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Vote-by-Mail Isn’t Going Away (Our New Ballot Dropoff Tool Will Help)

Vote-by-mail and early in-person voting accounted for over 60% of all votes cast in the 2020 record-breaking turnout election. If you agree that more people voting is positive (Republican legislators in many states disagree), then you’ll agree vote-by-mail and absentee voting should be expanded. This will require investments in shared infrastructure and tooling. We should not continue to force each state, campaign, or advocacy group to fend for themselves and rebuild the same technology platforms every 2–4 years. We need digital-first tools that will last so that organizations can make vote-by-mail a core part of organizing. That is why today, Tech for Campaigns has open-sourced a customizable Ballot Dropoff Locator tool (which we built in 2020) to empower more organizations to turn out voters of all backgrounds with confidence.

Check it out on GitHub

Why We Built (and Are Sharing) It

In politics, building lasting software tools is critical to long-term success, but perennially difficult given the boom and bust rhythm of US elections. States and large campaigns often build different versions of similar software every two years — rather than sharing and investing in making one version better. It’s similar to what you see happening with the COVID-19 vaccination rollout, where each county is largely on its own. After the 2012 and 2016 elections, the Obama and Clinton presidential campaigns’ digital tools were not distributed widely, forcing states and progressive groups to rebuild technology from the ground up or go without.

Digital campaigning is now table stakes and we need tools that account for this. For advocacy groups to be truly successful at driving voter turnout, they need software that integrates every voter touchpoint with the digital marketing stack. They need to know which likely voters have yet to return their ballot. They need tools to nudge those voters to return their ballot safely. And if a voter begins the process of returning their ballot but “drops off,” these organizations need a way to help those voters get back on the right path. Tech For Campaigns’ Ballot Drop Off Locator tool gives organizations complete control of this part of the Get Out The Vote funnel so they can remove bottlenecks and improve conversion.

Ballot Dropoff Locator being used to look up dropoff locations in Pennsylvania

How It Works

For voters, the Ballot Dropoff Locator tool enables them to quickly find ballot dropoff locations based on their ZIP code or provided address. They can see dropoff sites organized by distance from an address, ‘open hours’ when a dropoff location is accessible, and other special instructions.

For organizations, the Ballot Dropoff Locator tool enables them to:

  • Provide customized data about dropoff locations in an easy-to-use interface
  • Deep-link voters to the best dropoff locations based on full or partial address information. For example, if an organization has a voter’s zip code or address handy, they can pre-load it into the URL provided to the voter, and the closest locations will automatically load. This removes a step in the funnel, simplifies the lookup process for a voter, and increases the likelihood their ballot will be returned.
  • Enable digital marketing techniques that turn out more voters. Organizations can use best-in-class remarketing and advertising techniques, like firing pixels or other digital events, to engage voters and encourage ballot return. With full control over the experience, organizations can observe which voters fail to use the Dropoff Locator, and then easily serve them ads on Facebook, Google, and other platforms to nudge them back to the tool.

Tools like the Democratic National Committee’s I Will Vote are excellent for many GOTV use cases — and are a good example of changing attitudes around building permanent infrastructure — but for independent groups like Tech For Campaigns running large digital independent programs, a custom integration provides key advantages.

“New tools like this from Tech for Campaigns enable all kinds of organizations to improve voting participation by meeting voters where they are, on digital channels. TFC is making it easy to customize out-of-the-box experiences with your own organization brand, your own measurement tracking, and your local needs.” 
— Jeff Glueck, co-founder of Hawkfish

Wikimedia Commons

Building this tool on a very short timeline required the efforts of Tech For Campaigns’ skilled volunteers, staff working on vote-by-mail programs, and in-state partners. Volunteer Brad Rodriguez, Director of Engineering at Magnite, said: “The Ballot Dropoff project provided a lightweight way to lower the barrier for voters in key states to make their voices heard. It was a fun and humbling experience to build this app, and aggregate ballot dropoff data from dozens of data sources, in a matter of a few weeks.”

The Ballot Dropoff Locator tool is licensed under the MIT License and is freely available for organizations on GitHub. Visit techforcampaigns.org for more information.

Thanks to Andrew Ardito, Arif Ali, Jack Lenehan, Brad Rodriguez, Jai Withani, Maya Wei, Xaviea Bell, Kevin Laube, Ayelet Bitton, and Anubhuti Jain for their work on this project.

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