By Darren Smith, Weekend Contributor
A New York based political committee has been accused of sending what many see as an intimidating letter to party voters who have chosen not to vote in previous elections. Whether this is considered peer pressure, inducing worry, or encouraging others to vote has not diminished the controversy and shows an insight into some of the tactics political parties use to generate more votes to their cause. Letters such as this raise questions as to the ethics of shaming voters to vote. The right not to vote is considered a lawful option of the electorate.
The New York State Democratic Committee mailed a letter last week to voters reading:
Our records indicate that you are registered to vote in Kings County:
Who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is a public record. Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.
Here is some of the information you may need to vote:
- The polls are open from 6:00 a.m. to 9:00 p.m.
- You can confirm your voter registration status by visiting
- If you have any questions about voting, please call 1-866-OUR-VOTE (1-866-687-8683).
We will be reviewing the Kings County official voting records after the upcoming elections to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not.
The letter reportedly included a voter report card grading a voter’s participation. Reportedly, these notifications were mailed out to one million registered Democrats who did not vote in previous mid-term elections. The grades consisted of: excellent; good; fair; and incomplete.
Included was a phone number for Election Protection, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voting resource organization. Election Protection spokeswoman Marcia Johnson-Blanco said the organization had nothing to do with the letter, but has received 400 calls from voters concerned about it.
The political committee, chaired by Governor David Patterson, defended the letter calling it a common practice throughout the country.
In a deflection, Peter Kaufman, a spokesman for the committee stated:
“This flier is part of the nationwide Democratic response to traditional Republican voter-suppression efforts, because Democrats believe our democracy works better when more people vote, not less. The difference between Democrats and Republicans is they don’t want people to vote and we want everyone to vote.”
The Associated Press reports:
“The letter relies on peer pressure and the possibility of surveillance to encourage turnout – a tactic that research shows is highly effective compared to more costly and time consuming get-out-the-vote efforts like phone calls and door knocking, according to Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University.
The practice is becoming much more widespread, and similar letters have been reported this election year in Alaska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Colorado and Iowa.
Panagopoulos noted that while they succeed with many voters, “these heavy handed social-pressure messages do generate considerable backlash.”
‘Shaming people to vote works,’ he said. “It’s remarkably effective. … It’s not enough to ask people to be good citizens. What you have to tell them is that their actual behavior is being monitored.”
Such a system does however lend credence into the notion that, like the political tactics used in the mailing of such letters, some of the practices that could come light if voter choices are ever made public, and if in the immediate sense should the right to vote or not to vote be not be subject to public records requests.
By Darren Smith
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