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Bad Idea: Email Appending Voterfiles

By None:

Over at ClickZ, our pal Kate Kaye has an item up about the burgeoning practice of appending email addresses to databases of voters.

By definition, of course, if you're doing that you're going to be spamming people who haven't asked for your email. The ClickZ piece includes a lot of apologists for the practice -- and a handful of critics, including yours truly.

First, the lure...

As campaigns put their data houses in order for the '06 elections, voters can expect more messages in their inboxes from local and statewide candidates, political action committees and advocacy groups, whether or not they gave them their e-mail addresses. ...

Campaigners and political office holders using e-mail for constituent outreach are gravitating towards e-mail appending because sending e-mail is relatively inexpensive compared to direct mail, TV or radio. It can also be much more targeted, enabling campaigns to hit all voters within a particular district, or restrict e-mail messaging only to Democrats who have voted in the last three primaries within a precinct, for instance.

And then, the rest of the story...

But despite these capabilities, e-mail appending services aren't universally popular among politicos. Kari Chisholm, president of Internet political strategy firm Mandate Media is getting lots of calls from Capitol Hill staffers who want to "pull the trigger" on voter file matched e-mail campaigns. "It is clear to me that someone or perhaps a lot of 'somebodies' are hawking this snake oil all over the halls of Congress," commented Chisholm, who calls sending such e-mails "unethical." He believes they don't work because, if perceived as spam by recipients and tagged as such, they can trigger ISP spam blocking systems.

Many campaign consultants cite little concern from clients regarding spam and privacy issues. Still, others share Chisholm's views. "Nobody wants to be the first candidate who gets savaged in public opinion and the media for doing something like that," stated Mike Turk, former e-campaign director for the Bush/Cheney '04 presidential campaign. According to Turk, the Bush/Cheney '04 campaign "very specifically did not" append e-mails to voter files, sticking strictly to organically-grown lists.

Let's go over that again. If you send large quantities of email to people that don't want it, you stand the risk that the rest of your email (for those who do want it) just won't get delivered. Why? Because the large email facilities (AOL, Yahoo, Gmail, Hotmail/MSN, Earthlink, etc.) and the big spam filter networks (SpamHaus, SpamCop, Cloudmark, and many others) very rapidly "learn" who is spamming their systems and react accordingly.

Of course, in addition to the killing-the-golden-goose problem, you've got a political problem. Just ask Republican Charlie Crist, the Florida AG who is running for governor.

"OK, Mr. Smarty Pants" - I hear you saying - "how do you grow your list?" Regular readers of P&T know: How do you build your email list? and after the campaign, Post-election email strategy.

Dig into the rest of P&T's email strategy tips.