How to Magnify the Blue Wave with Armchair Activism

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I just wrote 10 letters to Democrats I’ve never met who normally don’t vote, encouraging them to go to the polls on Nov. 6th. I’ve never done anything like that before, but then, I’ve never lived in times such as these before.

Vote Forward is a novel, all-volunteer effort offering a quick and easy opportunity to help flip Congress blue by sending letters. The partially handwritten letters encourage low-propensity voters in key swing districts to vote.

Vote Forward writes, “Letters have proven effective in multiple randomized trials. In Alabama in 2017, we saw a 3.9 percentage point boost in turnout vs. a control group (3.4pp after controlling for age, gender, and other factors, [analysis by Analyst Institute]). In a larger experiment in the OH12 special election in August, 2018, we saw a 1.44pp effect [analysis by Annie Wang]. Letters take just 90 seconds each to produce, making letter-writing one of the most efficient uses of volunteer time….We are carefully targeting letters to voters with the greatest influence on control of Congress. In most cases, (these) voters are less than 75% likely to cast a ballot, but if they do vote, are more than 90% likely to vote for the Democratic candidate.”

Vote Forward is targeting districts “most likely to determine control of the House,” noting “We also prioritize districts in states with important senate or gubernatorial races, and districts where we (have) connections on the ground who can help kickstart volunteer efforts…(this process is) Perfect for introverts, stay-at-home parents, and folks who don’t live close enough to a swing district to go there and canvas. As one letter-party organizer explained, ‘it’s better than yelling at the TV!'”

Recently the pool of volunteers jumped from about one thousand to over 10,000 when an article ran in the Daily Kos and 9,000 of their readers signed up. Two of the 28 target districts have been completed ahead of schedule. Vote Forward noted today, “For obvious reasons (ahem, SCOTUS), many of you have expressed an interest in writing letters to North Dakota and Nevada. Today we purchased data for voters in North Dakota, and for one of the competitive districts in Nevada (which of course helps with an important Senate race as well)…We hope to have these districts live on the site within the next couple of days. “

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Cynics may say otherwise, but one vote can indeed make a huge difference. I t did in Newport News, Virginia, last November, when 23,215 people cast their votes for state delegates. Incumbent Republican Del. David Yancey won by 10 votes, but then they had a recount. After the recount, his opponent, Democrat Shelly Simonds won by 1 vote. There was a big celebration — Republicans had maintained control of the Virginia House since 2000, and the current balance was 51-49 before Simonds won. Her victory meant that Dems would have more power than they’d had in 17 years. But the next thing you knew, something not completely clear happened with one of the votes. The judges debated behind closed doors for a couple of hours, and then the results were tied. In Virginia, a tie is broken by the flip of a coin. Yancy won. If Simonds had gotten a couple more votes, or perhaps even one more vote, it would have been much harder to take her victory away, whether removing it was completely legal, or not. And that would have changed the balance of power in the state. This happened in the district right next to mine, so the story motivated me.

Sending these letters is pretty easy, Vote Forward offers printed and video instructions. You can also host a letter writing party, and Vote Forward offers guidelines for that, too.

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The minimum commitment is five letters, but you can send as many as you like. I did ten.

Here’s what you do:

Sign up at Vote Forward. It takes about a day before they get back to you with approval, but you can access lots of info in the meantime and gather your materials.

Then sign in and “adopt” voters by clicking on one of two buttons labeled “Adopt 5 Voters” or “Adopt 25 Voters.”

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Download and print out the letters. The letters have a couple of blank spaces in them so you can personalize them, including one opportunity to say why you vote, although you are cautioned not to mention any candidates by name. I wrote a longer answer to this than was required, and had to squeeze it into the space provided, just because I wanted to share my little story:

…because I appreciate my ancestors’ contributions to this country. I chose your area of NY because it is close to Orange County, home of my great-great-grandfather, who served in the Orange Blossoms regiment in the Civil War. He died in Devil’s Den at Gettysburg, and I always want to honor his memory.

Each letter includes the name and address of the recipient at the bottom. You address an envelope to the recipient and stamp it. You add your return address (not your actual address, the return address goes to a PO Box in the local area so Vote Forward can tally the number of letters that did not get to their destination.) Volunteers provide the stamps, although Vote Forward is currently developing a resource for stamps for letter writers or groups sending 500 letters or more.

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