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Increase Turnout by Helping Voters Make a Plan to Vote

February 18, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

When you understand why people behave as they do, you can use that knowledge to your organization’s advantage. Marketers learn these behavioral science principles to create compelling copy and images. Political scientists do the same type with get-out-the-vote campaigns.

In Pennsylvania, during the 2008 presidential primary, infrequent voters received a call asking if they planned to vote in the primary. Then, a randomly selected group of those voters were asked three questions:

  • About what time do you expect you’ll head to the polls on Tuesday?
  • What do you think you’ll be doing before you head to the polls that day?
  • Where do you expect you’ll be coming from when you head to the polls?

The callers had no interest in their answers. But, Todd Rogers, the man behind this field experiment, was interested in their actions after the call. Rogers, a behavioral scientist and Assistant Professor of Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School, was testing a psychological concept: implementation intentions. He wanted to learn whether people are more likely to perform an action, in this case, voting, if they have already visualized doing it. 

His experiment revealed that scripts prompting people to think through the logistical details of their plans for voting are more than twice as effective as standard scripts that simply ask people if they intend to vote. “When people articulate the how, when, and where they plan to implement an intended behavior, they are more likely to follow through,” he said. “This shows that cognitive planning and mechanical logistics, not just motivation, are part of the voting decision.”

President Obama used this same mobilization technique in a video on behalf of Cory Booker’s campaign for the U.S. Senate. At the 0:45 mark, the President asks viewers four “make a plan” questions:

  • When are you planning to vote?
  • Do you know your polling location?
  • How are you going to get there?
  • Do you have someone you want to vote with?

Help your voters make a plan.

You can try these same presidentially approved tactics with your voters. You could ask leaders, volunteers and other influencers to discuss voting plans with others in online communities, on social platforms or in person. However, there is a quicker, more effective way to reach many voters, especially if you don’t have the resources to call each one.

During the first few days of the election, email a poll to those who haven’t yet voted. Tell them their answers will help you to understand and improve the voting experience:

  • What day/time of day do you anticipate voting?
  • Will you vote while you’re at work, home or somewhere else?
  • Do you plan to vote by paper ballot, online or by phone? What device will you use to access the online voting platform?
  • Is there anything you need to learn about the voting process, candidates or issues before you vote? How will you do that?

“There’s a lot of research showing that thinking through the actual moment when you will do something makes it more likely that the behavior will pop into your mind at the appropriate time,” said Rogers. Your voters’ answers will provide useful knowledge for your election marketing and management efforts, but more importantly, the first three questions will help them start the planning process – the When, Where and How of voting.

making a plan to vote

Photo by JacQuLyne (Flickr CC license)

A Simple, Intuitive and Quick Voting Experience Increases Turnout

February 04, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Voters are busy. Between work, home and other obligations, many of them believe they don’t have the time to participate in your election or voting event. When making decisions, like whether to take time to vote, the human brain weighs the risk vs. the reward — or the pain vs. the gain. In the midst of a busy day, people won’t take the time to vote unless they believe the reward (or gain) is worth risking their time (or pain).

That’s why you have to minimize any perceived hurdles associated with voting so they think of the experience only as a gain, not a pain. Political scientists have seen this pain vs. gain scenario play out in Election Day field experiments. When voting centers were located in convenient spots, the turnout of people who wouldn’t normally vote increased by up to 10%.

Encourage voters to learn about candidates and issues.

When people aren’t familiar with or don’t care about the candidates or issues, they’re much less likely to vote. By making it real easy for them to educate themselves and demonstrating the impact of their vote, you’ll remove one of the most common barriers to voting.

Provide user-friendly voting technology.

The voting process must be simple, intuitive and quick. When the desire to vote strikes, don’t let anything slow down the voter or stand in their way. Your organization has an advantage if you offer online voting because all your voter will need is access to the web. In just a few minutes, they can vote — anytime, anywhere.

Make the voting experience user-friendly.

  • Provide just enough instructions so voters understand what to do without experiencing information overload.
  • Avoid confusing or lengthy ballots. Voters don’t want to wade through paragraph after paragraph about candidates, deadlines, instructions, etc. They will abandon the ballot if it’s too long or too difficult to understand.
  • Candidate bios and materials should be viewable without having to leave the ballot, for example, displayed in pop-up boxes.

Here are some of the voter-friendly features of our eBallot platform. If your online voting platform doesn’t measure up, give us a call.

  • Instead of issuing a unique username and password for voting, use Single-Sign-On (SSO) so voters can log-in with their regular website, database or community credentials.
  • Online ballots must be quick-loading with error-checking built into the platform. Automated error alerts help your voters fix mistakes or omissions as they occur, and ensure that no mismarked or bad ballots are submitted.
  • Voters should be able to navigate easily through the voting process. A status bar helps them understand where they are in the process.
  • A large “VOTE” button and an affidavit message make it clear to voters that they are officially casting their ballot.
  • A review screen gives voters the option to review and go back if necessary.
  • A confirmation page not only lets voters know their vote has been submitted, but also gives your organization an opportunity to thank them for participating. You can also provide links to other elections (chapter, regional or national) or other voting events/polls.

Provide immediate support.

Make it easy for voters to get help during the voting process. Despite your best efforts to simplify the process, some voters may still need assistance. For online voters, the most common problem is forgetting their username or password if their cookies are disabled. Include a “Forget your username or password?” link so they can get that information immediately.

Provide a help hotline phone number and email address on your voting platform, so voters can easily reach out for help. Today’s consumers (and voters) have a higher expectation of online support than in the past and expect immediate answers no matter the time or day.

After the election, ask voters to complete a brief (one to three questions) survey about their voting experience so you can continue to make improvements.

If you provide a pleasurable voting experience, voters will take the time to vote again in the future and speak positively about their experience with others.

Provide a simple, intuitive and quick voting experience to increase voter turnout

This guy doesn’t think he has time to vote. Can you blame him?
(Illustration by Urs Steiner/Flickr CC license)

Tips for Recruiting and Training Leadership Candidates

January 28, 2014 9:05 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Finding qualified leaders is the second biggest election challenge after voter turnout, according to the participants in our benchmark survey, Votenet Index of Association and Non-Profit Voting and Election Trends. Prospective candidates are out there, but your organization might have unwittingly erected too many barriers between them and the path to leadership.

Members don’t seek out leadership opportunities for a number of reasons.

  • They don’t believe they have the qualifications, time or money necessary to serve.
  • They don’t think they fit the leadership mold or know the right people.
  • They know little about the organization’s governance and, therefore, can’t imagine getting involved at that level.
  • They’re not willing to climb the long leadership ladder.

Some of these perceptions are valid. They’re also good reasons not to pursue leadership opportunities. For example, if someone is a new parent, they have little time and energy to devote to pursuits beyond work and home life.

However, many people dismiss the idea of leadership because they do see barriers in the way. For example, the idea of a leadership type, although based on a misperception, is a reality for prospective candidates. Or, maybe it’s not a misperception at all, but a reality that leaders and staff don’t want to admit is there.

Make leadership more transparent and accessible.

Besides taking a hard look at your organization’s leadership culture to determine whether the culture itself is a problem, you should also demystify leadership in an attempt to make it more accessible.  Use your website, blog, magazine and other publications and platforms to provide information about your organization’s governance and officer, board and committee positions. Share as much information as possible about position qualifications, expectations, responsibilities and impact. Explain how the nomination, appointment and election processes work.

Deepen the pool of leadership candidates by giving members the chance to develop leadership skills through training, mentorship and volunteer opportunities. If leadership prospects are backing off because they’re not willing to put in the time required, maybe you should rethink position responsibilities. Can responsibilities be divided and/or shared? Can work be delegated? What can be done to make leadership more appealing to busy members? What can be done virtually instead of in person?

Encourage candidate recruitment at in-person events.

Prospective candidates can learn more about the reality of leadership through conversations, Q&A sessions or meet-ups with your organization’s leaders.

  • At conferences, invite members interested in leadership to open houses in a leadership lounge where they can talk to leaders in a casual environment.
  • Publicize “meet the leaders” hours in a membership booth on the trade show floor. 
  • Host a reception for leadership prospects where they can meet current and past leaders.

Offer online options for prospective candidates.

Some candidates won’t be able to attend in-person events. Make sure they have a chance to learn about leadership opportunities too.

  • Promote the leadership webpage where members can learn about the nomination process and leadership positions – election rules, description of positions, time commitment, meeting and travel requirements.
  • Provide opportunities for prospective candidates to have a conversation or Q&A session with leaders via a webcast or conference call. 
  • Publish videos and podcasts of leaders discussing their leadership experience – their path to leadership, what the first year was like, benefits/rewards, responsibilities and time commitment. 
  • Create a discussion group in your online community where questions about the nomination process and life as a leader can be answered.

 Ensure fair campaigning and elections by training candidates.

Campaigning helps build election awareness and buzz. Through campaign events and materials, voters become more familiar with the candidates and make better decisions.

However, there’s a downside to campaigning. Candidates and their supporters might spend too much time, energy and money on making the race a distracting and divisive popularity contest. The ideal is somewhere in the middle. If your organization’s policies prohibit or limit campaigning, make sure voters can easily find the information they need to make a good decision.

To ensure candidates campaign fairly and in the best interest of the organization, require them to attend an in-person or virtual candidate training session to review election and campaigning rules. Emphasize their responsibilities to the organization as a whole, not to any particular constituency. Provide advice on how to speak effectively about ideas and issues. Discuss volunteer opportunities for those who aren’t elected.

You’ll recruit more candidates if you make the leadership ladder less intimidating and make leadership more transparent and accessible. By providing the training candidates need to run fair campaigns, your voters will have the opportunity to elect the best leaders for your organization.

Photo by Ken Lund (CC license)

Prepare for a Future Election with a Look Back

January 21, 2014 8:35 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Ideally, an election is the culmination of a year-long effort to increase voter or member participation in your organization. You don’t have to promote the election for a whole year, but you do have to lay the foundation for it.

Election marketing and administration are just two factors influencing voter participation. As we’ve discussed in other posts, leadership development, candidate recruitment, nomination process, voter education and engagement all play a role in voter turnout. If your organization has paid attention to these factors, you’ll be ready for election season.

Before you start marketing your election, spend some time reviewing recent elections and any voting data you’ve collected. Your online voting platform should be able to provide the data and reports you need. The better you understand the behavior of your voters and the factors that influence their decision to vote, the more successful your marketing efforts will be.

  • What percentage of eligible voters participated in the last few elections? 
  • After reviewing voter demographics, do you notice any voting patterns by region, industry segment, age, career level, membership type or level of involvement? 
  • Were there governance changes that might have affected (or will affect) participation? 
  • How competitive and/or diverse were the candidate slates? 
  • What time of day and day of week were heavy or light voting periods? Which days were the peaks and valleys during the election period? 
  • Review email marketing reports from past election campaigns to see which types of emails were most effective for each voter segment. Which headlines worked best? What type of messaging or calls to action were effective? 

By reviewing data, you can establish benchmarks, develop goals and figure out which tactics worked and which failed.

Use post-election surveys to learn more about voters and non-voters.

If you sent out post-election surveys to voters and/or non-voters, review those results. If you didn’t, make plans to send out surveys this year to both voters and non-voters. Limit the surveys to two questions.

  • What prompted them to vote? Or, why didn’t they vote? 
  • Do they have any suggestions to improve the voting experience?

If survey respondents reported barriers to voting, have you made any changes to solve those challenges? Can you before the next election? If you made changes based on voter and non-voter feedback, be sure to tell them how you responded to their ideas.

Bigger isn’t always better.

Some factors of the voting experience will never be in your control, for example, the size of your organization. Our benchmark survey and client data reveal that smaller organizations have a higher rate of turnout than larger organizations. Organizations with less than 500 eligible voters had an average voter turnout of 60%, while those groups with between 500 and 10,000 voters had average turnouts ranging from 20% to 26%.

In smaller organizations, people are more motivated to vote because their one vote could truly affect the election outcome. They’re also more likely to know the candidates personally. However, organizations of all sizes can increase voter turnout with tactics based on behavioral psychology, marketing and political science research, and our analysis of Votenet client data.

Rethink election timing.

Our Votenet Genome Project reviewed client data from more than 30,000 voting events, we learned that the highest voter turnout occurs in elections lasting 10 to 21 days. Adjusting your election duration may mean a change in bylaws or policy, but it’s worth it. However, if you’re still running paper elections, you may need to add more time to allow for a mailing window.

The timing of leadership elections is often based on an annual meeting schedule, fiscal calendar or tradition. Yet, voter behavior (the decision to vote) is influenced by their own personal and professional calendars. Align the two when possible. Don’t schedule elections during months when your voters are distracted by heavier than usual professional or personal responsibilities.

Our data revealed that March, April, September and October are the best months for an election, i.e., they produced the highest turnouts. The elections with the lowest turnouts occurred during summer and holiday months — January, July and December. These findings may not apply to organizations whose industry or profession operates on a different seasonal calendar.

By studying voter behavior and past elections, you’ll have a better understanding of what it will take to mobilize your voters during your next election or voting event.

Photo by Courtney Dirks (Flickr CC license)

Help Voters Connect with Leadership Candidates

January 14, 2014 8:39 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

Have you ever seen a sample ballot for an upcoming local election and realized that you don’t know anything about any of the candidates? It’s much easier to blow off an election, making excuses to yourself about how busy you are, when the names on the slate mean nothing to you.

One of the participants in our benchmark survey told us, “When we conducted non-voter surveys, the biggest reason our members give for not voting is that they do not feel like they know the candidates.”

Michael Boa, Director of Communications and Marketing at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS), found out in a post-election survey of non-voters that his members felt the same way. “Many of our members weren’t familiar with the names on the ballot so they declined to vote. We also found out that members don’t have a lot of time to spend learning about the candidates.”

That’s the key: time. If you provide your voters an easy and quick way to learn about candidates, they will be more likely to vote. As a result of what they learned, CAS increased the amount of information they provided about the candidates but kept it “concise and easily digestible.” Boa said, “When a member has easy access to information about candidates, even just a bite-sized amount of information, we believe he/she is more likely to vote.”

Here’s what CAS now asks each candidate to provide:

  •  25-word statement about themselves and/or their candidacy that CAS posts on their online ballot page and includes in election marketing emails. “You’d be surprised how effective a candidate’s statement can be in only 25 words,” said Boa.
  •  100-word summary about themselves and/or their candidacy that CAS posts on the website and includes in the newsletter they publish just before the election opens.

Some organizations still like to provide a deeper look at candidates, for example, the American Meteorological Society includes a long bio for each candidate as a pop-up on their online voting page.

The American Association of Clinical Chemistry has a webpage dedicated to long candidate bios, but election administrator Elaine Davis said hardly anyone reads them. “Members get overwhelmed by all that information. They don’t want to take the time to read through the long bios, especially members who wait until the last minute to vote.” Her observation shows why short bios are so important to obtain.

Always include photos of the candidate on your election webpage and online voting platform alongside their biographical or other information. Photos help voters make emotional connections to candidates and increase the likelihood they will vote. You could also ask candidates to provide links to their online profiles, for example, their online community profile, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, website or blog, so voters have another way to check them out.

Publish an election guide.

Election guides help voters determine which candidates are more closely aligned with their views. Many organizations ask candidates a standard set of questions and publish their answers alongside a photo, short bio and links to their website and social profiles. Election guides are published online as part of an election webpage and often included in print or digital magazines.

Videos foster connections.

Photos are good, videos are better. Videos help humanize candidates. Instead of filming a monologue, record a short interview with each candidate. Ask them all the same questions about hot industry or organization issues. But, remember, keep the videos short, ideally under three or four minutes – that means you’ll have to limit how long each candidate takes to answer questions.

You could post a video for each candidate in which they answer all the questions, and you could also post a video for each question answered by all the candidates – either way you’ll have to get your video-editing skills up to speed.

The Special Libraries Association records their candidate videos at their annual conference – a tactic that ensures the videos appear uniform and professional. They post the videos to their YouTube channel where they also upload recorded candidate Q&A sessions and other association videos.

Many of your eligible voters don’t know much, and consequently, don’t care much about your organization’s governance and leadership. Make it incredibly easy for them to learn and care about the election and candidates, so they won’t have any excuses for not taking a few minutes to vote.

Give voters the opportunity to get to know leadership candidates

Creative Commons licensed photo courtesy of The White House Photo Office


Webinar Recap: Change Voter Behavior by Treating Them Like Stars

January 09, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout, Webinar by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

We’re pretty predictable, us humans. We respond to certain stimuli exactly how those doing the stimulating hope we will. Blame it on psychology.

This week, Dr. Melissa R. Michelson, Professor of Political Science at Menlo College, joined us once again for a 15-minute Super Tuesday webinar: Change Voter Behavior by Treating Them Like Stars. She explained how to apply an effective psychological principle to your organizational elections.

The bottom line is this: people really enjoy being recognized and thanked. If you keep this in mind, you can encourage people to behave in the way that you want and to continue doing things that you want them to do, like voting.

Oh, really, where’s the proof?

This behavioral principle certainly makes sense, but there’s science to back it up. Dr. Costas Panagopoulos, Director of the Center for Electoral Politics and Democracy at Fordham University learned from his experiments that thanking voters for participating in a past election increased their likelihood of voting in an upcoming election. It turned out that this tactic even worked for people who hadn’t voted before!

In another experiment, he told people that if they voted, they would be listed in a civic honor roll published in the local newspaper. Turnout increased significantly. In a study not related to voting, the same principle applied: individuals were more generous in giving to charity when pledges of support were made public.

Other scientists found that this type of public “star treatment” increases good behavior (like voting or donating) more than financial rewards. This finding corresponds with what Daniel Pink writes about in his book, Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us — extrinsic motivators, like money, aren’t as effective as intrinsic motivators.

Social norms are so enormously powerful that behavior becomes catchy. When you show eligible voters what other people in their network are doing, they’re more likely to do it themselves. They will model themselves on that peer behavior and conform to the social norm of voting.

Apply these principles to your organizational elections.

Tactics that take advantage of this behavioral principle can also be applied to other activities, besides voting, for example, sponsorship, volunteerism, event attendance and political action. Here are a few ways to apply these motivational principles to voting.

  •  Thank eligible voters for participating in past elections and remind them that another opportunity to vote is coming up. If you haven’t kept voting history records, go ahead and thank everyone. It worked for the political scientists! 
  •  During the election, publish an honor roll of people who have already voted. 
  •  Give recognition to those who voted. Provide ribbons or stickers for meeting badges. Award digital stars or badges that they can display on their online community profile or personal websites. A simple “I voted” might do, but perhaps you can come up with something more impactful like, “I made a difference” or “I’m shaping the future.” 

We all like being recognized and appreciated. Treat your voters like the stars they are.

treat your voters like stars

New Year’s Resolution: Review Your Leadership Nomination Process

January 07, 2014 8:45 am in Increasing Voter Turnout by Michael Tuteur, Votenet CEO

The majority of our benchmark survey participants (62%) said their second biggest election challenge, after voter turnout, is recruiting qualified leadership candidates. A limited or homogenous slate of candidates is an uninspiring slate of candidates – and will discourage voter turnout. What’s worse, the wrong type of candidates puts your organization’s future at risk.

Recalibrate your leadership ladder.

One of the biggest barriers to leadership is the perception your members and constituents have about your organization’s leadership culture. Is leadership thought of as an old boys’ network, clique or country club? Even if those perceptions aren’t true, many members may see leadership as a difficult-to-break-into club.

For example, members may think the path to leadership follows an unofficially defined ladder that excludes members who don’t fit the “standard” profile. To break this perceived or real barrier, your organization should highlight the many paths to leadership beyond those followed by leaders in the past.

If it takes more than five years to climb your leadership ladder, it’s time to make some adjustments. People no longer have the desire to spend years serving time while waiting for their turn to make a difference. You’ll lose leadership talent to other organizations if you don’t find ways to provide opportunities for people to contribute at the highest levels.

Take the mystery out of leadership.

Give members the opportunity to develop their leadership skills. Many organizations provide leadership development programs – workshops, academies and mentoring programs – to nurture the next generation of leaders.

Make it easy for members to learn more about life as a leader. Host events where those interested in leadership can talk to current and past leaders either in person or virtually about their responsibilities, workload and other aspects of serving. Use your website to teach members and voters about your organization’s governance process and leadership opportunities.

Review nomination criteria.

The nomination process should be transparent, inclusive, easily understood and based on objective criteria. Review your nomination criteria to see if they prevent the participation of members who have transitioned from other careers, moved from other states, have limited financial resources, or haven’t been as active but have the skills and knowledge your organization needs.

The criteria your organization uses for leadership nominations must be objective and easily understood by all. Nancy Axelrod of BoardSource suggests three “dimensions” for selecting prospective candidates:

  • Eligibility requirements, for example, membership status, membership type or certifications
  • Desired competencies
  • Diversity criteria

Diversity criteria could take many different factors into account:

  • Geographic, for example, rural/urban, east/west, global/U.S.
  • Personal demographics
  • Specialty or interest
  • Industry segments

Other factors to consider include specific skill sets and demonstrated volunteer interest and leadership. Don’t neglect prospects with leadership experiences in other organizations. 

The nominating committee at the American Meteorological Society prepares a diverse slate of candidates who represent a balance of subject matters, sectors (government, private and academic) and demographic factors.

Staff at the Casualty Actuarial Society (CAS) provides their nominating committee a comparison of the geographic and employment data of continuing board members with the membership at-large, so they can identify any gaps in representation. To prevent the exclusion of suitable candidates who might have been overlooked, CAS allows eligible members to petition for a place on the ballot if they submit the signatures of 1% of eligible voters.

Michael Boa, Director of Communications and Marketing at CAS, says, “Allowing petitioning candidates to be included on the ballot diversifies the candidate pool because these individuals may not be as well-known as the candidates selected by the nominating committee.”

Before your next election cycle, take some time to review your organization’s nomination process and ask yourselves a few questions:

  • Is the process easy to figure out for someone who is not currently active in the organization?
  • Would it inspire that person to get involved so they could be on the election slate in a few years?
  • Are your elections producing the same type of leaders year after year?
  • Are voters uninspired by organizational elections?

Don’t stop at reviewing your nomination process; you might need to take a hard look at your organization’s leadership culture and governance too.

association or union leadership ladder

How welcoming is your organization’s leadership ladder?
(Photo by Vox Efx – Flickr CC license)