Why are we mailing our letters so close to Election Day?
Vote Forward's own research along with similar work conducted by other organizations has shown, across many different contexts and types of voter contact, that get-out-the-vote efforts are usually most effective when they land very close to Election Day. This is because the effects of voter contact decay quickly, which means that letters mailed too early will likely have much less effect than letters mailed at the optimal time. Of course, letters sent too late also won’t arrive in time to have the desired impact.
Vote Forward sets the mail dates for our campaigns with this balancing act in mind. The goal is to reach people as close as possible to the election without missing it.
It's also important to note that the registered voters we write to are less likely to make their voting decisions early. Our goal is to reach them just in time for them to take action and vote. Even in vote-by-mail states, large proportions of voters do not return their ballots early, so a letter that arrives right before Election Day catches them at the critical moment when they need to return their ballot.
Data informs all of Vote Forward's work, including setting mail dates. To inform our decision for The Big Send in 2022, we:
- Reviewed delivery statistics for the period since USPS changed its delivery standard for first-class mail (like Vote Forward letters) from 3 days to 5 days.
- Consulted with a USPS political mail advisor for a professional opinion on our plans.
- Analyzed our data to estimate when voters typically receive their Vote Forward letters.
- Conducted an experiment over the summer to gauge the relative effectiveness of letters sent early vs. late.
Based on this evidence we feel confident in our choice of October 29, 2022 (9 USPS business days prior to Election Day) as our mail date for The Big Send.
According to current USPS service standards for first-class letters, letters sent across the US arrive within 1 to 5 business days. Organizations tracking first-class letter delivery times have found that 3 to 5 days is the average delivery time. Our USPS political mail advisor has expressed confidence in our plan to mail our “please vote” letters on Saturday, October 29, 2022 to arrive before Tuesday, November 8, 2022.
Letter Receipt Timing Data
Based on our analysis of one recent campaign in 2022, voter actions on our website in response to letters mailed peaked 2 to 4 business days after the mail date. This indicator bolsters our confidence that the vast majority of Vote Forward letters sent this year will arrive within the 3-to-5 day average delivery window for first-class mail, and well within the 9-day window allowed by our October 29 mail date.
Mail Timing Experiment
In summer 2022 we conducted a randomized controlled experiment to learn more about the effect of mail dates. We asked volunteers to send some letters very early (21 days before an August 9 election) and others much later (just 7 days before the election). Despite this two-week difference in mail dates, the early and late letters appeared to be equally effective at motivating Minnesota voters to turn out, with each producing an estimated 0.8 percentage points of impact.
Because the experiment was relatively small, we should treat these results as suggestive evidence rather than a definite conclusion, and we plan to continue investigating timing in future campaigns. But this evidence further bolsters our confidence that the date we’ve chosen for The Big Send—October 29, 10 days prior to Election Day—will allow enough time for our letters to reach voters and encourage them to vote.
Early Voting and Vote By Mail
In 2022, our focus is on sending "please vote" letters timed to encourage voters to turn out on Election Day because these are the letters we've shown to be most effective over time. We recognize that many voters will make a plan to vote early in person or by mail, and some will do so.† But the voters we're attempting to reach are more likely to wait until the last moment. For them a "please vote" letter will serve as a reminder to return their marked ballot and as a resource for more information on voting in their area.
† In states that make early vote data available very quickly, Vote Forward's data pipeline removes not-yet-adopted voters from our campaigns as soon as it becomes clear that they have already returned a ballot, to maximize the odds that our letters will reach the people who most need the reminder to vote.