Elections

Unmarked postcards sent to Pennsylvanians tell them ‘whether you vote is public record’

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A Spotlight PA reader was confused and concerned by a handwritten postcard that states, "Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record."
A Spotlight PA reader was confused and concerned by a handwritten postcard that states, "Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record."
Courtesy Shari Berg

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HARRISBURG — A handwritten postcard with vague sender information reminding some Pennsylvania voters about the May 17 primary appears to comply with the law, but the language did cause confusion among some recipients and raise concern about harassment.

“Thank you for being a previous voter,” says the postcard, photos of which were sent to Spotlight PA by a concerned reader. “Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record. Be a voter on May 17!”

The postcard is signed “Pam” but doesn’t have any additional identifying information telling the recipient who created or sent it. It also has a link to the state’s voting website — vote.pa.gov — leading the reader to believe it was sent by the state.

Spotlight PA matched the graphic on the postcard to a campaign launched by a progressive political action committee called the Progressive Turnout Project.

The Progressive Turnout Project is dedicated to getting likely Democratic voters to go to the polls, targeting first-time and inconsistent voters, according to its website. In a 2021 blog post, the PAC said it planned to focus on Pennsylvania’s 2022 U.S. Senate primary.

The PAC did not respond to a request for comment.

“[Voters] just need a nudge, some information, and to hear from a real person,” said the PAC’s website. “That means every eligible non-voter we’re able to reach brings Democrats closer to success on Election Day.”

Shari Berg, a voter from Allegheny County, received one of the postcards. She said the handwritten message was concerning and could make voters have second thoughts about voting.

“This kind of thing wouldn’t stop me, but I’m sure there are some for whom it would give them pause about going to the polls given the politically-charged climate we live in these days,” Berg told Spotlight PA. “If the intent of this group was to encourage voting, they failed in my opinion, with their choice of words.”

The Progressive Turnout Project says in its blog post that it conducted an experiment with four different handwritten messages, and this one was the most effective as a “social pressure campaign.” Even though some voters don’t like it, the PAC says the goal isn’t to make them happy.

“Some volunteers and voters do find social pressure messages distasteful,” the blog post said. “It is important to keep in mind that the goal of social pressure messages are to increase turnout, not to make voters happy about receiving a postcard.”

The Pennsylvania Department of State did not respond to a request for comment, but it appears the postcard violated no laws.

Pennsylvania’s election law requires a person or group who sends a mailing to identify who financed it if it advocates for or against a candidate or ballot measure, which the postcard does not do.

Still, Berg told Spotlight PA, “Not knowing who is sending you these communications only adds to the fear for some people who may worry their voting habits are being monitored.”

A Spotlight PA reader was confused and concerned by a handwritten postcard that states, "Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record."
Courtesy Shari Berg
A Spotlight PA reader was confused and concerned by a handwritten postcard that states, "Who you vote for is private, but whether you vote is public record."

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