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Designing an Absentee and Early Vote Strategy

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for building an absentee/early vote plan. That’s why we believe in proactively designing a custom absentee/early vote initiative that is unique to each state and the dynamics of each race.

Following the surge in absentee and early voting because of the 2020 Covid pandemic, we saw a split in vote method by partisanship in the 2022 general election.

Republican concerns about election integrity following the 2020 election led many GOP voters to return to voting on Election Day or voting early in person, while Democrats continue to outperform in absentee-by-mail voting.

What effects have GOP voters’ concerns with pre-Election Day voting had on voter turnout?

In 2022, as concerns over COVID-19 subsided and GOP concerns of voter fraud increased:

  • The share of voters who supported Republican candidates who voted pre-Election Day dropped from 62% in 2020 to just 49% in 2022.
  • Meanwhile, voters who supported Democrat candidates who voted pre-Election Day dropped just 17 points, from 82% in 2020 to 65% in 2022.
  • Republican voters remain skeptical of absentee or mail-in voting with only 37% of Republican-supporting voters being confident that their absentee or mail-in ballot will be counted as intended.
  • This led to Democrats winning among mail and absentee by 22% in 2022, though Republicans maintained a slight lead in early in-person by 7% in 2022.

Even as Republican voters have shown skepticism around absentee and mail-in voting, absentee and early voting strategies will still be crucial to ensuring a campaign’s victory in November.

What do you need to do?

First, understand the law in your state.

Analyze your state’s absentee and early voting requirements and restrictions.

After the 2020 election and as the Covid pandemic subsided, some states rolled back their no-excuse absentee voting rules or tightened restrictions on how absentee ballots are counted or how ballots can be collected by outside organizations.

Despite some states rolling back their Covid-era voting rules, pre-election day voting continues to be an option for almost all voters across the country.

Currently, 28 states and DC offer no-excuse absentee voting while other states require an excuse to request an absentee ballot, including things like being out of the country or being older than a certain age. No-excuse absentee voting allows any registered voter to request an absentee ballot regardless of reason. In some cases, the state or jurisdiction’s election authority may mail every voter an absentee ballot application.

As of May 2024, 46 states and DC offer a form of in-person early voting that can include early voting, in-person absentee voting, and advanced voting.

Eight states currently conduct their general elections entirely by mail, meaning every registered voter receives ballots in the mail, though all include options for voters to early vote in person if that is preferred.

Once you understand your state’s laws, you need to then analyze the voting habits of your electorate.

Before building your voter contact plan, it is critical to understand the historical pre-Election Day voting habits of voters in your state/district and understand how this shifted since 2020.

With an understanding of voting habits, you can dive further into specifically when your target persuasion and turnout audiences cast their ballot to help inform your voter contact schedule and budget allocation.

While your GOP turnout audience may prefer to vote on Election Day, a large percentage of your persuasion audience may vote pre-Election Day. If so, you will need to move up your persuasion messaging schedule based on when absentee ballots are sent out or early voting takes place.

Now identify the right audience.

Remember you aren’t trying to change how a voter casts their vote, but rather you are using this time as an opportunity to turn out mid/low propensity, at-risk GOP voters who might stay at home otherwise.

This is also a wise time to ensure your name ID is built up among GOP voters who are likely to vote pre-Election Day.

The goal of absentee/early voting efforts is to target:

Likely absentee voters, including both Republican Permanent Absentee Voters in states where they automatically receive a ballot and Republican Likely Absentee/Early Voters who have past absentee/early voting vote history, considering those who voted absentee/early vote for the first time in 2020 due to the pandemic; and

Turnout Lift Targets, also known as GOP GOTV targets, are mid/low propensity GOP voters who might be at risk of staying home. This audience needs as many touches as possible to ensure they cast a ballot. Don’t make the mistake of waiting until the final 72 hours before Election Day to contact these voters. Speak to them well in advance with an absentee/early vote push and absentee chase campaign.

The final step? Select the right absentee/early vote tactics for your race.

You’ll want to design an absentee/early vote campaign that reaches your target voters through a surround-sound approach via both online and offline mediums, including:

Direct Mail/Absentee Applications: All those touches you need begin with mailing absentee ballot applications that typically include two application forms for the voter to complete and mail back to their pre-addressed local election authority. Messaging can feature hot-button issues that also showcase the ease and convenience of voting by mail.

Digital/Absentee Push: Once absentee applications are available, digital ads can be run on both display and/or social media to your target audience to build awareness of absentee voting and urge voters to take advantage of this option. This can also be used to drive target voters to a campaign landing page or the official election authority’s website with information on requesting an absentee ballot.

Digital/Absentee/Early Vote Online Videos: As one of the best ways to educate and persuade voters online, videos can be run to your target AB/EV audience to persuade them to vote pre-Election Day for your candidate.

Direct Mail/Absentee Chase: Here, you are timing the drop of mail pieces to targeted voters who completed and mailed in their absentee applications that may include some messaging on hot-button issues but mainly focus on urging these voters to complete and mail in their ballots.

Phones/SMS Text/Absentee Chase: Peer-to-peer (P2P) texting sends messages to cell phone numbers featuring text, images, and/or short videos. Texting is great for sending short reminder messages such as returning an absentee ballot. 

Direct Mail/Early Vote Push: A piece of mail will be sent to your voters (excluding those who requested/returned an absentee ballot) at the start of the early voting window. Messaging will not only showcase the convenience of voting early (rather than waiting for Election Day) but also feature resources to find the closest early voting locations.

Phones/SMS Text/Early Vote Push: Texting can be utilized to remind voters that the early voting window is open and where they can find their nearest early voting location.

Digital/Early Vote Search Ads: Based on key search terms around early voting, you can run ads that point back to your campaign site to highlight information about your candidate and/or feature information on early voting locations/hours.

The Majority Strategies team has run countless absentee and early vote programs across the country for local, state, and federal candidates and has seen the measurable impact these programs can have on increasing turnout.

There is no one-size-fits-all strategy for building an absentee/early vote plan. That’s why we believe in proactively designing a custom absentee/early vote initiative that is unique to each state and the dynamics of each race.