Comparison of Voter Contact Methods

Set up a table near a busy shopping center. Borrow an office or two and bring in volunteers to make phone calls. Organize a Saturday morning canvass. What are the best options for your organization?

Public site

Just about all of us have been approached by smiling people carrying clipboards, asking, “Are you registered to vote?” Many organizations, large and small, have spent a lot of time doing this method of electoral engagement in recent elections, with mixed results. Henry Serrano spoke for many when he remarked that voter registration alone, especially if conducted in the impersonal environment on a public site, has only a middling effect on turnout rates – “without the follow-up of education and repetitive contacts, they’re not going to vote.”

On the plus side...

  • Effective method of registering large numbers of voters, especially if you’re working in an area with low voter registration.
  • Requires relatively little time from volunteers and resources.
  • Good way of gathering the information you need about voters to contact them for ID.

But then again...

  • Not the best setting for doing issue ID or voter education.
  • Most of the people you register will not vote without further contact – and it may be difficult to re-contact them by door-knocking because they’ll be scattered across neighborhoods.
  • If you’re focusing on a particular precinct, public site registration may prove inefficient. 


The phone-bank is the backbone of most campaigns’ voter ID efforts – but it’s not used for registration (which is necessarily an activity that must be done in person). Phone-bankers work with registration lists to encourage turnout, talk to people about the big issues of the election and/or get a promise to vote for a particular side of a ballot initiative. You don't need large numbers of people to set one up, but you do need donated facilities with at least a half-dozen phone lines and a regular schedule so that volunteers can get used to coming to the same place at the same times every week.

On the plus side...

  • The most effective means of contacting voters in precincts that can't easily be walked – if, for example, they have too many apartment buildings.
  • With a little ingenuity, phone lines can be found for free.
  • Phone-banks are usually held at regular hours, so volunteers can get into a routine of doing it once or twice a week.
  • Volunteers can set numerical goals for themselves (i.e., get five positive IDs in an hour) and easily track their progress.

But then again...

  • If you want to register voters, this is not the way to do it.
  • Not as personal as face-to-face contact.
  • While phone lines are out there, you actually have to find them!
  • Most phone calls will either not be answered or will be wrong numbers.


Walk mobilizations – organized door-knocking sessions with a group of volunteers – are increasingly important as the campaign progresses, culminating in a massive get-out-the-vote effort. But they’re also a good way of kicking off the voter registration and ID drive.

On the plus side...

  • The most personal method of contact – especially if volunteers canvas their own neighborhoods.
  • Because walk-outs are usually held on weekends, volunteers who can’t help out during the week can get involved.
  • Since volunteers and voters engage in conversation at the doors, it may be best way to do issue ID and voter education.

But then again...

  • If you’re working in a low-density neighborhood, going door-to-door will take some time.
  • Initially, some volunteers may be reluctant to door-knock – but this fades as they gain experience and confidence.
  • Campaigners new to IVE work may be inclined to try to do too much at the door – learn more about this in the walk-out section of the toolkit.