Technology changes candidate strategies


Not too long ago in St Augustine and St Johns County, candidates for local office used “home grown” strategies to help bolster their campaigns and gently persuade voters to show up on Election Day to “pull the lever” so they could win — thanks to technology, today Historic City News finds that it’s more like rocket science.

Editor Michael Gold is a St Augustine native who has been active in political campaigns since the 1970’s. “I think there were maybe ten of us in St Johns County who were Republican back then,” Gold recalled. “Hank Whetstone and I, and maybe Henry Green, had to drive to Jacksonville if we wanted to attend a Young Republican meeting.”

In the 70’s, you would not think of running a local campaign without planning for a few “conveniences” that voters had grown to expect — like offering rides to the polls, or delivering a free lunch on Election Day for poll sitters; who were responsible for greeting each arriving voter with a smile and a handshake on their candidate’s behalf.

“We’d make some phone calls, but not like it’s done today,” Gold said. “It was faster for us then — we only had to dial 5 digits.”

One practice that was commonplace was the already-filled-in sample ballot. After the abolishment of poll taxes and literacy tests following the 1965 Voter Rights Act, Negro voters would rather miss church on Sunday than miss voting on Election Day. They learned that if they voted as a block, it gave more power to their individual ballot; this was particularly true in city elections. At that time, candidates were predominantly Caucasian, and they knew that if they wanted to be assured an election, they had to make the “sample ballot”.

As recently as two years ago, Gold said that he sat and watched voters at the Willie Galimore Center in Lincolnville as they passed through the parking lot and borrowed the “sample ballot” from Shirley Williams-Galvin; returning it to her after they went inside and cast their vote.

Things do not have to be so labor intensive now. Election Day is less critical than it once was since the election process is spread over two weeks. Campaign consultants can use social networking and strategic advertising to target voters they perceive to be most likely to support their candidates, and they can do it down to the precinct level.

Voting history is readily available to candidates and their consultants. The data is available in a format that can be electronically processed. Because the data includes sufficient demographic details, it is now possible to strategize the most efficient use of the campaign’s time and energies to reach the maximum number of potential voters at the lowest cost per vote.

Although door-to-door canvassing and running phone banks still exists, using the presently available data, you know the political leaning of a household before you knock, and computerized phone messaging, known as “robo-calling”, delivers a consistent message throughout the voting area just by flipping a switch.

“Super voters”, voters who have shown a history of voting in every election, can expect to receive a piece of mail — whereas members of other parties in Primary Elections, for example, can be excluded from the effective, but expensive, mailing.

Other demographics and identifying information of interest that can be determined with current technologies includes each voter’s age, sex, race, party affiliation, how long they have been registered to vote, whether they voted by mail, during early voting, or in person on Election Day. Who you voted for, is still a secret.

With its earliest Primary Election date ever, kids not yet back to school and many families still on vacation, turnout this month is expected to be low. Early voting accounts for about 18 to 25 percent of turnout in most areas, but runs 30 to 35 percent in areas with larger populations of retirement-aged voters.

Mailed ballots, once known as “absentees”, went out weeks ago, and two weeks of early voting began Monday in five counties; for St Johns County, and the rest of Florida, early voting runs from Saturday, August 4 until Saturday, August 11. Primary Election Day is Tuesday, August 14.


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