Right-, left-leaning groups use peer pressure to push NC voting

Posted October 30, 2012

— Two different groups – one of them linked to UNC Chapel Hill – are trying to convince voters around the state to talk to their neighbors about the importance of voting this year.

Both right-leaning group Americans for Limited Government and left-leaning group Southern Coalition for Social Justice are using peer pressure to push voters to the polls. 

Both say their goal is to increase turnout, but their method has left some people feeling their privacy is being violated.

"What my neighbors do is none of my business, and what I do is none of their business," said Christie McKenzie, a Wake County resident who recently received a mailer about whether her neighbors vote.

The political mailing lists her neighbors' names and addresses and shows whether they voted in 2008 and 2010. It then urged her in bold letters to "do your civic duty – vote" and promised a follow-up report after the election.

Although such voting information is public record, McKenzie said publishing it feels like voter intimidation. And the promise of a follow-up report struck her as a threat. 

"Let everybody have their civic duty and have their privacy, and if somebody wants to go look it up, let them do their own footwork. Don't just hand it to them," she said.

Gary Bartlett, executive director of the State Board of Elections, said people all over the state have gotten similar mailers recently, leaving them confused and angry.

"It's sort of like Orwellian – Big Brother watching you. If you don't do this, there will be some sort of action," Bartlett said.

The mailings look like official documents, especially the SCSJ letter, which offers the address of the voter's local election board in large letters. Elections officials are getting an earful, but they have nothing to do with the mailings.

One batch is from Americans for Limited Government, a conservative think-tank with ties to the Koch brothers. ALG sent out similar mailers in Indiana and Ohio. Voters there weren't happy about them, either. 

Voter info in mailer Groups deny trying to intimidate voters

"Americans for Limited Government's mailing has one goal and one goal only – to increase participation in the electoral process," spokesman Richard Manning said in an email to WRAL News. "We firmly believe that people who sit on the sidelines and do not engage in selecting our leaders are abandoning not just their right to a say but are diminishing everyone's rights."

Manning said publishing voter information is a "fundamental tool" to increasing turnout.

McKenzie's letter came from a second batch that apparently came from "Political Consulting Group" of Sanford. That "group" is just a front. Its address is a drop-box, and its phone number doesn't work.

WRAL was able to use the postal permit number to trace the mailer back to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, a left-leaning think tank in Chapel Hill. Executive director Anita Earls is a former member of the State Board of Elections. She said her group sent the letter to assist in a research study in the Political Science department at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

Earls denied the letters were meant to threaten or suppress voting. “This is not voter intimidation. Our goal is to increase voter turnout and encourage civic engagement.”

UNC Assistant Professor Christopher Clark is supervising the study, which he says is a replication of another study published in a "flagship journal." It examines how social pressure affects voter turnout. 

"There’s this idea about social pressure – if people are actually contacted by neighbors or people around them, that actually leads to more voter turnout," Clark said. "The last thing we want to do is to have that be seen as intimidation. Our purpose is not to suppress voters.”

He hadn't given much thought to the possibility that the letters could be misconstrued because the experiment has been done before in another state. "Maybe we should have," he conceded, apologizing for any misunderstanding.

Clark said the 24,000 letters sent out in the study were paid for by the Southern Coalition for Social Justice. No state money was used.

Bartlett said the state is investigating both mailers, but so far, they don't appear to be illegal. He also said he knows how the research study will turn out.

"There has not been a positive phone call yet (about the mailers)," he said. "Even if it was a new type of get-out-the-vote effort by using peer pressure in your neighborhood, it hasn't worked."


This story is closed for comments.

Oldest First
View all
  • CarolinianByChoice Oct 31, 2012

    LKG: How is “applying social pressure” to vote a LIBERAL value? I think the letters are disgusting but fail to see where this was a “liberal voter registration research study”. This seems to be about voter apathy; not about registration.

    You DID read the part of the report that states ANOTHER organization heavily funded by the Koch Brothers is doing the same thing, correct?

    You DO realize the Koch Brothers fund conservative organizations affiliated with the Tea Party?

    As for taxpayer dollars, did you read “No state money was used”?

    This is what is wrong with our country today; people DON’T bother to READ, COMPREHEND OR THINK anymore! Instead they listen to the vitriol spewed out in SuperPAC ads and take it as the gospel! Perhaps you could benefit from some of the taxpayer supported education provided by UNC . . .

    Sheesh . . .

  • Nunya123 Oct 31, 2012

    jcrump - why do you think that is what happened 4 years ago? Because your candidate lost?

  • Nunya123 Oct 31, 2012

    ycbs - please explain "voting DUMB". Does that mean not voting the way you think people should?

  • Nunya123 Oct 31, 2012

    LKG-Lover - I'm an independent. I don't want my tax dollars going to either. Stop federal campaign funding first, then we'll dig into your conspiracy theory.

  • cary2006 Oct 31, 2012

    Why is a tax funded institution (UNC) doing a liberal voter registration research study with tax payer money? I' a republican tax payer and don't want my taxes used to support Obama.

    A little reading never hurts. The article says clearly no State was used and study was paid by SCSJ

  • ycbs Oct 31, 2012

    "I am concerned about the thoughts of rossfranco-you may be on to something. Knowing who did not vote could lead citizens with criminal ideas astray. Obviously, voter Id would solve all of that." - baldchip

    I hadn't thought of that before reading these comments but you might be onto something. My first thought was that it was an attempt to get more uninvolved, ignorant-of-the-issues potential voters to vote.

    Personally, I'd like to see not only a voter ID law, but an issues aptitude test to show that you know what you're really voting for. Way too many people vote for a candidate because of the color of their skin or because their preacher, an activist or some R&B singer tells them to and have little to no clue about actual issues.

    The only thing worse than not voting is voting DUMB.

  • jcrump Oct 31, 2012

    If my neighbors don't understand the importance of voting, I don't think I want them casting uninformed votes during this critical election. Isn't that what happened four years ago???

  • LKG-Lover Oct 31, 2012

    Why is a tax funded institution (UNC) doing a liberal voter registration research study with tax payer money? I' a republican tax payer and don't want my taxes used to support Obama. This should be exposed for what it really is, UNC pushing liberal values and politics. I think it is time for tax payers to stop suporting UNC.

  • emdarnell Oct 31, 2012

    Eastern BBQ ...FTW!

  • Ashen-Shugar Oct 31, 2012

    "Barbecue is fair game. :) Gotta have some heated discussions about some things. Plus it goes with beer whereas the others don't."-----cantstandgoloanymore

    Beer?! Now it is with BEER! No way, I will not be in a party with BEER DRINKERS!

    A couple of shots of VO Gold would change my mind though......