CEO Update: Polls close in 89 days

Debra Cleaver here, founder and CEO of VoteAmerica. Every so often I send an email update to everyone in my work contacts. There are about 4000 contacts, and almost all are people I know personally. Apparently these emails are fun to read. So in the interest of spreading joy, I’m going to cross post these emails on our Medium. If you’d like to receive these emails, just shoot me an email at my work address. If you don’t have my work address, well, one day we will be friends and then you will have it. 😄

Subject line: Polls close in 89 days
Sent: August 8, 2020

Vote by mail FTW

Hi friend,

Election season is always stressful, but this year is … something special. At the risk of sounding hyperbolic, our country’s descent into fascism is accelerating. The nonsense coming from the White House is a direct attack on every value Americans — or decent people — hold dear. Even the Federalist Society is alarmed and calling for presidential impeachment. Good times.

The VoteAmerica team is bracing for utter madness. Donald Trump contested an election that he won. We shudder to think what he will do if (when?) he loses. Nothing in our nation’s history has prepared us for November 2020, but the plan of action remains unchanged. We are working to ensure that turnout is high enough that the election results are decisive.

On the bright side, the VoteAmerica team is the strongest I have ever worked with. We’ve got alums from a total of 14 different presidential campaigns. We have decades of collective experience, and a shared Rolodex that is just bananas. In 2018, I lead efforts to reach over 40 million voters. With this new team, I’m confident that we will reach at least 100 million voters, provided we can raise the capital.

Here’s what we’ve been up to the past few months:

A full suite of open-sourced, embeddable, voter turnout tools

  • We went ahead and built the tools we’ve always wanted to exist, and then we open-sourced them so that they continue to exist even if VoteAmerica does not. Everything lives at
  • We made the decision to open-source our technology because we stand by our work. The Iowa Caucus fiasco would not have happened if the larger community could see the code.
  • The toolset if comprehensive, and embeddable. Anyone can use our tools as part of their voter turnout efforts.
  • You can see all the tools we’ve built on our homepage (
  • Verify registration tool: Voters in all 50 states + DC can check their registration status using our simple lookup tool powered by Alloy and Targetsmart.
  • Register to vote tool: Quickly allows voters in all 50 states + DC to submit their form; integrated with online voter registration states.
  • VBM sign-up tool: Helps voters sign up for a mail-in ballot in all 50 states and DC; fully integrated with the states that have online VBM signup options.
  • Polling place locator: A simple mapping tool to help voters find their early voting or Election Day voting location.
  • Local Election Office (LEO) directory: Quickly find contact info for your local election office.
  • Election reminders: All voters who use these tools will receive election alerts and proactive information by email.

Support for other organizations

  • We are literally giving the tools away for free to other nonprofits because it feels grossly unethical to charge for technology in 2020.
  • We’re also honoring contracts that groups have signed with other technology providers. If you’ve already paid someone else, and you want out, just show us proof of payment and we will honor this. No one needs to pay twice while the world is on fire.
  • We’re also giving away our data. We have a team of 4 researchers gathering over 90 data points per state, including everything from voter registration deadlines, to voter ID laws. Anyone can use this data to power a voter engagement hub.
  • Check out our developer docs if you’re interested in learning more.

Our innovative solution for paperless VBM signup

  • The vast majority of states do not let voters signup for VBM online. Folks in these states are expected to print and mail forms. This is an untenable barrier, since home printer ownership has been in the low single digits since 2011.
  • But (and this is nerdy) a mess of states will let you fax in your VBM application as long as it’s signed.
  • So we built technology that lets voters sign by taking a photograph of their signature, and then submit via fax using their cell phones.
  • This will enable70+ million Americans to signup for VBM without printing and mailing forms.
  • So for this solution is live in eight states (GA, IL, MA, NE, NH, ND, WV, WY), with more on the way.
  • The New York Times covered this technology a few weeks back.
  • If we do nothing else this cycle but build this solution, we will have done enough.

Summer vote-by-mail (VBM) research program

  • During the summer primaries, we tested various messaging and tactics to learn the best methods for VBM recruitment (getting voters to sign-up) and chase (getting voters to return their ballots).
  • We sent 785,000 peer-to-peer messages to people of color across five states.
  • We tested 8 different messages, and also tested SMS vs MMS.
  • MMS is the winner, but it’s significantly more expensive.
  • Coronavirus messaging is also the winner for VBM recruitment, which surprised us. (We assumed this messaging would be too anxiety provoking to be effective — but this is why we test)
  • We had hoped to publish final reports by now, but the states are slow to release data — AS ALWAYS.
  • Full results and study to be released within the next two weeks.

College campus: students and campuses

  • In 2018, our campus program reached 8.5 million college students, 40% of whom were students of color. Turnout on campuses where the program ran was almost 2% higher than control campuses.
  • This is probably the single most cost effective program I have ever run, and it scales very, very easily.
  • Currently, 64% of colleges have announced and confirmed students will be on campus or at least some classes will be in-person.
  • We are prepared to engage students whether they are on or off of campus through out-of-home (OOH), print, and digital marketing.
  • We launched the first phase last week by sending print and digital materials to 686,917 students across 27 schools in their campus orientation materials.
  • View the printed mailer here.
  • We asked students to sign up for election reminders so that we can engage them around important election dates, encourage them to register to vote, sign up for VBM, and return their ballot, etc.
  • We are currently working to raise the financial resources to reach 13 million students across the nation’s top 1,000 campuses.
  • Review the Campus Program Deck.

Peer-to-peer SMS messaging

  • It is my fault that you get so many P2P SMS messages. In 2016, I was the first person to buy millions of cell phone numbers and hire folks to send messages to voters. I predicted that this would work, and it would become the dominant outreach tactic by 2020.
  • You can watch my now antiquated YC demo day video here:
  • Since then, my teams have sent over 50 million P2P messages, and produced more than 200 pages of academic research (
  • P2P works, and we’re going to use it this year for voter registration, VBM recruitment, VBM chase, and Election Day registration efforts
  • As we pioneered in 2016 and ran in subsequent elections, we will send millions of peer-to-peer (P2P) SMS messages for voter
  • We are ready to launch in critical, battleground states but require the funds to cover the program’s texting costs.


  • We’ve grown to 19 full-time staff members and interns (4 new hires in the last month).
  • This is, by far, the most talented and experienced team I’ve ever assembled, and it shows by how much we’ve accomplished in several short months.
  • Our staff includes campaign alums from 14 different presidential campaigns.
  • This team is not fucking around.

How you can help

  • We have the team, technology, and expertise to connect with millions of voters and now we need more money.
  • The best way to reach crucial voters is via a multi-channel marketing strategy.
  • Field is out this year. It’s just not happening. Which means the programs that I’ve been running for literally the past 16 years are more relevant than ever.
  • No one will turn out more voters on fewer dollars than VoteAmerica. Our programs are so cost effective that other groups get pissed at us for sharing our stats. (Here’s one: we’re registering voters at 31 cents per form right now.
  • A financial contribution will enable us to reach crucial voters in battleground states.
  • VoteAmerica is 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization so 100% of your contribution is tax-deductible.
  • A generous donor has covered 100% of our operating and staffing costs for the year so all monies raised go directly towards program costs.

If you’re interested in supporting our work, please make a tax-deductible donation here:

Debra Cleaver
Founder and CEO

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