With a little over a month to go before Election Day, the Democratic National Committee is launching a Twitter campaign that will automatically send people tweets reminding them about when and how to vote in their state.
On Thursday evening, the Democratic party in all 50 states and Washington, D.C., will send out tweets asking people to opt in for updates. Anyone who likes or retweets that message will get autoreplies in their Twitter mentions, including real-time information on registration, mail-in ballot deadlines, early voting and polling hours, among other things. The outreach is an attempt by the Democrats to cut through the morass of confusion and misinformation about voting this year being fomented online — including from the president himself.
"We're in a historically digital-first election. We're always looking for ways we can lower the barrier to entry and make sure that voting is easier and people are getting more accessible and authoritative information," said the DNC's deputy chief mobilization officer, Heather Reid. "We just view this as one of the arrows in our quiver that we're using to do that, in addition to all the other ways that we can contact voters."
Voters who opt in to such alerts from their state Democratic party are likely to be pretty engaged in the process already. But Reid said the Democrats are working with each party to find influencers and community leaders who can retweet the message, too. That way, Reid said, "It's not just people who typically already interact with or follow their state party, but maybe people who follow their pastor on Twitter, too."
For campaigns, the ability to contact voters through social media has become increasingly alluring and necessary. While both parties' voter files are busting with addresses, phone numbers and email addresses, matching those voters to their social media accounts is a trickier task. Reid declined to discuss whether data from subscribers would be collected for future use, but a DNC spokesperson said this campaign "isn't focused on collecting data."
This isn't the Democrats' first stab at this type of outreach. The convention committee launched a similar campaign during the Democratic National Convention, amassing 60,000 subscribers. Reid said that campaign was such a success that "for a while, Twitter had to catch up to how many people wanted to interact with us."
A Twitter spokesperson said that the autoreply tool, which is most often used by movie studios and the entertainment industry, was offered to both the Democrats and Republicans before their conventions. Only the Democrats took Twitter up on the offer. The spokesperson confirmed that so many people subscribed to the Democrats' updates that the number exceeded the Twitter API's limits for how many tweets can be sent at once.
Twitter has launched its own election-related push, too. On National Voter Registration Day, it prompted every user in the U.S. to register or check their registration status at the top of their timeline. The company also has an Election Hub, which appears at the top of the Explore tab for every U.S. Twitter user. As part of the Election Hub, Twitter offers an autoreply option users can subscribe to, as well. But Reid says that while Twitter has stepped up its efforts to actively share authoritative information on voting, that outreach isn't tailored by state, which she says is crucial. "We think about a national campaign as really just a patchwork of state by state campaigns," Reid said, noting that the Twitter replies will be powered by IWillVote.com, the Democrats' central voter information website. That site is staffed by a full-time team that updates information from the states as soon as it's available.
In their efforts to spread authoritative information about voting, the Democrats are swimming upstream amid a deluge of misinformation, particularly about mail-in voting, coming from the highest level of government. During Tuesday night's debate, in front of an audience of some 73 million viewers, President Trump called mail-in ballots a "disaster" and falsely claimed that they're being "dumped in rivers" or thrown out because election officials "don't like them." That's in addition to his frequent social media posts on the subject, which tech platforms including Twitter and Facebook have — sometimes to confusing effect — slapped with information labels. It also stands in stark contrast to the messages his campaign has been sending in thousands of ads urging swing state voters to request ballots to vote by mail.
Combatting those messages is a far tougher problem that no one, including the Democrats, has quite solved. "I have found it's more effective cycle over cycle to really just double down and keep doing the work, pay less attention to the noise and more attention to doing the work that is at hand," Reid said. "We are going to focus on making sure [voters] have that info in every way possible."