Keys To A Successful Referendum

Keys To A Successful Referendum

By Kevin Vinchattle

Local governments, schools, civic leaders and business owners are often tasked with leading local campaign initiatives. In the past two years alone, VE has been engaged by local Chambers of Commerce, a parents group, half a dozen community colleges, a coalition of businesses, school boards and many others to help them win at the local ballot box.

The referendum process can feel daunting. Sometimes, you are simply proposing a new idea. Other times, you are asking voters to submit to a financial cost (e.g. increased property taxes or local sales taxes) above what they currently experience. Enacting change is hard…particularly at the ballot box.

So, how do you best approach the process?

1. Understand the real attitudes and perceptions of the voters.

This information is essential. It should be obtained through an objective process.

Community gatherings, on-line efforts or word of mouth can provide feedback and you should engage people. However, all of these introduce “sample bias” in the process. Those with strong motivations are more likely to offer feedback (e.g. parents of students). The vast majority of those you are asking to make the decision will be missed if you don’t seek out their views with objectivity.

The best process for gathering these views remains a live-caller phone survey.

2. Remember this is an elective process.

A referendum is an election. A voter is going to be asked to vote yes or no on a question. You should approach it as such. By the time the question is put to voters, there should be no doubt it is needed. Your perspective should be; “What must I do to obtain the number of votes needed to pass this question?” That’s how you achieve your desired outcome.

3. Understand your voter demographics.

Your voters are going to have diversity. Men, women, young, old, high-income, low-income and other “groupings” will have different perspectives. Understanding these differences is key to your communication efforts. Giving young voters the information that motivates older voters is ineffective and wastes resources.

4. Communicate!

The greatest threat to your desired outcome is misinformation. A genuine lack of understanding can snowball into widespread misinformation. Likewise, those standing against the question can simply spread false information… It happens!

Clearly identify the reason(s) to vote yes:

a. Have a “plan” which clearly identifies why you are asking for a yes vote. It should start with the simple: “Here’s the situation and here’s why we are pursuing this solution.” After the general, provide the specifics for those who need that information. Not everyone does.

b. Focus on the “why” more than the “what”. The “why” is what really gives people motivation. If you focus too much on the “what”, you can find an electorate suddenly full of experts whose opinion on size, shape, hours, uses, etc., will become their reason to vote “no” if your plans don’t closely align with their views.

c. Utilize all available channels for sharing your information. Social media is obviously a great method for getting the message out and responding to feedback. Don’t stop there. Put a face, or faces, to the effort. Conduct live meetings with opportunity for discussion. No matter how hard you try, you will not catch everyone’s attention with one or two methods. Utilize direct mail, for example. Getting an oversized postcard into voter’s hand will get noticed.

5. Don’t expect people to vote yes just because it is the right thing to do.

Supportive people should not necessarily be considered “likely” voters. They often think a worthy idea is going to be adopted without needing their vote. Opponents are more motivated because they know their vote is needed to defeat the effort.

6. Make it easy for voters to vote yes.

Everyone is busy. Making a special trip to vote in an election can be a headache. Maximize the absentee ballot process to get your yes votes. This makes it “easy” for supporters to give you the “yes” vote you need.

7. Turnout, turnout, turnout!

If you don’t turnout your yes votes, you’ve wasted your time. Have a plan in place to get your yes votes cast!

These are just a few of the keys to a successful referendum effort. If you are seeking to win a referendum, let Victory Enterprises help you achieve your goal.

Kevin Vinchattle does customer relations for Victory Enterprises. He currently lives in Florida.