Voter Turn-Out

Today’s American communities are facing tough challenges when it comes to locating outside funding sources for parks and recreational facilities. Among these challenges is the fact that capitalizing parks, sports complexes and aquatic centers is increasingly requiring voter approval.

While obtaining voter approval can be a daunting task, there are many communities throughout the country that have led successful campaigns. South Windsor, Conn., for example, recently received capital improvement funding for its Veterans Memorial Park Pool through the passage of a local referendum.

So how do South Windsor and other communities “turn out the vote” to get their referendums approved? By crafting a message that educates, persuades and inspires supporters to make their way to the polls on voting day.

A first step toward fine-tuning this important message is to fully understand the who, what, when, where, how and why of message development strategy.

WHO — Message Development

Successful referendum campaigns involve many people, ranging from community members to those who will help develop the project plan, budget and timeline.

The goal is to be inclusive of your community and the people who will benefit from the development or improvement of your project. Citizens, elected officials, recreational officials and representatives from service clubs all make great referendum campaign staff members.

One caution: Involving numerous people can lead to disorganization. So, it’s a good idea to assign specific roles to each person on your campaign staff.

In South Windsor, for example, the organizing committee assembled a diverse group of campaign staffers. The group included marketing executives, writers, stay-at-home parents, pool enthusiasts and representatives from the parks and recreation commission.

As you are considering your campaign staff, be sure to verify and follow your state’s election laws. Many states, including Connecticut, prohibit public officials from advocating positions on any public initiative up for vote.

WHAT — Message Focus

Cultivating voter support is most easily achieved when campaigns are aligned with the existing values and culture of the community. In other words, if your campaign message successfully taps into a common goal or ambition of your community, your chances of the residents voting for your initiative are greatly increased.

So, how do you establish that core value message? You must be able to answer basic questions about your community’s values. Begin by hosting a planning meeting for your campaign staff at which you ask yourselves the following questions.

• What do the residents of this community value above all else?

• Why does the community need what we are proposing?

• How much will it cost?

• Where will the funds come from, and how long will it take to finance this project?

• When will the project be finished?

• Once the project is completed, how will it be maintained?

In South Windsor, the campaign staff was able to establish its core message by answering the planning questions.

Because they knew that enhanced property values were a core ambition for many of their residents, they were able to settle on a message that addressed this goal. The message communicated that the project was virtually ageless and that the aquatics center would positively impact property values for years to come.

WHY — Crafting the Message

Voter-supported initiatives fail for two reasons — organized opposition and failure to get supporters to the polls. Even the most on-target message and tremendous communication strategy means nothing unless it can inspire people to take action – specifically, to vote.

You must be sure that your message is tailored to tap into the passions and motivations of your community’s residents. In addition to educating them with your message, make them want to take part in your mission. This well-crafted message, combined with a plan for getting people to the polls or filling out absentee ballots, will ensure a successful outcome.

WHERE — Message Delivery

There are several areas in which strategists recommend you deliver your message. They advise the obvious –- which is where the voters live –- but they also recommend that you focus on areas where voter turnout is particularly high, the demographic is consistent with the focus of the project, and the population has supported similar initiatives in the past.

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