CEO Update: Big Announcement from VoteAmerica

Debra Cleaver, CEO of VoteAmerica here. I have some positive news to share, which I’m sure we can all use right now. After months of hard work:

  1. VoteAmerica launched our summer research program
  2. And a full suite of powerful, open-sourced voter turnout tools
  3. And now we are raising money to expand the program and technology reach. We have a great team with decades of collective experience, and a program that expands with capital and not labor. We’re also C3, so investments are tax-deductible.

A quick recap

  • VoteAmerica knows that we’re going to be running a very large scale vote by mail (VBM) program in the fall. As of a few weeks ago, we are almost entirely dedicated to VBM, based in no small part on the fact that I have been working on VBM since 2008, when I launched Long Distance Voter.
  • We are taking advantage of the opportunity provided by summer primaries to learn as much as possible about VBM recruitment (getting folks to sign up) and VBM chase (getting them to return their ballots) ahead of the November election.
  • We also know that we can use technology to scale programs while reducing costs.
  • This email talks about both.

First: our summer research program.

  • This is where our Summer Research Program comes in. Our goal is to use the summer primaries to learn as much as possible about messaging, timing, and tactics for VBM recruitment and chase before scaling up for the November election.
  • The goal here is to not set money on fire, and the way to ensure that we don’t is to run a data-driven Fall program based on data gathered now, in the Summer.
  • To that end, we launched our VBM recruitment program with a bang in Georgia on May 18th. We sent 250,000 peer-to-peer SMS texts targeting people of color under 90. We will be adding robocalls as well later this week, while other groups test direct mail. These are all direct marketing tactics, which historically produce high returns.
  • We are targeting a much wider age-range of voters than we would usually target, but Coronavirus is causing us to doubt the reliability of voter propensity scores. Are our high propensity voters still high propensity if they need to navigate VBM for the first time? We’re not sure, and we’re not taking chances.
  • Over the coming weeks we will expand into five more states that are holding primaries: Maryland, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Nevada and Virginia. We chose these states because they are the states having elections, and therefore, the only states we can test in.
  • The program is split between recruitment and chase: as the recent CA-25 election showed us, chase is critically important even in states where everyone is automatically mailed a ballot. For those of you who missed the post-race analysis, older, wealthier, whiter and more conservative voters returned their ballots; younger voters, voters of color, and lower income voters did not.
  • Our program will wrap up on June 23, we will spend July on analysis, and then we will distribute the findings as widely as humanly possible in August.
  • The insights we gain in July from our summer research program will help the larger voter turnout community run research-backed, data-driven, cost effective VBM campaigns in November.

Second: our powerful technology.

  • VoteAmerica’s earliest hires were technologists. This isn’t because technology necessarily solves problems, but because technology can be used to scale solutions. For example, VBM is complicated: each state has a different form, a different set of rules, and there are 10,000 (we counted) different submission addresses.
  • The first version of our VBM tool went live 4 weeks ago. This version provided voters with the correct form and submission address for her state and region. This version also encouraged voters who live in the handful of states that let you sign-up online to leave our tool and finish up with the state.
  • The second major enhancement of our tool went out last week, specifically in the state of Georgia. This version lets Georgia residents sign up for VBM using their phones, without having to print and mail forms, even though Georgia doesn’t have an online tool.
The VoteAmerica vote by mail (VBM) tool is live. Photo from
  • What is this dark magic, you ask? Well it turns out that Georgia is one of 15 states that doesn’t have an online VBM tool, but does let you fax your VBM application in. So our technology turns your phone into a fax machine.
  • Voters who choose this option sign their forms by taking a photograph of their manual signature. The tool places the signature in the correct spot on the form, and then uses the Twilio API to fax the form to the correct Local Election Office (LEO).
  • For the voter, the process is more convenient than printing and mailing a paper form. For the LEO, nothing changes: they’ve accepted faxed forms since the late 90s, and it’s unlikely that this will change soon.
  • According to a 2014 Pew Study, states spend on average $240,000 building online voter registration systems. It cost VoteAmerica less than a tenth of that to build out this online workflow for the state of Georgia, and that includes the money we earmarked to cover the faxing fees.

Our Summer Research Program and our innovative technology are just two examples of the steps we are taking to run a smart and cost-effective VBM program this fall.

Here is the ask:

Without VoteAmerican’s technology, only 43 million Americans can sign up online for VBM ballots. With VoteAmerica’s technology, another 78 million Voting Eligible Americans can sign up for VBM ballots without printing and mailing forms.

  • We’re raising funds to expand our VBM technology to 14 additional states. It costs us $22,000 to add support for another state, and that includes usage costs. So we are looking to raise $396,000 to fully build out the tool. We don’t need the money all at once, since we add states one at a time, but we very much intend to support all 15 states this year.
  • If you’re laying awake at night thinking about the election, consider making a tax-deductible investment in our work. A generous donor has already covered our core operating costs, so 100% of donations go directly to program costs.

Thank you for reading — looking forward to creating a stronger democracy with all of you.

~ Debra Cleaver

One last thing: All of VoteAmerica’s technology was built to be embeddable on other websites. If you know anyone looking for powerful voter turnout technology, including our VBM tool, please ask them to fill out this form for early access.

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