The database is a political party’s single most important tool. Although technology provides ever more sophisticated options for prioritizing which constituents a party interacts with and when, even a party in a low-tech environment needs to decide whom to engage and when. When a party is faced with these types of technology challenges, member training becomes even more important, as mistakes can take longer to catch. For instance, a party might use printed lists that cannot be updated regularly, so several activists may have to input data onto the same hard copy document before they can update a central database.
Card Files: The first voter files were index cards. Each card contained the voter’s name, gender and contact information, and a record of each contact. Candidates or activists could sort the cards by address and consult the card before knocking on a voter’s door. They recorded the conversation on the card and followed up appropriately by phone or mail. Although it was time consuming and awkward, it was effective in small areas. While card files may be cumbersome and difficult to sort into phone or mail lists, they are manageable if there are responsible, well-trained members to organize them. These files can be useful for direct voter contact and for smaller parties, or at the branch office level. For an explanation and a checklist of a basic voter file’s requirements, please see this worksheet.
Spreadsheets: Spreadsheets are easily available and can be effective for a single precinct or a small geographic area. Each important field in a spreadsheet should be a separate column; fields might include first name, last name, address, phone, party or candidate preference, gender, and results from contact attempt(s). Activists can then sort the data by address so that they know who they will be talking to, and party officials can sort the spreadsheets by contact attempts in order to conduct appropriate follow up. More specifically, a party could re-attempt to contact constituents who were not home or follow up with members who promised to make a contribution. The ability to sort and count quickly makes spreadsheets a powerful tool, but they require active management.