Reaching the Politically Invisible Voter

8 mins read

Reaching the politically invisible voter

Millions of Americans entitled to vote aren’t in the Voter File. They’re invisible to most campaigns.

Voter files collect voter registration information (which is a matter of public record) and supplement it with information about potentially unregistered people from commercial data brokers. These lists often leave out the poor, those without credit cards, non-homeowners, those who move frequently and people who haven’t voted before.

Traditional political campaigns overlook people not in the Voter File. They are not targeted for contact by direct mailers or in-person canvasses. Invisible Americans are harder to find but also deserve their right to vote. How can outreach be expanded to reach them? How can they be identified quickly, easily and affordably? This blog explains:

1. Who are the politically invisible and why are they often overlooked?
2. How to find residences with potential voters that are not currently in the Voter File
3. Locations where the homeless are likely to be found
4. How to build contact lists of politically invisible voters

The invisible American doesn't appear in commercial lists nor the voter file based on how data is collected. It's time to think outside the box to give them a voice in elections.

Politically invisible voters

“The American voter-registration system was established as a tool to limit voting to landed men. The listed electorate is whiter, older, wealthier, and more conservative than the general citizenry.

The politically invisible are more liberal and from historically marginalized groups. They are poorer, more financially vulnerable, younger, and more likely to be non-white than registered voters. The invisible have lower levels of political engagement, and are much less likely to report contact with candidates and campaigns.

“A scientific survey showed that at least 11% of the adult citizenry is unlisted. An additional 12% is mis-listed (i.e., not living at their recorded address). These groups are invisible to list-based campaigns and research, making them difficult or impossible to contact. 40% of Blacks and Hispanics are unreachable, but only 18% of whites. The unreachable are poorer than the reachable population, have markedly lower levels of political engagement, and are much less likely to report contact with candidates and campaigns. They are heavily Democratic in party identification and vote intention. The politically invisible are more liberal and from historically marginalized groups. Yet, traditional voter file based campaigns miss them.”

– Politically Invisible In America – Jackman, S., & Spahn, B. (2021). Politically Invisible in America. PS: Political Science & Politics, 1-7. doi:10.1017/S1049096521000639 (excerpts)

Finding people not in the Voter File

Finding potential unregistered voters who are not currently in the Voter File involves two steps. First we find all the known residences in an area including houses, apartments, retirement homes and trailer homes. This information is available from a number of list brokers and available for as little as $0.001 per address (that is 1/10th of a cent). Next get the Voter File for that area.

Comparing the two lists yields the addresses of all the residences without a registered voter. This involves the use of fuzzy logic which can compare two addresses that might be spelled differently. A computer doesn’t easily recognize that “123 Main Street”, “123 Main St” and “123 Main St.” are all the same location. The output is a list of addresses with potential unregistered voters. Learn more about how to apply fuzzy logic to finding unregistered voters here.

Finding people living in an area but not in the Voter File and registered to vote

In this example, the yellow dots are a list of 100 residences in KeyWest. Next, the known voters in the list are mapped. These are shown as the 40 pink dots. By using fuzzy logic we can identify the 60 records of residences (shown as blue dots) with potential unregistered voters that should be contacted.

Locating potentially unregistered voters by matching lists of all the residences with existing registered voters. Fuzzy logic enables such matching even when the addresses are spelt differently.

Reaching the homeless & needy

Homeless shelters, free and affordable medical and dental clinics

This map shows homeless population clusters. It can be freely shared with this link or embedded in a map with this line of code:
< iframe width=”300″ height=”200″ frameborder=”0″ scrolling=”no” allowfullscreen src=””></iframe>
Check these links for details on specific shelters and clinics:

Shelter List
Shelter Listings
Homeless Shelter Directory
Free / Low Cost Medical Clinics
Free / Low Cost Dental Clinics

Building contact lists of the invisible

It’s challenging to collect contact lists on for people without stable accommodation as they do not have a regular mailing address but they usually do have phones which they use to find homeless shelters, food banks and stay in touch with others.

“Many may view a homeless person’s ownership of a smartphone as an unnecessary extravagance, in reality, experts say, this demographic is one that is most dependent on the technology as a resource for stability. In addition to being an essential way to keep in touch with support services, case workers and to look for jobs or housing, a mobile phone can also serve as an “escape from isolation” and a way to create networks to combat social exclusion.” – The Guardian

The homeless use limited, pay-as-you-go data plans and seeks free WiFi locations. Offering free WiFi is a cost-effective way for organizers to collect contact details from the homeless. A hotspot with unlimited bandwidth costs $3/hotspot which can be located at the homeless shelter, from a car parked nearby or from a nearby store. Users first request the WiFi hotspot password and in the process opt in to get other messages. Details.

Use Free WiFi hotspots to help the homeless and build contact lists

Offer resources and special offers such as the free Soul Food Meal program that Mothers of Hope used in Kalamazoo. Details on the people who sign up are saved before they receive a digital coupon with which they can redeem the offer. Details.

Use special offers for the homeless and needy to encourage them to opt in to be contacted
Use special offers with mobile coupons to encourage the needy to opt in to get further messages

TakeAway: Voting isn’t just for the wealthy homeowner who shops regularly. Think beyond the Voter File to reach the politically invisible Americans so they can have their say too.


Acknowledgement: Thanks to Mira Weinstein, founder of Organizing to Win for sharing the article on the Politically Invisible in America.
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Originally posted on DEMLABS BLOG

DemCast is an advocacy-based 501(c)4 nonprofit. We have made the decision to build a media site free of outside influence. There are no ads. We do not get paid for clicks. If you appreciate our content, please consider a small monthly donation.

Democracy Labs is a hub for ongoing technology and creative innovation that serves progressive campaigns and organizations at the national, state, and local levels.

Our focus is on long term, sustainable and affordable solutions. An approach that is longer than an election cycle, and isn’t purely dependant on volunteers, can enable more qualified candidates to run for office and for more issue groups to bring about positive social change.

Democracy Labs is a project of the Tides Advocacy Fund.

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