Election brings micro-targeting to NRV
It purported to be a “Vote History Audit” listing whether Hawke, his wife, and their neighbors had voted in 2004 and 2008. It cited public records as its source and promised that an updated audit would be sent to Hawke and his neighbors after Tuesday’s balloting.
It did not endorse any candidate, but just said that its sender, a group called Americans for Limited Government, was tracking who voted. It listed Hawke and his wife, and five neighbors, all with a “yes” or “no” in columns for the 2004 and 2008 presidential elections. The 2012 column was listed “pending.”
Hawke was taken aback.
“The thought that we are being monitored by some shady organization and that they are going to tattle on us like school children to the teacher, is disconcerting,” he wrote in an email last week.
Americans for Limited Government, based in Fairfax, describes itself on its website as “leaders in identifying, exposing and working with Congress and state legislatures to prevent the continued expansion of government.”
Richard Manning, the group’s communications director, wrote in an email Thursday that the voting history mailer was meant only to encourage people to go to the polls.
“Using publicly available information, we have been able to identify voters who have a tendency to vote but for whatever reason have failed to do so at the most critical moments. We unapologetically urge these voters to exercise their right to vote, a goal which we are confident everyone applauds,” Manning wrote.
Robert Denton, a Virginia Tech communication professor who studies politics, said the mailers are part of a new, data-driven wave in efforts to identify and turn out sympathetic voters.
“Welcome to the world of micro-targeting,” Denton wrote in an email. “By examining precinct voting, registrations, comparing donation lists, etc., parties can identify supporters surrounded by those who may be favoring the opposition. … We are in a new era of the ‘ground game.’”
Americans for Limited Government maintains a number of conservative-leaning websites such as www.chikainery.com, which lambastes Democratic Senate candidate and former Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, and www.netrightdaily.com, a blog that criticizes President Obama.
As for the voting record mailers, Manning compared them to what he said were similar mailers put out by the left-leaning Moveon.org organization or the AFL-CIO.
Farther back in history, Abraham Lincoln used voter lists and histories in his campaigns, Manning wrote in an email.
But Hawke said Manning’s group was distributing incorrect information when its mailer said that he and his wife did not vote in 2004. They did not cast ballots in Virginia – but did in Michigan, where they lived then, he said.
Of the five names – each with its own voting history – listed as Hawke’s neighbors on the mailer, one is deceased and another has moved, he said. A third name either is a complete error or is someone who has not lived in the neighborhood for the half dozen years that the Hawkes have, Hawke said.
Manning said the information was assembled by a contractor. “Inevitably an extremely small percentage had entry errors. It was in our interest to have 100 percent of the data correct,” he wrote in an email.
Manning declined to say how the group selected recipients for its mailers. Hawke said a co-worker reported receiving one at her home in Pearisburg, but other co-workers in Blacksburg and Christiansburg said they had not received them.
On the liberal-leaning DailyKOS site, a discussion of Americans for Limited Government’s vote history mailers suggested they were meant to stimulate voting in conservative districts. Hawke said his neighborhood in Radford could be described that way.
Regardless of its intentions, Hawke said he was put off by the mailer. He said he doesn’t care who votes or who knows if he votes, but
“Civility says you shouldn’t be poking into your neighbor’s business about how they voted,” he said.
“Just as the secret ballot is the foundation of our Republic’s political selection process,” Hawke wrote in an email, “the freedom to refrain from participation and the public knowledge thereof, should also be respected.”
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