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Georgia: send money and letters – but not postcards

November 21st, 2020, 1:31pm by Sam Wang

From the mailbag:

Noted the thread from Lara Putnam about the Georgia runoffs. I think​ I understand her point that sending 50 or so postcards to random voters in a state with 5 million voters is pointless and serves only to make the postcarder feel useful. That if you want to do something to actually help, donate to Fair Fight or a similar group instead. Do you think postcards are ever effective? Or is it like choosing a Christmas gift for college-aged cousins–just send money?

This is basically correct. To mobilize one additional voter, it would take anywhere from 80 to 500 postcards*. To achieve even that, it assumes that the voters aren’t already being bombarded. That might be the case in a sleepy state house race. The situation is far worse in Georgia, where all eyes are on the two special Senate elections on January 5, 2021. These races will determine control of the U.S. Senate and the fate of President-elect Biden’s agenda.

It used to be that you had to vote in November first, but the law has changed. Anyone who is registered to vote by December 7th can vote in the runoff. If you will be 18 by then, register to vote!

Everyone outside Georgia: if you want to make a difference, give money to register voters by December 7 and to turn out voters. For Democrats, you can give to Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight or other organizations listed in the ActBlue link in the left sidebar. Republicans can give at the WinRed link.

*Update: I’m told that letters are said to be 2 to 3 times more effective than postcards at mobilizing votes. It’s not known why that is, though note that opening a letter requires active engagement by the recipient. Anyway, that improvement might get the amount of necessary effort down to a few dozen letters per vote, which is an improvement.

Here’s a recent report on per-voter effects for other interventions: in-person canvassing (7 percentage points increase) is best, followed by text messages (4 points). There’s one final unknown: does it cost more to send a letter, or to make an in-person contact? If sending letters is a lot faster, then letters may still be a cost-effective approach. So if you really want to do something yourself (which is part of the social and emotional benefit), then write letters.

Tags: 2020 Election · Senate

23 Comments so far ↓

  • Y.

    I read somewhere that only people who have voted in the general election can vote in the runoff. Is that correct? If so, registering new voters would not help.

    • Sam Wang

      No, that is not true. The law has changed! Anyone who is registered can vote in January. The registration deadline is December 7th.

  • Ecology Fan

    Just sent money to Warnock for Georgia (damn, wish I’d waited a day). Should I send money to Ossoff or FairFight? Assume I can’t donate to both

    • Pechmerle

      Certainly you can donate to both. Fair Fight Action is independent of the candidates, and so a donation to that organization does not count toward your limitation for an individual donation to a candidate!

  • ArcticStones

    I am curious: will mail-in ballots be allowed? Do we know the deadline for requesting them, when they are actually sent out, and the deadline for return?

    Also, does anyone know how many, and what percentage, of the Georgia mail-in ballots sent in by voters the Postal Service failed to deliver on time?

    Is Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger making any changes, whether at his own initiative or under pressure, in this run-off election relative to the November one?

    • Pechmerle

      Mail-in ballots are allowed, but only on the old-fashioned system that you have to be qualified to vote absentee: in the military, out of town on election day, etc. It’s not like many other states this year, where anyone could vote by mail. Voter can request an absentee ballot online, at the Secretary of State’s website. Have to have an i.d. such as a driver’s license to verify the voter’s identity.

      Remember – despite the good job counting the votes – this is still a Republican-governed state, so suppressing voting is still part of the picture.

      Deadline to request an absentee ballot is: Thurs. Dec. 31. It would be very risky to wait that late to do so. It is already possible to request an absentee ballot – IF you qualify. Absentee mail ballot must be received by 5 p.m. election day, Jan. 5.

      Early voting (in-person) begins Dec. 14.

    • ArcticStones

      Thanks, Pechmerle.
      I understand controversial restrictions on new voter registration is currently being contemplated.

    • Pechmerle

      Correction: Apparently, anybody can request an absentee ballot. The only catch appears to be that even if you applied for mail ballot for the Nov. 3 general election, you have to request again to get an absentee ballot for the runoffs.

      The exception is if you applied to be a permanent absentee voter, which requires that you be over 65, disabled, in military service, or permanently reside out of the country (federal elections only on that last category).

      Arctic Stones, do you have a citation for new registration requirements for these particular runoffs? I’m not seeing anything like that, but maybe I’ve missed it.

    • ArcticStones

      Pechmerle, my source is Rick Hasen, the renowned expert on election law. Hasen tweeted this about this 11 hours ago:

      “Looks like some folks are going to work to make it harder for people to vote in the Georgia runoff.”

      I’m not good with links, but look for the Tweet where he is quoting True the Vote.

      Apparently Georgia’s State Election Board is holding a webinar on runoff-election related issues at 8am ET today.

    • ArcticStones

      Pechmerle, Stephen Fowler (stphnfwlr on Twitter) is covering today’s meeting of the Georgia State Election Board. Interesting stuff!

    • Pechmerle

      Thanks for the leads. I’ll be very interested to follow this up.

  • Froggy

    “Anyone who is registered to vote by December 7th can vote in the runoff. If you will be 18 by then, register to vote!” — Just to be crystal clear, you don’t have to be 18 by the registration deadline (12/7), but by election day (1/5). Georgia allows young people to pre-register at 17-1/2, with the registration becoming operative at age 18.

  • Dale L Bratton

    Actually, the Georgia Board took liberalizing actions today re the conduct of the runoffs:

    1. Extended use of drop boxes for return of absentee ballots.

    2. Requires the counties to start processing absentee ballots (not count, just scan outer envelopes, signature match, etc.) one week before the runoff, so that results will be available sooner in relation to the election day. Georgia doesn’t allow counting absentee ballots until the morning of election day.

    3. From a press article: “A third rule dealing with residency concerns for new voter registrations was scrapped from the discussion, with the secretary of state’s office instead opting to issue that information to counties as an official election bulletin.” There was talk that outsiders were recommending that people temporarily move to Georgia, register for the runoff & vote in the runoff, then go “home” again. I doubt that there was any widespread advocacy of doing something so stupid, which by the way is a crime under Georgia law. But the Sec’y of State had reacted harshly against news about this supposed movement, and I expect they will be checking residency of new registrants extra carefully for this runoff cycle.

  • 538_Refugee

    This seems bizarre. Since this is a runoff between the top two since no one received a majority, is it even possible to write in a name on this ballot?

    “The group, dubbed the Committee for American Sovereignty, unveiled a new website encouraging Georgia Republicans to write in Trump’s name in both of the upcoming Senate runoff elections, which could determine the party that controls the upper chamber during President-elect Joe Biden’s first two years in office.”

    • Froggy

      Write-in votes, to the extent that they can be made, won’t be counted or reported: “only those votes cast for the persons designated as candidates in such run-off primary, special primary runoff, run-off election, or special election runoff shall be counted in the tabulation and canvass of the votes cast.” Ga. Code 21-2-501(a)(10).

    • Bela Lubkin

      That sounds like an attempt at good old fashioned ratf*cking. Convincing some subset of Trump camp followers to write his name in is like harvesting free votes for the D candidates.

    • Pechmerle

      What Froggy said. From another news story:

      “there is no space for write-in candidates on Georgia’s runoff ballots, which simply ask voters to select one of two candidates.”

      It would be interesting if this trope gained some traction leading to some GOP voters either not voting in the runoffs, or voting blank ballots, in support of Trumpista spite.

  • glc


    Not pro-D, just anti-R who are seen by some as insufficiently committed to Trump and to white supremacy, in GA in particular. They’re willing to take some hostages from what is more or less their own side to advance their agenda.

    Think Bolshevik/Menshevik, or, for that matter, Tea Party.

  • Joey

    I sent money for the runoff, but I also volunteered to write postcards for nurses united. They sent me stamped postcards but no list of recipients! That makes it seem even more useless and an unnecessary expense…tried contacting websites still being built? Need better organization!

  • Joey

    Haha! Never mind…I got a follow up email informing me I will get the list in the near future. Whew.

  • France Davis

    From the Postcards to Voters website: Political scientists have conducted dozens of experiments on the effect of direct mail and find that, on average, mailers increase turnout when they use “messages that emphasize civic duty or the importance of making one’s voice heard” (Gerber and Green 2015, pg. 58). Additional evidence also shows that making the interaction feel personalized, rather than just a blanket message from an organization, is key to increasing the effectiveness of voter outreach.

  • 538_Refugee

    538 has the Democratic candidates with narrow leads. Will the polling be more accurate without Trump on the ticket?

    • Sam Wang

      The polling was already pretty accurate in Georgia in November! I don’t know if it will hold up, but I would say it is wise to proceed as if the races are highly competitive.

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