CEO Update: 14 Days To Go And Things Are on Fire!

About once a week I send an email to the VoteAmerica Insiders list. At the request of many of the recipients, I’ve decided to cross post these emails on publicly. Feel free to share and to donate:

VoteAmerica’s 2020 billboard design.

VoteAmerica is a voter turnout organization, not a voter registration organization. I say this because over 85% of Americans are already registered to vote, so simply signing up new voters won’t solve the voter turnout problem. Americans don’t vote because it is objectively harder to cast a ballot in the United States than in any other nation with democratically elected leadership. So the key to increasing turnout is identifying and removing roadblocks to participation. Sometimes the roadblocks are knowledge-based, meaning that citizens don’t know when and where to vote. Oftentimes, the roadblocks are created by elected officials who proactively seek to suppress turnout. VoteAmerica tackles both issues: we provide rigorously fact-checked information to voters and best-in-class technology while making it abundantly clear to elected officials and government employees we will not tolerate voter suppression activities. Democracy is not a spectator support, and we are not fucking around.

Messing with Texas

For the second time in as many years, the team has stepped up to build critical election infrastructure for the State of Texas. In 2018, we built an “online voter turnout” tool for Texas that created a paperless workflow for Texas voters by submitting completed voter registration forms via fax and then printing and mailing a copy to the County Clerk within 4 days. This was a smart, inexpensive solution to a truly stupid problem, namely Texas’s refusal to build an online voter registration system for voters. We were quite pleased with ourselves for this one. The Texas Secretary of State (SOS) was less pleased, and almost immediately accused us of breaking the law by following the Texas law as written. If you’ve been on my update list for a while, you know how this played out. The Texas SOS made some vaguely threatening statements, we shut down our tool, and Perkins Coie immediately sued. The lawsuit is still active, and eventually, we’ll win and Texas will have online voter registration (which is the case in 41 other states and DC). In the meantime, we’re finding interesting ways to mess with Texas’s commitment to voter suppression:

  • First, we added support for printing and mailing voter registration forms for people who used our register tool and didn’t have a printer. We didn’t have the funds to turn this on for all 50 states, but we did turn it on for Texas.
  • Second, we sent 2.5 million P2P SMS messages to unregistered Texas voters encouraging them to vote. Ultimately, 13,754 Texans registered using our tool and asked us to print and mail the forms for them.
  • Third, we sent paper voter registration forms (along with a pre-stamped and addressed return envelope) to 39,074 people who moved to or within Texas. We focused specifically on renters because renters are significantly more likely to be members of the Rising American Electorate (young voters, POC, and unmarried women) and are also significantly less likely to vote.
  • Finally, we built a ballot tracking tool for Texas. The tool lives at, and went from conception to launch in about 72 hours. While the website says VoteAmerica, it was actually a joint project of a handful of humans, all of whom share a commitment to increasing voter turnout. The Texas SOS publishes this data, so they’re technically on the team, but I fully expect them to threaten to sue us any day now for using public data to create a public service. In the meantime, the Texas Democrats are overjoyed and are promoting the heck out of this tool.

Speaking of lawsuits

  • The Florida online voter registration system crashed on October 5, 2020, which was one day before the voter registration deadline. Within 12 hours, VoteAmerica retained the services of the Campaign Legal Center and prepared to file a state (or Federal) lawsuit as a way of forcing Florida to extend the deadline. In this instance, the threat of a lawsuit was sufficient, and Florida extended the deadline.
  • As of about five hours ago, it looks like we’ll be filing a preliminary injunction against the state of Pennsylvania for attempting to purge the voter file of individuals that the Social Security Administration has deemed “deceased.” The SSA, bless their hearts, has a long and well-documented history of declaring people deceased who are very much alive and well.
  • There’s also a chance that we will file a second lawsuit against Pennsylvania. Their online voter registration tool requires citizens to enter their PA driver’s license number, but this system is also rejecting valid PA driver’s license numbers.
  • More on both of these lawsuits as they unfold.

Our GOTV programs are hot like fire.

  • WHERE TO VOTE tool. In partnership with USDR (the U.S. Digital Response), we built a WHERE TO VOTE tool that locates early voting locations, official dropbox locations, and election day polling place locations for voters. The tool pulls from multiple data sources, including the Google Civic API, and is the most comprehensive tool available. It’s also embeddable, so feel free to embed it on your sites. Polling places move, early voting locations close, and nefarious actors put up fake ballot drop boxes, so having a trusted source of this information will increase turnout. You can send traffic to our site ( or you can embed it on your website. The code is here:
  • P2P SMS: The VoteAmerica P2P team is shattering all known P2P records. The team has sent over 75 million (not a typo) messages to low and mid-propensity voters, and is currently sending over 3 million messages a day with the ability to scale up to 6 million without issue. They spent the first few weeks focused on voter registration, and are now all-in on early voting reminders and vote-by-mail chase. The program has targeted 25 million voters in 20 different states and 206 different congressional districts.
  • Text-based voter helpline. Voters who use the VoteAmerica tools are automatically opted into our email and SMS-based election reminders program. Within days of turning this program on, the team noticed that dozens of voters were replying to our shortcode (48298) with requests for help. So along with volunteers from Google and Slack, the team built a text-based voter helpline. Anyone who texts HELPLINE to 48298 is connected with a trained volunteer who provides help via text. This is already cool, but the really cool part is all of this runs through a Slack Workspace. Inbound SMS requests for help are routed to state-specific Slack channels. Trained volunteers are assigned to specific states, and reply to the voter questions from within Slack. The Slack workspace has a Twilio integration which converts the Slack response into an outbound SMS message. The volunteers receive and send messages from within Slack. The entire thing is very, very cool, and also effective: in the 7 days since launch, over 100 volunteers have been trained and 1,000 voters have been helped to date. We expect the requests for help to soar as we get closer to the deadline. (If you’re interested in learning more about the software, check out If you’re interested in volunteering, sign up at )
  • Campus outreach. Despite COVID-19, the overwhelming majority of 4-year schools are providing an on-campus experience for students this year. Dorms and campuses are open, even if classes are held via Zoom. The VoteAmerica team has been running campus programs for years now and has consistently seen a turnout boost of between 2 and 6 percentage points, based on the length and breadth of the program. We’re currently active on 227 of the most competitive college campuses in America, in a comprehensive program targeting 2,710,614 students. That is a mind-boggling number of students.
  • HBCU outreach. Our campus program includes a historic investment in HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities). We are running programs on 94 out of 107 HBCUs. This is the largest coordinated HBCU program in history. Whenever possible, we bought out all of the campus media inventory. And when those campuses didn’t have inventory, we worked with Flytedesk to create and sponsor inventory from scratch in the form of campus voter guides.
  • Billboards. As noted in a past email, 37% of Americans surveyed in October 2016 didn’t know when election day was, which helps explain why 41% of Americans didn’t vote. Billboards and other out of home (OOH) media are an inexpensive way to fill this educational gap. We’ve put up almost 3000 billboards over the past 3 years, and have shown that billboards provide a consistent and cost-effective boost to turnout. This year we’re focusing on digital billboards (lower production costs) in three critical states: Arizona, Georgia, and North Carolina. This billboard promotes both early voting and Election Day voting.
  • And GOTV campaigns are working. Americans are voting in record numbers in 2020, and they are undeterred by voter suppression tactics such as limiting drop boxes to one-per county (fuck you, Texas), or 10-hour lines at early voting centers (fuck you again, Texas, and Georgia and North Carolina as well).

Funding opportunities.

  • VoteAmerica team is still actively raising and deploying capital in a cost-effective fashion. As noted above, while many teams are scaling down, we’re just getting started. Americans are registered to vote, and now we need to pull them across the line. And we need to do this while facing record election chaos. There is a virulent stream of disinformation coming directly from the White House; a deadly airborne virus that has crippled the economy and killed over 220,000 Americans; hostile foreign interference from Russia; nefarious actors who are doing everything in their power to keep votes from being counted (from lawsuits designed to stop ballots from being counted, to installing fake ballot drop boxes, to setting legitimate drop boxes on fire).
  • VoteAmerica has a $796,000 funding gap that we need to close this week in order to run our P2P program for the 7 days leading up to Election Day. We need to raise another $189,460 to run our billboard campaigns in the three most competitive states in the nation for the 7 days leading up to Election Day. In other words: we do not have the funds we need to run the most cost-effective voter turnout programs in America during the most critical voting period in American history.
  • This is unfortunately not uncommon in the nonpartisan voter turnout space. Although the lion-share of voter registration and turnout work is done by nonpartisan organizations, the overwhelming majority of funding goes to partisan groups and their media buyers.
  • At the same time, we have the opportunity to expand our current programs. We can easily expand our billboard program into more competitive states and congressional districts. And we can go bigger on our campus program. For $1.2m we can add 4 touch-points to 1.5 million students in Arizona, Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Florida, North Carolina, Georgia, and Texas. For another $600k we can text 640,000 students right before Election Day. We have a partnership where we can access student directory data — so we can text entire student bodies in states with Election Day Registration. These are unregistered voters that no one else is talking to.
  • Here’s a deck on the campus program expansion:

My grandfather used to say that if you have a problem that can be solved with money, and you have money, then you don’t have any problems. Here we have two problems that can be solved with modest amounts of money, and a chance to invest additional money in two of the most cost-effective voter turnout programs ever run. And every dollar donated to VoteAmerica is tax-deductible.

14 days left to go!

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