Gather and Organize Voter Information

Gather and Organize Voter Information


This is increasingly becoming an important and potentially costly part of campaigns as more data about the electorate and more sophisticated tools for analyzing that data become available.

The state voter files have traditionally provided the foundation for the data sets, but they contain many inaccuracies and come in a range of unwieldy formats. Only a handful of entities have the capacity to quickly integrate all that data into a usable format. A number of data firms directly or indirectly affiliated with one of the parties (like i360 and Data Trust on the right and Catalist on the left) compile these data sets into manageable formats and append additional and updated information where possible. The clear value of scale in this context has the potential to concentrate influence in a small number of hands.

NationBuilder’s Election Center, which makes its compiled voter file freely available in a standardized form, presents one model to limit the advantage of campaigns that are better financed or favored by the parties. There is tremendous value for candidates, however, in limiting the availability of these data to political allies and preventing political opponents from obtaining it, so it would seem that the parties are likely to remain the default gatekeepers if there are to be centralized vaults.


  • Could a targeted advocacy effort influence the data providers to standardize the format and delivery of data to be more accessible and conducive to People Powered campaign tactics? Could an open-source, Creative Commons-licensed national voter file be built and augmented with other available data? Could a collaborative of coders develop software for compiling voter data and modeling voters that effectively competes with software from the top consulting firms? (Increase the ROI of People Powered Tactics)
  • Could leading commercial companies (Google, Facebook, etc.) be encouraged to develop policies and services that help level the playing field for campaigns while protecting their users? Could a trusted non-partisan intermediary manage relevant data for campaigns responsibly? (Combines Multiple Levers)
  • Since this is a relatively new arena, are there opportunities – through trainings, conferences, or awards – to cultivate a set of norms and best practices that encourage leading or up-and-coming practitioners to utilize more People Powered approaches? (Influence Campaign Culture)

What the Domain Experts Say


Mark Schmitt

Director, Political Reform Program, New America
The single most promising means to strengthen the power of people in democracy is to reduce the costs of assets that every campaign needs, which can be done by putting them in the public domain. The voter file has always been an asset that gave parties and, increasingly, large donors control of the process. Putting the voter file in the public domain is almost as powerful as putting money in the public domain, through public financing and small-donor matching.


Lisa Garcia Bedolla

Chancellor’s Professor, UC Berkeley / Principal and Co-Founder, American Majority Project Research Institute
Demography is not destiny. The current data infrastructure contains significant biases and provides the best information about white, likely voters. Changing this infrastructure is critically important but it must be done with an explicit focus on addressing those biases. It is not by accident that we are where we are in terms of whose voices are heard and whose information matters. Thus we need to address the stratification and power underlying what are seen as “neutral” data systems. Only then will real change be possible.


John Fallone

Executive Director, Lincoln Network
Addressing the gathering and organization of voter information, campaigns can better utilize such information to craft an effective campaign. However, I think the greater power of this facet of the People Powered Playbook is that it can create better representation of the general public. Campaigns want to win elections; they are incentivized to get out voter populations that allow them to achieve there ends. A neutral organization whose only goal is to get out the general public to vote would help them achieve a more representative elected body of officials.


Demond Drummer

Former Field Organizer, Obama for America / Co-Founder of Resident Association of Greater Englewood
The quality of voter data is of supreme value. The true value of partisan services like NGP VAN is that campaigns who have access to them benefit from the updates and additions (addresses changes, emails, etc.) made by previous campaigns. Those who do not have access to the VAN spend tremendous resources discovering that voters have moved and must build their own email list from scratch. Anything that increases the ROI of a people powered campaign must address the data quality and richness competitive advantage of the partisan voter files while somehow accommodating the fact that people powered campaigns may be diametrically opposed on questions of policy. That is, do I want people with whom I fundamentally disagree to have access to the email addresses and updated contact information that I enter into this tool?


Catherine Bracy

Former Senior Director, Code for America
This might be one area where the people actually fight you on reform. The tricky privacy and security concerns will make this a hard campaign element to a) galvanize public support for and b) establish workable policy around.


Hahrie Han

Anton Vonk Associate Professor of Political Science, University of California, Santa Barbara
Figuring out how to democratize the collection, dissemination, and use of data in campaigns is fundamental to ensuring that candidates of all kinds are playing on the same playing field.


Ilya Sheyman

Executive Director, Political Action
It’s definitely critical that parties provide access to data to all candidates within their party, even in multi candidate fields to level the playing field and even when there are challengers taking on incumbents.


Sayu Bhojwani

Founder, The New American Leaders Project
Although I think existing voter files have many problems, heavy reliance on prime voters and tried-and-true walk lists make it hard for change in the foreseeable future. Using technology, emphasizing demographic changes, and finding ways to reduce the costs of in-person voter contact might help increase the potential for a People Powered campaign, however.


Costas Panagopoulos

Visiting Professor of Political Science, Yale University
Information is power, and this is no less true in the context of political campaigns. Yet protecting privacy is paramount. Campaigns need to weigh electoral considerations and incentives against citizens’ rights and expectations.

Expert Summary Analysis

All answers: 1 = strongly disagree / 5 = strongly agree

How much do the conventional tactics for achieving this objective influence how reliant campaigns feel on narrow subsets as opposed to broad cross-sections of the electorate?

Average: 3.330%

How much do you think the tactics for achieving this objective are likely to change in the coming decade?

Average: 3.930%

How much opportunity do you see for advancing more People Powered tactics for achieving this objective via each lever?

Increase People Powered ROI

Average: 3.070%

Decrease Conventional ROI

Average: 2.570%

Culture Change

Average: 3.430%
  1. Successful open-source software, however, is quite rare – particularly if there is not strong institutional backing with complementary revenue models available or if there are strong private sector competitors.