Right on Target
Voter List Management 101
Part 1

One of the reasons I've been around for as long as I have is because I'm really good on the computer. I can cut video, I can search the internet for obscure data, and I know how to do list management. It's a vital function in any campaign, and many people either don't do it, or do it poorly.

In fact, one of the most common questions I get is "Can you help me get a list...."

I'll warn you ahead of time, I'm going to use all this as an excuse to do a multi-part post on list management. Yes, many of you will know this stuff already. But it's being directed to the person who is running for the first time (or doing list management for the first time).

Why is this an important topic? Because it can make the difference between winning and losing. If you don't know who your voters are, how can you ask them to vote for you?

As a candidate, one of the scariest things you might get a brochure for is "Campaign Management Software." Why is is so damn scary? Check out the price - we're talking thousands. Thousands? For just tracking your voters and sending out mail merge letters for events? Not this War College.

My advice? Get a database and do it yourself. The voter list is available locally for little or no cost - so why spend more money on a program than you might spend on your entire race? So let's talk a little about coding your own...

Start out with the database. If you have Microsoft Office, you may have MS Access. That's going to be the tool of preference. Not familiar with it? Statrt to learn - because you can use it heavily if you're running a campaign. And as a relational database, it handles voter lists better than anything else I've ever used. Consider it as a food preparation area for voter data.

Getting to the raw meat of "lists", your voter list is one of the best buys you as a candidate can make. You can use it for many purposes, but first and foremost, you will use it for targeting. As timing is in comedy, targeting is in politics.

If you are a partisan candidate, you may be able to work a deal with your party to get your hands on the voter data as finessed by the party. Sometimes even for free.

For the parameters of this discussion let's assume someone is a newbie - a first time candidate - and running a race in the Republican Primary for County Commission (and this person doesn't know how to get a list from the party). So, where do you get such a list of voters? From your local county auditor.

I've heard all the stories on how an auditor list is bad. Typically from candidates who don't do anything more than get the list and try to use it from there. Yes, I know the list starts out bad - but you have to filter things through it - and use it in certain ways - to make it worth your effort.

Your local county auditor is going to have the data available in one of several formats (computer, houshold list, labels, etc). Anyone who is serious about doing this is going to get it on computer. When you get it - don't forget to also ask for the voter history - this is a critical thing you will need when you go to massage the data.

When you talk to your local auditor about the available disks, they may offer it in one of several formats - ASCII (pronounced ass-key) table, ACSII delimited, label, word, excel, access, etc.

If you have Microsoft Access, and the auditor offers it in that format - that's going to be the choice #1 - just because it's one of the most powerful and widespread databases around. That being said, I haven't run across an auditor who does it that way yet.

Choice #2 would be Excel - again, see choice number one. I actually have seen it that way once. But only once. So, don't count on it.

Choice #3 is going to be ASCII Table format. Both MS Access and MS Excel have nice import functions for data tables of this sort. If you've never imported a file like this before, find the help file and read up on it. You'll need to map the table to the fields.

If you're totally stumped, drop me a note, e-mail me and we can talk. I might even (probably can) be able to be bought off, and do it for you.

You will likely do this in two parts - one for the voter information table, and another for the voter history table. The key is in combining these two voter files and indexing or relating them together on the basis of a unique field in each data table; hence, a relational database.

Typically, this unique field will be readily identifiable in each of the databases, and you will not have a problem relating the two. What will happen is that once related, you can see where John Doe might have voted in the general election in 1996, and he hasn't since. Then in the next records for Jane Doe, you can see that she voted in 1998, 2000, 2002 and 2004.

The most rudimentary targeting that I do is simply, does this person vote on a regular basis? If a person voted in the last two primaries, odds are good that they will vote in the next primary, and if that's the race we're running for, we would concentrate our efforts on this person, and others who fit the profile.

Since we're running in a primary, let's only take those people who are in our party. So now (for sake of argument) we have a list of Republicans who voted in the last two primaries.

See? We just kicked out everyone who didn't match our profile, leaving out people who don't vote in primaries. In some of our efforts, such as direct mail, we're going to go out of our way top make contact with these people, because with a high level of confidence, we can say that they vote in Republican primaries and we need to convince them to vote for us.

And we just did our first targeting.

Watch for other parts on this soon, and from time to time. Got a suggestion on voter lists, computers and targeting? e-mail me.


Unknown said…
SoDakSafeAccess Schedule

Here's my schedule, more or less, for the next few weeks. I'll be visiting several events at which I'll be obtaining signatures on the Safe Access petition.

posted by Bob Newland
Who could be so cruel as to deny medicine to sick, disabled and dying people?

All of the events I'll mention below -- and many more -- are posted at
(you'll have to perform a search to find them from there)

There are quite a few events happening simultaneously with those listed below. You could take in one or more of them and get signatures, too.

Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday, Aug. 16-18
DakotaFest, Mitchell SD

At DakotaFest, I'll ask Rep. Herseth why she voted twice to continue funding DEA raids on hospices and care centers in states that have voted to allow safe access to medical marijuana. I wonder how she'll justify arresting people in wheelchairs for trying to improve their lives.

Friday-Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 19-21
Yankton Riverboat Days, Yankton SD

Monday-Tuesday-Wednesday-Thursday-Friday-Saturday-Sunday, Aug. 22-28
Central States Fair, Rapid City SD

Saturday thru Saturday, Sept. 3-10
So. Dak. State Fair, Huron SD

I might get a chance to question Herseth again.

Anyone reading this is invited to join me. Each of these events attracts tens of thousands of people. Most will sign the Safe Access petition if asked. I can only get to a couple of thousand people at each event, so you'd sure be welcome to help.

I'll be packin'. My cellphone, that is.
Feel free to call if you want to get together with me and circulate the petition. I'll have clipboards and pens for everyone (better call me so I can get more pens if I need them).

As of today, we have 1900 and some signatures in the SDSA office. We need to finish out the summer with 15000 or 16000 or so. Your help is welcome.

Here's what you'll get to do. You'll ask 500 people a day, "Would you like to help us put the issue of medical marijuana on the ballot for next year's election." You'll stand waiting while 350 of them sign the petition.

That's it. Isn't it time you did something in this battle to change South Dakota's laws so that sick people have legal access to the medicine, safer than aspirin, now denied them?

Call me. Bob Newland. 605-209-4354. And not to tell me you'd like to come and help, but can't. I've heard that a few too many times this summer.

Check out our petition circulator progress board at
Anonymous said…
Safe Access is a circular name. What is safe about access to marijuana? Bob, did you have a medical necessity for marijuana when you were busted in Lawrence County a couple of years ago? Or were you so addicted to the drug that you couldn't control yourself? Addiction is not a medical necessity, it is just pathetic. It appears it has pushed you to irrationality. Instead of riding around the state on your odd looking bike in a delusional state, check yourself into inpatient treatment! Otherwise, you could do some time in Sioux Falls. Give yourself some preventitive medicine before you really feel the consequences.
Unknown said…

Come on out and fight, chicken.

Why don't you spend some time talking to people who can't get relief from pain or muscle spasms with any medicine except cannabis?

The access is there now. Anyone can get cannabis who wants it. It just gets tougher and more dangerous when you're in a wheelchair, which is where you would be if you did your jerk act in my face. Chicken.

Bob Newland (my REAL name)

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