Traverse City Record-Eagle

Archive: Sunday

November 4, 2012

Resident receives voting records of herself, neighbors

KALKASKA — Leslie Mertz received a "creepy" mailing in her mailbox on Halloween that she said "screams of invasion of privacy."

The letter from Virginia-based Americans for Limited Government thanked Mertz for her dedication to voting in the past and provided her with an audit of her voting record.

It also gave her an eyeful of her husband's voting record, as well as her Kalkaska Township neighbors' voting records. The audit included their names, addresses, and a "yes or no" of whether they voted in 2004 and 2008.

The letter states it will send an "updated vote history audit to you and your neighbors" after the election.

"Who asks for that stuff?" asked Mertz, a freelance science writer and educator. "It's not anything we want to see. I don't want to see our neighbors' voting record. It's just ridiculous."

Mertz and other area voters are getting a glimpse of an edgier, get-out-the-vote strategy.

ALG didn't return a reporter's phone call, but responded with an email signed by Communications Director Richard Manning. The group has "one goal and one goal only, to increase participation in the electoral process," Manning wrote.

"We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone's rights," Manning wrote. "While some may find the ability of campaigns or civic groups like ALG to access voting history worrisome, the reality is that in a representative democracy using voter lists and histories is a fundamental tool."

Political operatives believe that by showing people how they stack up against their neighbors, they're more likely to vote, said Tate Hausman, director of management at, another group that targets voters with the peer pressure tactic.

"Democracy works better when everyone votes, and we know it's going to be a super close election. We think when people get their vote score, they'll think, 'I can improve my vote score.' Who doesn't want to score better? Who doesn't want to win? It's the gamification of voting," Hausman said.

The concept originated with an electric company that applied the research of psychologist Robert Cialdini. The company figured out that if they told people how much electricity their neighbors used in a "friendly, neighborhoody competitive way, it was the most effective and easiest way to get them to save energy. took that same psychology and applied it to voting in a "fun, memorable, easy-to-digest way," Hausman said. recently mailed 12 million flyers to registered voters, six times the size of the ALG mailing. The colorful flyer shows children and a headline, "Congratulations on your first Voter Report Card!"

Hausman said tried to put together a flyer that wasn't invasive — a voter score card that doesn't specify names and addresses, but does show how the voter stacks up against the neighborhood based on the last five elections. scientifically tested out the flyer's effectiveness in a 173,000-voter primary election in Delaware. Voters who received a "Voter Report Card" turned out in significantly higher numbers than two other control groups — one that received nothing at all or a different flyer, said Hausman, who declined to specify just how much higher the vote was.

Both Manning and Hausman acknowledged that voter history data contained in their mailers is occasionally wrong, but rarely.

Mertz said the letter she received motivated her, albeit in an unintended way.

"The only thing it did was make me want to look up that organization to see its viewpoints "¦ it may cause me to vote against what that organization is promoting."

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