"Dear Voter, You're being studied for scientific research during the upcoming general election!" Sincerely, AFP. | Arkansas Blog

Thursday, October 30, 2014

"Dear Voter, You're being studied for scientific research during the upcoming general election!" Sincerely, AFP.

Posted By on Thu, Oct 30, 2014 at 7:10 PM

click to enlarge SCIENCE EXPERIMENT: Americans for Prosperity wants you to participate! - BRIAN CHILSON
  • SCIENCE EXPERIMENT: Americans for Prosperity wants you to participate!
No joke. This is the first line in the latest mailer popping up locally from Americans for Prosperity, the conservative political nonprofit founded by the Koch brothers.

AFP has interjected itself into state elections in Arkansas and around the country in recent years, and they've gotten into some trouble in North Carolina for sending out misinformation about registration to thousands of voters in that state. (On accident, AFP says.) Lately, in Arkansas, AFP has attracted complaints from folks who've received get-out-the-vote mailers with a weirdly aggressive tone. "We hope to let voters know after the election who participated and who failed to vote in your neighborhood," says one. 

The newest mailer, though, really dials up the level of creepy. Times photographer Brian Chilson received this today, addressed to a previous resident of his home.

"You're being studied for scientific research during the upcoming general election!" it announces in what I imagine to be the cheery British voice of a Clockwork Orange medical researcher. "You were randomly selected to be a subjected in a study that examines why people do or do not vote." Lucky you!

Also: "After the election, your voting record will be examined for completeness." And, "you may be contacted after election day to explain why you did or did not vote." The front of the mailer says that it's from Americans for Prosperity - Department of Voter Education.  

I see. Very helpful, and not at all intimidating or baffling.

What's going on here? AFP would have us believe it's simply trying to get more people to vote. Everything about the organization's record and history indicates we should take that bland claim of pure civic interest with a grain of salt, to put it kindly. Actually, I've gotten a mailer myself this week from a different organization that similarly tried to railroad me into voting with mildly aggressive langauge about my "record", but upon looking up the group, it appears to be a nonprofit that exists for the express purpose, ostensibly, of boosting voter turnout. (It also got the facts entirely wrong about which Arkansas elections I've participated in.) I don't particularly care for that, but AFP's activities make me a lot more suspicious because AFP exists for the express purpose of trying to "engage citizens in the name of limited government and free markets."

When an overtly political organization spends money on mailers in the weeks leading up to a hotly contested election, there's very likely a political angle. Perhaps, as Max has said, AFP is targeting the sorts of voters likely to support its candidates. Those candidates are exclusively conservative Republicans. Yet...in all of reddening Arkansas, it seems odd to be doing that in comparatively liberal Little Rock. Brian's neighborhood is largely minority, he says — not exactly prime Koch territory.

I'd love to know exactly which neighborhoods are being targeted. In the meantime, just in case, maybe we should all be reading up on voter caging. From Project Vote:

Voter caging is a practice of sending mass direct mailings to registered voters by non-forwardable mail, then compiling lists of voters, called “caging lists,” from the returned mail in order to formally challenge their right to vote on that basis alone. Other methods, such as database matching, have been used more recently to compile voter caging lists. The practice is used almost exclusively by officials or members of the Republican Party, local and national.

Here's the back of the mailer:

click to enlarge front_afp_mailer.jpg

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