By Camille Rasor | Arts & Life Editor
Political campaigns, more so in 2020 than in any other year, are using text messages as a way to reach voters where they already are: on their cell phones.
Text banking, the process of having volunteers send out text messages to potential voters, has become a staple of political campaigns’ outreach strategy. However, there are laws in place regulating what this process has to look like in order to protect citizens from their phones being inundated with text messages from politicians.
The Federal Communications Commission mandates that unsolicited text messages from political campaigns are sent by an actual person pressing the send button on the other side of the line. That means that unless someone has entered their phone number into some sort of form requesting updates from a campaign, automated text messages are off-limits.
The text banking process usually works through volunteers using peer-to-peer texting services (RumbleUp is popular with Republican campaigns while Hustle is popular with Democratic campaigns) which compile a database of potential voters’ phone numbers and prewritten text messages to allow an easy way for volunteers to send out texts from one place.
“Political scientists who studied this, this goes for not just text but for calling people as well, [have found] it’s much more effective if you’re contacted by someone that you know than just by a random campaign worker,” Baylor political science professor Patrick Flavin said. “Oftentimes campaigns will encourage their volunteers to reach out to the people that are on their contacts list on their phone.”
Campaigns for districts that include Waco have started to use text banking as one branch of their campaign strategy. Rick Kennedy, the Democrat running for the U.S. House of Representatives in Texas’ 17th district, has used text banking along with other, more traditional forms of voter outreach such as mailings and town hall events (made virtual due to the pandemic) in order to reach potential voters.
“It is one of the most cost effective ways to reach a large number of voters in a very short period of time,” Kennedy said. “The other thing is, volunteers tend to gravitate more towards texting than phone banking. A lot of folks are just plain shy and don’t like calling strangers on the phone, but texting is a completely different ball game.”
Pete Sessions, Kennedy’s Republican opponent, has opted not to use text banking as a form of voter outreach in his campaign strategy. Instead, his campaign team has relied on more tried-and-true ways to get his message out to voters.
“Your typical ones are doing mailings and television advertising and social media,” Kirk Bell, Sessions’ campaign manager, said. “And then also you use signage that works pretty well, and neighborhood walks are useful.”
However, in the face of the pandemic, in-person events with the Sessions campaign have had to shift to safeguard public health while still getting the candidate’s message out. Bell said the campaign even has a physician who has volunteered to help them host events that minimize public health risks.
“You have to be socially distant, you have to be properly masked. You have to take precautions with folks,” Bell said. “As far as making sure that everybody has a temperature that is correct, we have a physician who is part of the office that will use a touchless thermometer on everyone that walks in [to an event].”
However, the technology and third-party services that are needed to carry out successful text banking initiatives are not always in the budget for smaller campaigns in local and state elections. Allison Manning, campaign manager for Robert Vick, the Democrat running for Texas Senate for District 22, said that though the campaign itself is not coordinating text banking with its volunteers specifically, texts are being sent on the campaign’s behalf from local Democratic organizations.
“They’re organizing it and they call or text voters about voting for democratic ballot top to bottom, the whole democratic ballot,” Manning said, “and we love to be included in that stuff.”