A new organizing model to beat Donald Trump

Ben Tyson
6 min readJul 22, 2020

To win during Covid-19 and voter suppression, the old playbook won’t cut it

Welcome to the next installment in the series “This Is How We Win”, courtesy of Vote From Home 2020. We’re a team of veteran political strategists leveraging our backgrounds in grassroots organizing, fundraising, and volunteer deployment to strategically mobilize swing state voters to defeat Donald Trump.

Last time we wrote here, we talked about our Path To Victory and how we can send mail-in ballot applications to dual-risk voters in our targeted states of Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina, in order to make sure they can vote safely this fall and help bring us up to our win numbers on Election Day. Today, we want to discuss the second component of our strategy: how we can organize grassroots volunteers to chase those mail-in ballot applications and really maximize our effectiveness this year.

This week, we launched our organizing program, training nearly 200 volunteers to call and text prospective voters to Get Out the Vote (By Mail). Now that we can no longer safely knock on doors during the COVID-19 pandemic, calling and texting voters directly is the best way we can increase their likelihood to vote: A study from University of Michigan and Princeton University found that text messages urging people to vote boosted turnout by 3 percentage points. Similarly, looking at 8 field experiments from across the country found that quality volunteer phone calls were proven to increase turnout by 3.8 percentage points. (Those may not sound like big effects, but in the world of voter mobilization, they’re really large — commercial phone banks, for instance, have a less than 1 percentage-point effect on turnout).

Here at Vote From Home 2020, we are adapting these tried and true voter mobilization tactics to the 2020 election cycle in a new approach we call “The Life-Cycle Organizing Model.”

The Life-Cycle Organizing Model, Explained

Life-Cycle Organizing involves contacting a set group (a “universe”) of voters repeatedly at different stages of their voting process. We will not be reaching out to every voter in a state. We will not be blanketing houses in volumes of mail, or spamming random lists of voters. Instead, we’re going to find the voters we believe to be the most important in this election — that are not being covered by other partner organizations — and convert them all into actual voters so that Democrats win in November.

Between the pandemic and the GOP’s extensive voter suppression campaign, our target voters will almost certainly face obstacles on the path to casting a ballot. We will walk them through each step of the vote-by-mail system to ensure that they apply for and receive their mail ballot, return it before their state’s election deadline, and get it counted. Whenever they have questions, concerns, or issues with their ballot along the way, we’ll be their trusted resource, guiding them through the process and reminding them that their vote matters.

The Five Phases of Voting Outreach

To see what this means, we will be breaking our universe of targeted voters in each state up into 5 sub-groups associated with a different “phase” of the voting process.

PHASE I (before mail-in ballot applications go out): We will reach out to voters early and often, letting them know to expect a ballot application in the mail and asking them to commit to filling it out. This prepares them to notice the application when it arrives and gives us the chance to address any initial concerns voters have about voting by mail.

PHASE II (after mail-in ballot applications go out, before they are returned): During this critical window, we need to call and text voters to remind them to fill out their application for a mail-in ballot — and answer any logistical questions they have. Because the pre-addressed and postage-paid return envelopes we send alongside the applications feature unique barcodes for each voter, we will know as soon as a voter has filled out their application and placed it back in the mail. This will let us target our messages and be as efficient as possible with our outreach.

PHASE III (after mail-in ballot applications are returned): We also have access to data from local election officials with the list of applications that have been received and approved. Typically, elections offices process people’s applications within a few days of receipt. If a week goes by and a voter’s application has yet to be processed, we will call and text that voter with a warning that their application may not have been accepted. This will give them the chance to submit a new application or call their election office directly, well in advance of application deadlines. (In some cases, we will extend this one-week period based on how long local officials are taking to process the applications.)

PHASE IV (after mail-in ballot applications are processed by election officials, but before ballots go out): In this round of phone calls, we will reassure voters that their application has been received and that they will be receiving a mail-in ballot. We will thank them again for submitting their form, remind them of the importance of voting this year, and provide any information election officials have announced on their timeline for sending out the ballots themselves, so voters know to watch their mailbox.

PHASE V (after mail-in ballots go out): This is the most traditional part of a vote-by-mail chase program — calling and texting voters who should have received their ballot but have not returned it yet. We will remind them of the importance of voting, highlight official information on how to return their ballot, and direct them to additional resources if they have a problem receiving or returning their ballot. We will keep calling and texting people until their ballot has been marked as received by their local election officials. Our goal is to get every one of our dual-risk voters to become an actual voter as early as possible — and chasing these ballots down to ensure they are all returned will be the final step in the process.

So as you can see — we’re not messing around with this! Our mission is vital, and we are building an organizing program to match the importance of the moment.

Grassroots Power & Vote-By-Mail Will Deliver Victory

Vote-by-mail will be the key to this election. It will safeguard voters from COVID-19 and from the voter suppression efforts of the Trump campaign. And while Trump’s campaign files lawsuits in the right-wing-packed courts and obstructs local election officials trying to make voting more accessible, we can take direct action ourselves. We’ll use Life-Cycle Organizing to convert our universe of critical targets into actual voters, maximizing our chances of winning the 2020 election.

But we can’t do this alone. If you haven’t already, please sign up to join us. Go to www.votefromhome2020.org and sign up to volunteer and donate to the cause. Just $25 will let us send mail-in ballot applications to 20 voters in swing states.

Thanks for being in this fight with us. Even with most of us continuing to self-isolate, we can still win this fight together.

Let’s go make it happen.

Ben Tyson

Co-Founder, Vote From Home 2020

1.“Strategic Reminders to Vote Through Text Messaging: Results from a Field Experiment and Survey,” Allison Dale, Aaron Strauss. American Journal of Political Science, Volume 53, Number 4, October 2009, Pages 787–804.

2. “Volunteer Phone Calls Can Increase Turnout: Evidence From Eight Field Experiments,” David Nickerson. American Politics Research, Volume 34 Number 3, May 2006, Pages 271–292.



Ben Tyson

Ben is a Co-Founder of Vote From Home 2020, a progressive organization that is fighting to expand vote-by-mail in vulnerable populations and defeat Donald Trump