Texting Out the Vote

What is it?

Textbanking offers Democratic campaigns a personalized, yet minimally invasive, way to connect with voters. This method that was first used to reach out to voters in the 2016 elections.  It really took off to get out the vote for the 2018 midterm elections.  

More and more people prefer to communicate by text instead of answering their phones, which makes textbanking not only fast, but effective.  Volunteers can easily text 1000 or more people in an hour, with an open rate over 90%. 

For the 2018 elections, Democratic campaigns and organizations sent 350 million texts using web-based textbanking platforms - 6x more than 2016 and 2017.

Textbanking campaigns have been set up to target US-based voters, so you can to pitch in and help Democratic candidates’ campaigns mobilize voters in critical elections right now! (Democrats Abroad has launched textbanking campaigns in 2018 and plans to continue to use this tool in 2020.)

A text campaign can help drive Democrats to the polls with messages that: 

  • encourage voter registration
  • send out early voting information specifically targeted by state and district
  • direct people to the right voting place
  • text out reminders on election day
  • Send out early voting information specifically targeted by state and district

Here’s how it works.

  1. A campaign that chooses to use textbanking sets up and pays for the textbanking platform, which is an online software tool that you access to send texts.  All text communication is handled through the platform, so your personal contact information is hidden.
  2. Campaign operatives create specific messaging and pre-program the texts to be sent by volunteers, usually to registered Democrats or to likely Democratic voters. 
  3. Volunteers are invited to sign up for textbanking shifts.
  4. There is a short training sequence for you to complete. This can be done through on-line documents, videos, and sometimes live via platforms like Skype, Zoom, or Facetime. 
  5. Once trained, you access the textbanking platform from a laptop, notebook, or phone. The platform sets up all the text messages for you to send during the shift you have signed up for.
    • You click, the platform sends the texts.  
    • When people reply (my experience is that there is about a 1-2% reply rate) you continue the chat, again using the suggested texts that are supplied on the platform. You don’t have to make anything up!
    • Many textbanking campaigns use a dedicated Slack channel for communicating about texting campaigns, including real-time communications during your #Texting shift. You use this channel to ask questions if you are uncertain about anything, the organizers will respond with the information you need to know. 
  6. Most textbanking shifts are set up for 4 hours, but it really only takes about 30-60 minutes to send the 500 to 2000 texts assigned to you and about another hour to reply to the handful who answer you. 
  7. You don’t have to stay stuck to your device - just check in during your shift to see if there is an action to take or set up notifications to ping you if there is a reply to one of your texts.

That’s it! Once you are set up, it’s incredibly easy to do. You don’t need to download anything. Your personal information (last name, phone number, email address) is never shared with the people you are texting. And, because you are not using your own account to send the texts, it costs you nothing. 

It’s also really pretty fun. You are communicating in near real-time with real people. I’ve had some great text exchanges with some enthusiastic supporters and have had a surprising number of people promise to vote for the candidate after I provided them with (campaign-supplied) information. 

Does it work?

“People who were texted [in 2018] were 1% more likely to turn out to vote.  While 1% may not seem like a lot, competitive races, especially state legislative races, are decided by just tens or hundreds of votes. In one state alone, the difference between the texted and untexted voters in the districts in which [Texting for Political Campaigns] ran texting programs would have been enough to win 5 of the 7 races Democrats lost in 2018.”

- Jennifer Lin, Ron Graf, Jocelyn, Blumenrose, David Tester, and Max Brettler, Texting for Political Campaigns Report 

How to participate from abroad

Once again, volunteering from abroad comes with some restrictions. When we find a campaign that is looking for volunteers - we’ll post them here as we learn about them - the first step is to sign up.

The key to the usability of any textbanking campaign for activists abroad  resides in the platform.  

  • The GetThru platform (formerly Relay) uses email to verify you instead of a cell phone number.  So, as a volunteer textbanking from abroad, all of the texting I did in 2017 and 2018 was with campaigns that used this platform. 
  • Due to technical limitations of some platforms (for example, Hustle), their verification process to get you access to the platform won’t work if you do not have a US phone number

A few helpful things to know:

It’s worth the effort to find out in advance, rather than at the beginning of your shift, if you will actually be able to work on the platform.  We’ll post about the ones that can be used from abroad (see below).  

If you come across an active textbanking campaign and want to know if Americans abroad can participate, contact us and we’ll check into it. 

I’ve found that how textbanking is handled really varies from campaign to campaign. I worked with some extremely well-organized campaigns, and others that were less so - but because I really learned a lot working with the good ones, I was able to really step up to help with the weaker ones.

“Not all text campaigns are created equal. Some can be poorly run on a janky text platform. And not all organizations operate the same. You’ll find your favorites, but you might have to try a few until you find what works for you.” – Demand the Vote Text Banking

What does it cost?

Nothing!  You need access to the internet and a laptop, notebook or phone. But because you are not using your own account to send the texts from, there is no additional cost to you. 

That said, getting set up to textbank for the first time does take some time. It’s really necessary to read and watch all the training materials.  You may also need to communicate back-and-forth with the textbanking organizers to get signed in and working on their platform for their campaign. But if you’re patient and persistent, once you’re on the platform, you’ll be ready to help with any campaign going forward. The part where you actually send texts is fast, easy, and fun.

Have you written participated in a text out the vote campaign? What was your experience like? We are interested in your suggestions, other information, and advice. Let us know!

Links to resources

Interesting reading: From Get-Out-To-Vote To Text-Out-To-Vote: The Rise Of Peer-To-Peer Texting, Naomi Shah, NPR

Textbanking platforms. (You don’t need to download anything from here. These are online software platforms, intended for campaigns, so their messaging is targeted to campaigns not to volunteers.)

  • ThruText (formerly Relay) - we can textbank from abroad for campaigns that use this platform
  • Hustle - requires a US phone number for the final verification step
  • Spoke - MoveOn uses this open-source platform, but I don’t know much about it yet.

Here are organizations that support text banking that we are researching. We’ll add links to campaigns as they become active.

  • MoveOn Text Team uses Spoke, a platform that is new to us. 
  • NextGen America does not appear to require a cell phone number. They are mobilizing young people in 10 states:
    • Arizona
    • Iowa
    • Maine
    • Michigan
    • Nevada
    • New Hampshire
    • North Carolina
    • Pennsylvania
    • Virginia
    • Wisconsin


Author - Mickey Farrance, Democrats Abroad France GOTV coordinator

Intro meme by Helen Stickler