Here’s an interesting approach to contacting voters by email, via Charles Lenchner of DemocracyInAction, who thought of it while doing volunteer work for a city council candidate in NYC. Several companies will take a database of voter names and physical addresses (which candidates can get from the state parties) and do an “email append” to add email addresses for as many people on the list as possible. The emails come from consumer databases and they’re typically available for 15-20% of names on a given list.
The downside? No one on the list has expressly opted-in to receive communications from a campaign, so we’re basically talking about spam, although political communications officially don’t count as unsolicited commercial emails. But even if they’re legal, out-of-the-blue emails from a candidate or campaign are likely to yield a poor response, which is why most campaigns use email to build relationships with existing supporters rather than as an outreach tool.
Charles’s idea? Instead of sending out generic messages from the candidate, why not recruit and train volunteers to work with the people on the voter list who are in their neighborhoods? Just as campaigns send out “walk lists” of potential supporters for volunteers to visit based on the voter file, they could provide volunteers with an “email list” of neighbors for them to contact directly. Interesting approach, though of course it requires campaigns to be comfortable with volunteers communicating on their behalf. But, if they’re not comfortable with people acting for them online, they’re not going to be able to take much advantage of most of the new generation of internet political tools.