Basic Voter File Requirements

To be effective, a voter database must have unique voter identification numbers, a dedicated administrator, and a set of forms that are easy for activists to use. Above all else, the database should record each voter’s name, address, and polling location. However, data collection is challenging. A party can buy data, collect it directly from voters or by observing them, or acquire an election body’s official list.

Common Internal Communications Channels

Internal communications help parties encourage efficient collaboration. Some common channels of internal communication include email and email listservs, custom or private social networks, conference calls, internet-based phone calls, SMS, and videoconferencing.


A party must account for the acquisition, setup and ongoing maintenance costs of adopting new technology, in both the short and long term. For example, it should consider the costs of software and hardware purchases, installations and security. And although some data storage and software updates are free, others cost money and require security.

Custom vs. Off-the-Shelf Software

To determine whether a project requires ready-to-use off-the-shelf (OTS) software or custom-built software, a party must consider the project’s needs and budget. Factors such as vendor-led installation, customer support availability, and the OTS software’s fit with the party’s current and future technological environment and security needs should guide the party’s decision. If OTS software cannot meet project goals, the party should consider whether custom-built software and software-building vendors could meet the project’s goals and budget.

Project Timelines

A party must consider a project’s realistic timeline, which should include extra time for testing, evaluation and delays. It should outline short and long term milestones throughout the timeline, and should be divided into ordered segments that work toward a specific deadline. The party should mark segments for review if necessary, and should assign and train staff according to segment and sub-segment goals. It must incentivize compliance and expect the unexpected.

Proprietary vs. Open-Source Technologies

Open-source technologies are available to the general public at little to no cost, while proprietary technologies are owned by vendors and sold to organizations. Open-source technologies often require adaptation, customization or configuration before use, a process that can demand significant staff or vendor time; they also often lack comprehensive documentation and technical support, which can also raise costs. Proprietary technologies can tie a party to a particular vendor; however, that vendor might be incentivized to provide long-term support to the party.

Questions to Consider When Choosing Technologies

A party should consider a project’s short- and long-term goals, determine how the technology can fulfill those goals and adapt to new ones, and carefully review the technology’s political, legal and cultural limitations.

Specifications Documents (“Specs”)

Project specifications, or “specs,” should outline a project’s objectives in great detail. A good spec might include the project’s goals, constraints, features, examples, budget and/or timeline.

Targeting Voters

A party must identify its supporters and undecided voters. The total number of party supporters plus the targeted groups of undecided voters should surpass the party’s goal of total votes needed to win. When identifying voters, a party should consider each voter’s region, age, preferred channels of communication and level of party support. It can do this through voter contact or public opinion. In the end, a party should be able to identify likely voters and know how to best communicate with them.

Tech Firm Selection

In order to choose the right technology vendor, a party must consider the vendor’s expertise, experience and references relative to a project’s goals. The party should also consider potential conflicts of interest with the vendor and whether the vendor adheres to the party’s legal and moral standards. Vendors should have the capacity to work on the project and maintain it over time.

Understanding the Tech Environment

A party must keep its target audience in mind when adopting new technology and conducting research is key to this task. It should consider whether and to what extent a communications tool is popular, whether the audience has internet access, and whether legal, cultural or socioeconomic issues affect the chosen communications tool. Once a party understands its tech environment, it must adapt its communication strategy. In high-tech environments, smartphones and the internet are near-universal. In low-tech environments, internet access is rare, SMS is the most common form of communication and radio is key. The party must remember that both environments can exist within the same country, necessitating a mixed strategy.