Midterm election candidates use text banks as campaign technique

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Those who have received texts from local and state candidates on the eve of Election Day have been exposed to an upcoming campaign strategy — text banking.

California State Assembly District 15 candidates Jovanka Beckles and Buffy Wicks, as well as Berkeley City Council District 7 candidates Ces Rosales and Rigel Robinson, are among those with campaigns that have sent out texts thus far, urging supporters to vote or volunteer.

“At this age and time when a very large percentage of communication is via social media – and this is no longer limited to young people – a candidate will be missing the opportunity to deliver their message if they do not use texting as one of the tools of a campaign,” Rosales said in an email.

Both the Beckles and Robinson campaigns have encountered a large volume of responses to texts, ranging from “Please stop texting” to back-and-forth dialogue between an undecided voter and someone involved with the campaign.

Under California Elections Code Section 2194, voter registration card information can be provided with respect to any voter to any candidate for federal, state or local office — and to any person for election, scholarly, journalistic, political or governmental purposes, as determined by the secretary of state.

Phone lists can also be purchased from vendors or obtained from other campaigns, clubs or unions. The lists include people who have expressed interest in the campaign’s website and at events, according to Ben Schiff, a spokesperson from the Beckles campaign.

Robinson’s campaign has a subscription to Political Data, Inc., or PDI, a database that updates voter information such as phone numbers, emails and information about racial and ethnic identity. The database only includes voter files from roughly 60 percent of voters in Robinson’s district, according to Varsha Sarveshwar, campaign manager for Robinson’s campaign.

“If you haven’t been getting texts, your number is not in PDI,” Sarveshwar said.

According to Schiff, text messages also involve an element of specificity. Campaigns will text voters who are favorably inclined toward their candidate. For instance, working for Bernie Sanders in the past or being part of the general database are key characteristics that the Beckles campaign looks for when texting potential voters.

Robinson’s campaign, which has sent out two to three rounds of text banks, focused on the younger voter demographic because this group is less likely to answer the phone, according to Sarveshwar.

Campus sophomore Shivali Baveja said the texts from local community members urging her to vote for particular representatives have been “disconcerting.”

“Text banking is a tool, but not the end-all, be-all. A lot of people get their hands on it, but it really doesn’t do that much. It’s just one way to reach voters, but you’re not going to win an election from text banking,” Sarveshwar said.

Contact Alexandra Casey at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @acasey_dc.