Everybody has heard about the early voter.
Every campaign knows there are a group of voters that turn their ballots in as soon as they get them in the mail.
Generally, this is about thirty days before election day.
But guess what?
Most campaigns fail to get a single mail piece out before those ballots arrive.
For some reason, the fact that most states have been allowing all voters, especially here in Californa, to vote by mail early, for nearly 20 years now, campaigns still often operate like they are in the 1980’s.
The focus from campaigns still seems to be mostly on the election day voters just like thirty years ago.
The majority of campaigns don’t get their act together soon enough to make sure those first pieces get out.
This is the 21st Century, in some states voting by mail makes up a majority of voter turnout. In Oregon, elections are completely vote by mail.
It is amazing that this even needs to be discussed.
Like the early bird that catches the worm, the candidate who catches the support of the early voters, is in a powerful position to win the entire Election.
With absentee voting, election cycles are much different than in past years.
With regards to early voters, those who are not first are last.
Early Voters are the people who complete their ballot, affix a stamp, and put it in the mail right after receiving it.
They know it is coming, all things equal, they know who they are voting for and will do the same thing election after election.
Yes, they are absentee voters, but early voters are unique amongst absentee voters.
Remember, most absentee voters walk their ballot in or mail in with the last 10 days of the election.
It is only a few voters that actually send them in early.
A good data vendor, if the information is available in your jurisdiction, can tell you when certain voters most often turn in their ballots.
Just mailing to those classified as early voters and not all absentee voters will save you money.
However, if you do not have the right data, just mail to all absentee voters early.
You can always divide your mail between absentee voters and Election Day voters, and mail each universe is appropriate.
This all takes planning and working out messaging, design and production early, but it is often well worth the extra effort.
The Pitfalls of Not Mailing to the Early Voter.
If you don’t ask for their vote you probably won’t get it.
With these early voters, if you don’t ask them early, before they get their ballots, and give them a reason to vote for you, it is not going to happen.
A while back I worked for a candidate who ran for Mayor of a small city.
He was a well-liked councilman who decided to challenge the incumbent Mayor.
Early polling showed the race to be a coin toss.
My client, for some reason, checked out of the campaign.
He did not make it possible for us to get a single piece of mail out until about two in one-half weeks before election day.
On Election Day, my client lost by less than 30 votes!
After analysis, we found that we totally bombed with early voters.
But we won overwhelmingly with Election Day voters.
Had we mailed early, like the incumbent Mayor did, my client would likely be the Mayor today.
This story, which I have told before, serves as a great illustration of the necessity of mailing real early.
How Early to the Early Voter?
How early is too early? It really depends on the type of race, but also on the campaign budget.
But many winning campaigns, even down ticket school board or local city council races, start sending their campaign mail at least a few weeks before the first ballots arrive.
You may even want to mail a month or longer before those ballots get there.
Campaigns that really have their act together, start reaching out to voters months before the first ballots arrive.
Your budget will ultimately determine what you are capable of doing.
Most early voters know who the incumbent is and what the issues are.
Early voters are likely to go along with a known incumbent or candidate unless they are given a better option.
But it will take a while for the early voter to get comfortable with a new message and a new person – so work them early.
Not only should you mail to them early, they should be the first voters whose doors your knock on.
If you are a challenger this is critical to get out there with plenty of time to change minds.
As an incumbent, you don’t want to start losing your base to a newcomer.
If you are Not Mailing to the Early Voter, You are NOT WINNING!
You want to go into Election Day with votes already cast for you waiting to be counted.
Don’t think of the campaign as a climatic event occurring for a few weeks before Thanksgiving.
Think of the campaign, as a two three or four month period of pitching to voters with mail, walking, phoning and what other means you have.
Again, remember, with absentee voting, election cycles are much different than in the past.
Be first in the mail box or you will most likely be last on Election Night.