North Carolina state political parties target nonvoters

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A flyer sent to Winston-Salem area households by the North Carolina Republican Party. (Winston-Salem Journal)

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. — The state Democratic and Republican parties, spurred and concerned by the tightening U.S. Senate race, have launched a last-week round of get-out-the-vote mailings aimed at inspiring — or cajoling — registered supporters and their neighbors, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

Both pitches emphasized the importance of a vote cast and not cast.

Voters report receiving two different mailings from the Democratic Party. One is in the form of a “report card” on their voting history — most are rated “average” — while the other was a letter suggesting voters would be surveyed as to whether or not they cast a ballot in this year’s general election.

The letters use Democratic Party logos, and the survey letter is signed by Patsy Keever, a former state representative, the Election Day coordinator and first vice chairwoman of the state Democratic Party. The letters carry a disclaimer that they were “Paid for by the North Carolina Democratic Party.”

A state Republican Party flier titled “Don’t skip this election” compared U.S. Sen. Kay Hagan, D-N.C., and Republican challenger and state House Speaker Thom Tillis on several issues. The flier said “Paid for by the N.C. Republican Party.”

It said at the top of one side, “Public records indicate you have missed some general elections. … Those that didn’t vote in 2012 handed Obama re-election.”

The N.C. Democratic Party letter included details on early voting dates and locations, and said that a photo identification is not required for voting in this election. However, it put such a strong emphasis on peer pressure that some recipients found it overzealous, if not intimidating, in tone. Although the letter assured readers that their votes remains confidential, “however public records will tell the community at large whether you voted or not.”

“As a service, our organization monitors turnout in your community, and it would be an understatement to say that we are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors. Our country was built on democratic engagement, and your community needs you to vote.”

Trudy Cox, a Rural Hall resident, said that the second half of Keever’s letter is what she found as “somewhat threatening, even intimidating.” Cox said that her daughter was the recipient of the letter.

“After the election is over, we will be reviewing the Forsyth County official voting records to determine whether you supported your neighbors and community in 2014 by voting,” Keever wrote in the letter. “If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why you let your community down by failing to vote.”

Gina Wright, communications director for the state Democratic Party, said that there was no intent to offend recipients, though she acknowledged “we understand some people were upset with the letter.”

“We’re trying to find every avenue to engage and motivate our voting base, to have neighbors talking to neighbors to encourage them to go to the polls,” Wright said.

“We would like to know why people didn’t vote, especially in this election. The court decisions have been going back and forth on early voting. So many people are confused about whether they need an ID or not.

“We want to know if those were factors in why you didn’t vote, why you were disinterested in the election, and what we could have done differently,” Wright said.

Wright said the letter “was definitely not meant to dissuade anyone from going out to the polls. Matter of fact, it was meant to encourage them. Not everyone read the letter the same way.

“Time will tell if this will be a strategy that should be used again.”

The state Republican Party flier included the image of a large stack of folders, of which the top one read “North Carolina voting records 2012.”

Todd Poole, executive director of the state Republican Party, said when asked about its flier that “this is going to be a very close election, and we are using every opportunity to get Republicans to the polls.”