,000 cards for four cents each. Don’t print address lists and instruction sheets from your home inkjet printer either. A commercial print shop can do it better and faster for a fraction of the cost. The print shop also can print the instruction sheet on the back of the address list. Just email them the copy. Other campaign costs include shipping if you have out of area carders, manila envelopes for card kits and art supplies. Our 80,000 card campaign is costing us about 39 cents per card or $31,000. The coordinators will pay a third of that cost, the carders will pay another third and other supporters, hopefully, will cover the rest.
We knew we wanted to send cards to our Pinellas County neighbors. Pinellas, the largest Florida county to go for Trump in 2016, is a key battleground. Like many other battleground states, Florida has a “no excuse required” VBM program. An ACLU study of the 2018 election found the Pinellas Board of Elections to have an excellent VBM program with one of the lowest ballot rejection rates.
We decided to send cards to non-politically affiliated (“NPA”) voters. We didn’t want to duplicate other VBM campaigns directed at Florida Democrats. We also noticed that NPA’s were only half as likely to be signed up for VBM as the rest of Pinellas voters. Among the 132,605 NPA’s in Pinellas who are not VBM we wanted to focus on the progressives. With the help of Lisa Perry at Common Ground Florida we got an NGPVAN address list of every left-leaning non-VBM NPA in Pinellas County. We removed duplicate and out of state addresses. The resulting list had 80,973 names on it. We stripped the voter names off the lists so that we would be addressing “VIP Voters.” That way, if someone moved, the cards might work on the new resident.
Vickie’s carder group from her 2018 campaign quickly mobilized. I was surprised by the people’s enthusiasm to do something to help get Trump out of office. We set up Monday night card parties at our church. People could sign out 20-card packs wrapped in an address list and an instruction sheet. Card parties were as much a central exchange as a place to work on cards. People would show up, drop off finished cards, pick up new packs and go. During our first week, we handed out 1,620 and got 500 completed cards back.
Over time we came up with a simple one-page instruction sheet. A link to it is on our website. We learned from experience. Leave room in the upper right hand corner of the card so a stamp will fit on it without blocking the address. Don’t use regular stamps. Postcard stamps are 35 cents. Use the addresses we give you. Don’t send them to your friends. Don’t mail the cards. Give them back to us so we can keep track of them. Don’t criticize Trump. Partisan messages are a turn off. Keep it short. Here is what we recommend:
Hi VIP Voter, I am a Pinellas volunteer who votes by mail. It makes voting so easy! No lines. No hassle. No Covid-19. Signing up is a breeze. Call the number on the front of the card or go online. Your vote is your voice. Thanks! Judy
We set up a simple spreadsheet tracking system so we would know who had card packs, when they got them, when we got them back and if the cards were stamped. We filed the completed cards in big aluminum pans that hold about 1,000 completed, stamped cards each.
Covid-19As our postcard project was starting, Covid-19 happened. We had to shut down the card parties. We switched to an online order process with pick up and drop off at the coordinator’s houses. People who aren’t able to leave their homes receive delivery service from us. An NIH study concluded that Covid-19 can’t last on cardboard surfaces longer than 24 hours so we let all cards rest for a day before circulating. Being trapped at home and with a safe game plan, our carders doubled down. They have done more than just write. Many have stepped up to make huge personal and financial contributions to the campaign that I call random acts of grassroot activist kindness.
Going Hi Tech
One of our carders made a web page for us. She included a link to a volunteer enrollment form and a card kit order form. New volunteers are automatically added to our Google group. Email blasts to the group enable us to quickly communicate updates to the campaign. Our carders effectively use the website link on their social media to promote the campaign. Thanks to our web capability, our Pinellas group has quickly grown from under 100 to over 270.
More Random Acts of Kindness
- Several of our veteran carders have established their own groups. They come to us and take twenty-five or even fifty 20-card packs, disappear for a few weeks and then come back with finished cards and take more. Other carders have recruited neighbors, people from their apartment complexes and condo buildings to help.
- In addition to Vickie’s house and our house, three carders volunteered their homes as depots to minimize travel to pick up and drop off card packs across the county. Each depot coordinator receives card packs, instruction sheets, kit envelopes, rolls of stamps and admin access to our online pack tracking system.
- I mentioned our campaign on a nation-wide Indivisible Slack site and the response was overwhelming. In early April, we shipped over 14,000 cards to the west coast progressive groups.
Videos of Wisconsin voters wearing masks crowded in lines for hours convinced a lot of people that VBM was the only viable answer. On April 11th we asked our carders to sprint for an early May mailing so we could take advantage of VBM being in the news. In the two weeks since our appeal, our Pinellas carders have doubled the number of cards they produced since the beginning of the campaign in early January. With the west coast card production expected to come in this week, we could have 40,000 cards to post in early May. But we won’t stop until all 80,000 left-leaning NPA’s in Pinellas get their card from us. Our main takeaway from this campaign is that there are countless people who are just waiting for an opportunity to work to get a change in the White House. All you have to do is ask.
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