Voting by mail is mostly a mental exercise. Here’s how to get past 3 hangups.

Category: News

This article was originally published in The Fulcrum.

Here’s a situation many may face this fall: The deadline to ask for an absentee ballot is a week away. You head to your state’s website and download the PDF of the form to be mailed in. But your printer is out of ink, and expected delivery is one week out.

You tell yourself you’ll come back and figure something out. But all the sudden it’s six days later and you’re about to miss the deadline, despite your best intentions.

Voting by mail will be a powerful tool for ensuring voters make their voices heard during the coronavirus pandemic. To set it up for success this fall, there is no shortage of steps the government must take — from ensuring local election office capacity to shoring up the Postal Service.

But there is also a human angle: To maximize use of mailed-in ballots, we need to understand and plan for how humans react to unfamiliar and somewhat complicated tasks that lack clear deadlines.

Unfamiliarity, hassle factors and procrastination. Those are labels for three behavioral breakdowns that people will confront. They cause a drop-off between having an intention to do something and actually taking action. Here’s how we can help voters overcome these breakdowns for vote-by-mail, using what we know from the field of behavioral science.

Unfamiliarity. For many, absentee voting is a new and unfamiliar process. For younger people, they aren’t accustomed to communicating by mail at all. Anything new has a learning curve — and unfamiliarity can be compounded by lack of trust. Will my ballot get here on time? Will it be counted?

Solutions start with tapping the power of what’s called the familiarity principle: We’re more likely to prefer something when we see and hear it more. So election administrators need to start talking about voting by mail now — and not just from a policy perspective. They need to show examples of people requesting ballots and walking through the process — preferably community members and recognized figures, in order to build trust.

Thanks to the power of social norming, people are more likely to do something when they think others are doing it too.

Hassle factors. These are the seemingly trivial things that get in the way of accomplishing a task. Remote voting is filled with them, from trying to find the right information on state websites to tracking down stamps. For many, the anticipation of dealing with these things is enough to cause them to not even want to start.

Reducing the hassle factors of voting by mail demands policy change, effective process design and technological innovation. For example, while some states let voters request ballots online, most absentee voters must still print, sign, stamp and mail their completed ballots. A digital transition would reduce steps and materials required. States could also limit hassle factors by sending every voter a ballot, not waiting for them to ask.

Recognizing these are huge undertakings, entrepreneurs are responding with creative ways to reduce current hassles. MailMyBallot.org lets voters in some states fill out an online form for requesting a ballot from the proper local election official. Vote From Home 2020 enlists volunteers to mail absentee request forms to voters.

Governmental messaging can help people proactively navigate the system. It should give clear direction, without jargon or assumptions about understanding. For example, differentiate between “postmarked by” vs. “received by” and lay out exactly what they mean. Rather than saying a form is “due 7 days before” an election, provide the date — not because it’s particularly hard math, but because it’s one more to-do that causes people to drop off.

And voters can get bits of actionable information needed to complete a task — the number to call if your requested absentee ballot never arrives — using tools such as VoteAmerica’s election office locator.

Procrastination. This can be worse with voting remotely, since there isn’t one big moment we’re preparing for and experiencing collectively. Without a single Election Day when voting is a priority, it’s easy to put it off. In behavioral economics, the “planning fallacy” tells us we’re overly optimistic about our ability to finish tasks on time. We don’t leave ourselves enough time for the work, or the hiccups that might get in the way.

The first antidote is a clear time limit. Externally imposed deadlines increase follow-through. Deadlines during several weeks when voting-by-mail is possible, such as the newly launched Vote Early Day, will create a signpost to rally around.

After that, we can reward the early birds. Campaigns and colleges can create teams and use competitions to encourage returning their ballots as quickly as possible. Instead of “I Voted” sticker selfies, schools and politicians can encourage the sharing of photos of sealed ballot envelopes going in the mail — or emulate the Baltimore Votes idea of sending swag for voters to show off.

This sharing also taps into the most powerful nudge in voting: peer influence. We’re more likely to vote when we know others are, too.

Requesting and returning your ballot early is good for voters because you can’t put off something you’ve already done. And it’s good for everyone else: Avoiding a last-minute surge reduces stress on election offices to process ballots -— like we saw in several states with primaries last week.

Helping voters make a plan is another tried-and-true strategy for getting out the vote, because it forces people to think through details and makes intention more real.

In a tool my company built, voters can track their progress through the voting journey, checking off bite-sized actions and celebrating each one. The “endowed progress effect” tells us we’re more likely to achieve a goal if we feel we’ve already made progress toward achieving it. Helping voters see where they are and what comes next increases follow-through.

Avoiding new things, getting discouraged by hassles and putting off tasks that seem annoying — all are part of being human. And it’s easy to overlook the seemingly “little things” that shape each voter experience. But if we want to maximize participation in November, we must be clear about the ways behavioral realities can thwart our best intentions, then design strategies for voters to overcome behavioral breakdowns.

Interview by Motivote’s Communications Intern and Young Voter Advisory Board member, Ella Sternberg.

Have you ever found yourself in a rabbit- hole of fan theories in awe at how detailed and determined fans can be? If so, you’ve probably seen the passion that self- proclaimed Nerds have for their fandoms.

The question, at least to the co-founders of NerdsVote, is how can you channel that passion into civic action? Voice actors Courtenay Taylor (Fallout 4, Regular Show), Mary Elizabeth McGlynn (Naruto, Star Wars Rebels), and JP Karliak (Boss Baby: Back In Business) figured out a way to do just that with their non-partisan, not-for-profit organization, NerdsVote.

Motivote creates a space for the NerdsVote network to get ready to vote. We organize an often confusing election process into actionable steps. If you’re a nerd and want easy-to-follow voting instructions and cool nerd-centric prizes for you and your friends, join NerdsVote’s platform on Motivote.

We asked our friends at NerdsVote some questions about what they have in store for the upcoming election cycle and suggestions they have for you to get involved.

What inspired the creation of NerdsVote?

NerdsVote was founded in May of 2018 by voice actors you may know from your favorite video games and animated shows. Courtenay Taylor came up with the idea over Mexican food and margaritas with a pal.

Courtenay (like many folks) was frustrated with the state of our country’s politics and the misconception that people don’t care about the issues. Because voice actors work alone for the most part, she lamented that she couldn’t even have a “water-cooler chat” with anyone to discuss how to get people involved in the voting process.

But one strong margarita later, she realized that voice actors DO see people! At pop-culture conventions! Thousands of them! And what if she could get other voice actors to talk to their fans at conventions and on social media about the importance of considered and consistent voting? Would that transform the idea that voting is “civic duty” into one of “civic pride”? She believed it would.

Courtenay knew she needed help to get rolling, so she called fellow actors and friends Mary Elizabeth McGlynn and JP Karliak to help. Quickly, NerdsVote was off to the races (and Cons) [Editor’s note for non-nerds: “Cons” stands for “conventions” or famous/ infamous gatherings of nerds around a specific topic], partnering with national voting organization HeadCount at conventions to get nerds on the rolls and out to the polls!

How do you bring nerds together to vote?

Our mission is threefold:

  1. Signal-boost voter registration information at pop culture conventions across the United States.
  2. Use social media and personal appearances to spread the nerd word about the importance of voting in local and national elections every cycle
  3. Offer exclusive merchandise that promotes our cause while benefiting organizations that promote the rights of all citizens to have a voice in our democracy

What has been the response to NerdsVote?

Overwhelmingly positive! A lot of voter registration groups focus on music and sporting events but the Nerdiverse seemed to be uncharted territory, so we got busy and have been welcomed everywhere from DragonCon in Atlanta to GhostbustersFanFest in Los Angeles. We are non-partisan, so conventions are appreciative of that and celebrities can support our goals without running into political issues. Nerds are some of the smartest, most creative folks on the planet, and our voices deserve to be heard!

Obviously, a ton of conventions have been canceled this year, so how has the model been adjusted?

Before COVID-19, we had nationwide conventions packed on our calendar, but have since had to pivot to online outreach. With the help of our social media guru Ivy Bryan and celebs (aka our “Notable Nerds”), we’ve beefed up our social media interaction and developed new content, like our Instagram Live show “Between 2 Nerds”. We work with: HeadCount.com to continue registering folks in-person wherever possible; BallotReady (a site/app that explains every candidate and measure, nationwide); and are Premiere Partners with NationalVoterRegistrationDay.org

Can you tell me more about your Instagram Live Show, “Between 2 Nerds”?

Co-hosts JP Karliak and Courtenay Taylor have an entertaining chat with a “Notable Nerd” celeb on our @NerdsVote Instagram page Tuesdays at 6pm PST/9pm EST, and Thursdays at 2pm PST/5pm EST. Viewers can get questions answered in real time and we talk about everything from what we’re eating, to how to stay inspired in lockdown, how laws affect representation in cartoons, or even personal voting memories! We also promote a simple call to action, like registering to vote by mail.

We’ve had a range of fabulous guests: Ian Harding (Ezra Fitz, Pretty Little Liars), Rebecca Sugar (creator, Steven Universe), Khary Payton (King Ezekiel, The Walking Dead) and Kameron Michaels (finalist, Rupaul’s Drag Race) to name just a few. It’s different every time but always funny and engaging! Set a reminder to tune in!

What’s in store for the future?

Obviously 2020 is a presidential election year and that always gets people to pay attention, but we intend to keep folks engaged long after Nov. 3rd. It’s vital to keep your registration updated, hold lawmakers accountable and transparent throughout their terms in office, and vote in every election – national, state and local! With that in mind, we’ll always have work to do! You can keep up with us on social media (Instagram/Twitter: @nerdsvote and Facebook: @nerdsvoteUSA) for B2N guest announcements and check www.nerdsvote.com for all our news and information and register to vote!

You have some pretty cool items in your merch store. What are some of the most interesting ones?

The merch store has nerd-centric items: our classic logo has thick black glasses with tape across the bridge of the nose, so we play around with that a lot on our shirts. We’ve done an 8-bit old school gaming font trucker hat and we have those collectible enamel pins nerds love. We’re rolling out a special Lady Liberty VOTE graphic design tee by artist Karen Hallion in a few weeks – we can’t wait! You can check it all out at www.nerdsvote.com/shop

What is one piece of advice you’d give to people who are passionate about getting out the vote but don’t know where to start?

If you have time to volunteer, check with places like HeadCount.org, they’d love to have you! But you can also have a big impact from home by setting up a Vote Plan with friends and family! Schedule a meetup now to create a Vote Plan and have everyone do the following:

  • Ensure personal info is current on the voter rolls at NASS.org
  • Set a calendar reminder on your phone for voting day
  • If voting in person, confirm in advance poll locations (they move), hours (they change), and available parking (because walking for miles sucks).
  • Take the day off or schedule accordingly around work/school.
  • Arrange a carpool or meetup at the polls
  • Contact elderly/disabled neighbors to help get them to the polls.
  • Enter 866-OUR-VOTE into your phone contacts and call them if you have any issues!

On Voting Day:

  • Prepare for long wait times at the polls. Bring: your ID, phone charger, snacks/water, options for shade, warmth and seating if needed
  • Call/text/post on socials to remind everyone to go vote!
  • If you are in line when the polls close, you are allowed to stay in line and vote. STAY IN LINE!
  • Afterwards, celebrate your civic engagement with a family zoom call, special dinner or cocktails!

Remember, no matter how overwhelming the political process feels sometimes, (especially in the middle of a freaking pandemic), Americans have to stay involved, informed and vote in every election, every time. Your vote is your voice and your voice matters!

Get Involved!

If you want to check out more about NerdsVote or learn how to get involved, visit their website: https://www.nerdsvote.com/

Want to join the NerdsVote team on Motivote? Click here

And you can follow them on social at Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook