by Mitch Kokai
Senior Political Analyst, John Locke Foundation
Milwaukee Mayor Cavalier Johnson has said his city will use a private grant to conduct door-to-door canvassing by the city’s election officials to urge people to vote.
To many people, it would seem that nothing could be as innocuous as a simple “nonpartisan” get-out-the-vote (GOTV) effort, even if it is financed by private grants to election officials. It might sound fair enough, if the mayor’s election staff takes no partisan position, and advocates for no particular candidates in their efforts, and given that election officials are required by law to operate in a nonpartisan fashion.
But as The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway tweeted at the time, “Zuckerberg-style targeted private financing — and collusion with supposedly non-partisan election administration — of GOTV operations in Democrat regions is a horrific attack on election integrity.”
Even if we could take Milwaukee Mayor Johnson at his word when he says,“I’m not asking anybody to cast their ballots for 1 party or another or 1 candidate or another. What I’m asking is for people to participate in our process,” what he is suggesting is inherently partisan, at least in Milwaukee, and in most other U.S. urban areas.
Content neutrality of GOTV efforts ultimately has little to do with their partisan effects. The partisan advantage depends far more on the political characteristics of the targeted area.
In a city like Milwaukee, which Joe Biden won in 2020 with 80 percent of the vote to Donald Trump’s 20 percent, a randomly targeted GOTV effort can be expected to increase the Democratic candidate’s vote total by an extra 600 votes for every 1,000 additional voters mobilized. This is because the Democratic candidate would be expected to get an additional 800 votes, while the Republican candidate would be expected to get an additional 200 votes, resulting in a net gain for the Democrat of 600 votes.