Democrats were quick to criticize the state GOP last month when it sent a controversial mailer telling people their neighbors would know if they didn’t vote.
Felicia Salazar, spokeswoman for the state Democratic Party, was quoted at the time as calling the GOP tactic “aggressive intimidation toward voters.”
“New Mexicans deserve better,” Salazar said.
This week, though, the state Democratic Party communicated a similar message in a mailer sent to people who haven’t yet voted.
“Remember, who you vote for is private, but whether or not you vote or return your ballot is a matter of public record,” the Democrats’ mailer states. “Your friends and neighbors are counting on you to voice your opinion.”
The GOP mailer is certainly more explicit. A photo of a woman peeking through blinds is accompanied by the words, “When Democrats win the election and you didn’t do your part to stop it… Your neighbors will know.”
On the other side, the mailer urges people to vote and states, “After all, voting is a matter of public record. Your neighbors need you to apply to vote by mail today!”
The Democrats’ mailer, on the front, states, “Important election notice.” On the back, it states, “Our records indicate that you have not yet voted. It is important that you do so right away.” Then it includes the sentences about whether a person has voted being public record and friends and neighbors “counting on you.”
State Democratic Party Executive Director Joe Kabourek said there’s “no comparison” between the two mailers.
“The NMGOP mail piece is invasive and creepy. It suggests consequences and even includes ominous imagery of someone peeping through the blinds,” Kabourek said. “NMGOP even blames election outcomes on the recipient, placing fault on the voter rather than the weakness of their candidates.”
Meanwhile, the Democratic mailer, he said, takes a “positive tone.”
“Our focus is on reminding voters to cast their ballots without using Republican scare tactics,” Kabourek said. “We even made sure to emphasize that who a voter votes for is private.”
It’s true that there are “qualitative differences” between the mailers, said University of New Mexico political science professor Lonna Atkeson. She said the woman peeking through blinds makes the GOP mailer “a little more gut-wrenching.”
But both mailers use a tactic that concerns Atkeson.
“It seems that you’re trying to shame people into voting,” she said. “You should give people positive reasons to vote for a candidate.”
Some political science experiments show that shaming people into voting works, but Atkeson said the political parties need to think about the possible negative consequences.
“We don’t know what the outcome is, other than that they vote,” she said, adding that such a mailer could motivate someone “to go vote a protest ballot” or no longer like the party with which they’re registered.
Voting was largely a public act in the United States until the late 19th Century, and often included a public declaration of which candidate a person supported. The shift toward a secret ballot coincided with a dramatic drop in voter turnout. That’s thought by some to be due to the same conclusions of the recent studies Atkeson mentioned — some people voted because their neighbors would know if they didn’t. Shame.
Today, such a tactic might get people out to vote. It might also do long-term damage to the party or candidate who is shaming people into voting, Atkeson worries.
“You’ve really got to think about how you’re affecting that brand when you’re advertising,” Atkeson said. “You don’t want to be associated with making people feel icky, making people feel shame.”
Atkeson was similarly critical when the GOP sent out its mailer last month, calling it “pathetic.” The Albuquerque Journal quoted her as asking, “Don’t they have any positive messages?”
That Republican mailer gained national attention and criticism. The news website The Daily Beast, which first reported on the GOP mailer, quoted Anthony Tennent of Albuquerque as saying he “wouldn’t vote Republican after seeing that mailer.”
Dusty Dean of Roswell, who also received the GOP mailer, was quoted by New Mexico In Depth as saying he found it to be threatening. But he said it didn’t affect his plans to vote.