ReThink’s analysis found that for the past several years, the voting rights movement has been playing defense and delivering our messages on the opposition’s terrain. We found that discussions of vote fraud, voter suppression, and voter ID made up nearly 40 percent of news coverage on voting rights in 2016 and 2017—far more than discussion of aspirational, pro-voter policies. Refuting our opponents’ disinformation about “voter fraud” was only elevating their frame and reinforcing their language. And because voting rights advocates are used to fighting legal and legislative battles to uphold rights, our messaging is too often defensive and legalistic.
Rather than continuing to play on our opponents’ turf, ReThink encouraged the voting rights community to stop using our opponents’ language and instead focus their messaging on pro-voter solutions. This recommendation was based on message research showing that this framing was far more likely to encourage voters to support policies that expand voter participation overall. We also focused on elevating the voices of a more diverse range of spokespeople at the community level, whose life experiences and personal stories would be more accessible to their own target audiences.
When the Trump Administration launched its so-called “Election Integrity Commission,” ReThink helped organize a community-wide response effort including strategy calls; shared talking points and messaging; social media content; and writing, pitching, and placing op-eds and expert commentary. Our message was: instead of this sham commission in search of a problem where there was none, the administration should be looking for ways to expand access to the polls, such as automatic voter registration and early voting. Our unified message in social media was to galvanize Americans to call on the commission to #RespectMyVote. Though there were many factors at play, the administration disbanded the commission.