Mailbox letters aim to shame Michigan voters to turn out on election day

Letters inform Michigan voters if neighbors voted in past elections, aim to get voters to turn out to avoid shame

By Mara MacDonald - Reporter


It looks innocuous enough, but the catchy red writing on the outside raises eyebrows.

"Vote history audit enclosed," it reads. Then, you see what's on the inside.

The letter arriving in mailboxes across southeast Michigan lists names of a recipient's neighbors and whether they voted in 2004 and 2008. Then, the letter thanks the recipient for voting and informs them they will be updating their records and sending out another audit.

Who are "they?" It's a group out of Virginia which calls itself Americans for Limited Government. What the group is doing is perfectly legal. Whether a person votes or not is on the public record. But voter reactions have ranged from creeped-out to angry.

"I was upset. I just felt it was an invasion of my privacy. I don't think my neighbors need to know my business, whether it's voting or anything else," said Rich Schweim, of Woodhaven.

Schweim's concern is not unique in Metro Detroit. Oakland County Clerk Bill Bullard's office, as well as other local clerk offices, is getting calls from voters who are worried and upset over the letters.

"People have nothing to fear. People can find out your voting history. It's public information," said Bullard. "The sanctity of the ballot is preserved."

This is happening in other battleground states such as Ohio and Florida. The tactic of "shaming" voters into voting has been used before.

"We don't think shame should be used as a tactic to get people to vote," said Bullard. "We want to make voting convenient and accessible. But shaming people into voting is not the right thing."

The goal behind such letters is to drive up voter turnout. However, all it has done in southeast Michigan is motivate disgust.

"I don't understand their reasoning for doing it. I don't think that letting you know that you're neighbor didn't vote is going to scare you into voting. Doesn't make a lot of sense," said Bullard.

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