Using billboards to
increase voter turnout
Prepared by Debra Cleaver,
Founder and CEO, Vote.org
In 2010, a “private family foundation” began posting
billboards in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, warning citizens that
“Voter Fraud is a felony.” The billboards appeared mainly
in low-income minority neighborhoods. Activists
assumed that the billboards were intended to suppress
In 2012, nearly 200 additional billboards were erected in
the swing states of Ohio and Wisconsin. The billboards
bore the same text, and an updated design. Like the 2010
billboards, they were posted in low-income, minority
According to Clear Channel Outdoor Advertising, more
than 85 voter suppression billboards were placed in
Whoever purchased the ads from Clear Channel Outdoor
Advertising did so anonymously — the boards carried only
the information that they were paid for by “a private family
The billboards were placed in black and brown
neighborhoods, in low income areas, and in a few rural
maps with the
and determined that
the billboards were
only placed in black
Activists in Ohio and Wisconsin tried to get Clear
Channel to name the purchaser, but were rebuffed.
A 2012 joint investigation by One Wisconsin Now and the
Grio revealed that the ultra-conservative Einhorn Family
Foundation and Bradley Family Foundation were behind the
voter suppression billboards.
The Einhorn Family Foundation and The Bradley Family
Foundation are part of a constellation of conservative
funders who are led by Charles and David Koch.
The Bradley Foundation is one of the nation's largest funders
of conservative causes and organizations, giving
approximately $30 million in grants each year.
The Bradley Foundation has spent millions of dollars
promoting the idea that “voter fraud” exists -- and that it takes
place primarily in black and brown neighborhoods.
The Bradley Foundation is undeterred by a lack of evidence.
A federal judge in Ohio found that “these billboards seemed to be strategically
placed disproportionately in African-American and Latino neighborhoods in both
cities, often within eyesight of large public housing communities" even though
there was “was little to no evidence that [voter] fraud was taking place in
Ne. Ohio Coal. for the Homeless v. Husted, No. 06 Civ. 896, 2016 WL 3166251, at *30 (S.D. Ohio June 7, 2016),
aff'd in part, rev'd in part, 837 F.3d 612 (6th Cir. 2016).
In-person voter fraud is less common than
“(The billboards are) just a blatant attempt to keep
people in this community, particularly black people and
poor people, from voting.”
-- Cleveland Councilwoman Phyllis Cleveland
Learn more about the voter suppression billboards
The Vote.org team was
inspired by the Bradley
Foundation and the
If billboards can be used to suppress turnout --
they can also be used to increase voter turnout.
We went big on billboards in Virginia in 2017
● We ran ads on 95 billboards (and bus shelters) in the Hampton Roads area
for the four weeks leading up to Election Day.
● We also purchased advertising on the inside and outside of 97 public transit
buses in the Hampton Roads area. That is ⅓ of all public transit buses.
● Anecdotally, organizers on the ground assured us that the ads were “literally
● Mathematically, these outdoor ads provided 30 million impressions.
We even invested in digital billboards,
that counted down until Election Day.
We didn’t just invest in billboards
We also invested in SMS outreach and digital radio.
● SMS: Our team sent 1,471,085 texts to 428,240 registered POC voters in
Virginia. Initial texts reminded the voters than an election was coming. The
final texts proactively provided polling place information to the voters, along
with a reminder to vote.
● Digital radio: We ran commercials on Pandora and Spotify in both English
and Spanish for four weeks, targeting Black, Latino, and Asian American
voters. These ads were heard 2,514,083 impressions.
Our goal was to reach every potential voter multiple
Billboards are a key part of this strategy.
They’re bold, they’re inexpensive, and they’re a great way to market a product.
Our “product” is voting. Billboards are a key part of our marketing strategy.
Vote.org went even bigger
with billboards during the
Alabama Senate Election
in December 2107
We bought 140 billboards in Huntsville,
Birmingham, Montgomery, Mobile and other
parts of the “Black Belt,” and 59 bus ads in
In total this produced an estimated 70 million
We layered SMS, mail, and radio on top of the
● We ran 3 weeks of digital radio on Pandora targeting African-Americans in
Alabama for an estimated 1,746,103 impressions.
● We proactively provided polling place data via SMS to 585,000 POC in
Alabama, representing over 50% of all registered black voters.
● We partnered with Voter Participation Center (VPC) to send 200,000 pieces
of direct mail to registered black voters. This represents 21% of all registered
● We also partnered with VPC and the Analyst Institute to run the first-ever
controlled experiment testing the effect of layering SMS on top of direct mail
In much of the media coverage in Alabama the billboards
were used as a visual reference, but no one ever discussed
The billboards were part of both the pre- and
post-election media coverage.
On the ground groups told us that the
billboards were “everywhere”
And that they hadn’t met anyone who didn’t
know the election was coming.
Experts expected low turnout in the Alabama
election. After all, December of an off year is
a bizarre time to hold a senate election.
Instead there was record high turnout
Particularly in the predominantly black precincts, where Vote.org was one of only a
handful of groups working to mobile voters.
Black voter turnout did not drop at all between 2016 and 2017. This is virtually
unheard of: turnout is always lower during an off-year election than it is during a
Unless, of course, you invest in GOTV.
GOTV works: if you ask people to vote,
And GOTV can make all the difference in a
Vote.org can use
billboards again to
increase voter turnout in
First, to prevent conservative groups -- like the Koch
Brothers, the Bradley Foundation, and the Einhorn
Family Foundation -- from buying billboards and using
them to suppress black and brown voter turnout.
It’s important to beat these groups at their own game. Either conservatives buy
billboards and use them to suppress turnout, or progressive groups -- like Vote.org
-- buy billboards and use them to increase turnout.
Second, billboards are an inexpensive marketing channel
● The low production costs combined with high CPMs make outdoor advertising one of the most
affordable advertising channels available.
● It costs Vote.org less than $200,000 to run ads on 95 billboards and 97 buses for 4 weeks in
● It cost Vote.org less than $300,000 to run ads on 140 billboards and 59 bus shelters for 4 weeks in
● Vote.org pays less than most groups for billboards and transit ads because we buy in bulk -- and
because the billboard owners often extend us a nonprofit discount.
Third, billboards provide multiple touches at a low price
● Vote.org borrows heavily from marketing and sales expertise.
● Partisan groups market candidates. Vote.org markets voting.
● The “rule of seven” is widely known in marketing circles. It takes 7 touches to
convert a lead to a sale.
● Low and mid-propensity voters are Vote.org’s “leads.” Voted ballots are our “sales”
● Billboards are an inexpensive way to touch potential voters multiple times at low CPM
(cost per thousand views)
Fourth, young people don’t watch broadcast TV
The majority of partisan outreach dollars are spent on broadcast TV ads. Broadcast TV is an ineffective
way to reach young voters. Some fun facts about TV
● Half of broadcast TV viewers are over 54.
● 61% of adults under 30 in the U.S. primarily use online streaming to watch TV
● 47% of adults ages 22-45 are watching absolutely no content whatsoever on broadcast TV.
But they do notice billboards.
● Arbitron studied the effectiveness of billboards and found that (1) young people spend
20 hours a week in their cars and (2) over 70% of travelers reported looking at some
billboards, and 37% reported that they look at ALL billboards.
● Nielsen conducted a study on the effectiveness of transit advertising in 2017 and found
that (1) viewership was highest among adults aged 25-34 and (2) viewers later recalled
these ads 47% of the time.
Arbitron study on billboards (link).
Nielsen study on billboards and transit ads (link)
Finally, billboards amplify all other outreach
● Research shows that multi-channel outreach is better than single-channel
● This is true when it comes to marketing products, marketing candidates, and
● Billboards are an effective amplifier for other critical outreach efforts, including
SMS, radio, direct mail, field, and even TV.
Nothing will ever replace face-to-face outreach.
● On the ground field programs, and face-to-face conversations, will always be
the gold-standard of voter outreach.
● But on-the-ground is difficult and expensive to scale.
● And it is unlikely that any field program -- no matter how efficient -- will ever
reach every low and mid-propensity voter.
● We can use billboards to ensure that almost every voter is aware that
elections are coming, including those voters who we can’t reach via
Vote.org needs your help to buy billboards in
● We are interested in states, counties, and congressional districts that have a
high-percentage of POC and young voters and also have competitive elections.
● Right now we are keen on certain areas of Arizona, California, Colorado, Florida,
Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi,
Missouri, Nevada, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania,
Texas, and Virginia.
● At the end of the day, we are location agnostic, and population specific. Vote.org will
run an outreach program anywhere in America, as long as there are low-propensity
young voters and POC in those areas.
The deadlines are approaching.
Vote.org has until September 24, 2018 to buy the billboards. We have the
creative ready to go. We just need capital to purchase the inventory. And don’t
worry: we will push hard for nonprofit and bulk-order discounts.
Email firstname.lastname@example.org anytime to talk about
investing in Vote.org’s 2018 billboard
Donations to Vote.org are tax-deductible
Vote.org is a 501(c)(3) non-partisan, nonprofit. Our mission is reflective
democracy, which is a shorthand way of saying that we work to ensure that the
electorate accurately reflects the population in terms of race, gender, income, and
We work to increase voter turnout by targeting voters who are less likely to cast
ballots, specifically young voters and voters of color.