Phone workers union sends thousands of text messages telling Democrats in NC to vote

A screen shot showing how the script in the Hustle cell phone application enables high-speed engagement with voters.
A screen shot showing how the script in the Hustle cell phone application enables high-speed engagement with voters. Communications Workers of America

Getting out the vote via cell phones has just gotten a boost from the Communications Workers of America.

North Carolina members of the phone workers’ union began sending text messages to 200,000 Democratic voters in the state on Thursday night in Charlotte, using an interactive program called Hustle to try to rustle out the vote for presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, senatorial candidate Deborah Ross and gubernatorial candidate Roy Cooper.

It’s part of a nationwide campaign so far targeting 2.4 million voters, but which could ultimately revolutionize the ground wars in which the two major political parties aim to get the maximum number of voters to the polls, traditionally through costly phone banks, direct mail bombardments and door knocks.

Hustle was pioneered by three California software engineers and former political organizers to support Bernie Sanders’ Democratic presidential primary campaign. Sanders’ campaign used the application to send and receive more than 20 million text messages.

Hustle provides a prepared script so that, if the voter responds, the canvasser will be able to continue the dialogue within seconds.

“I’ve sent out 600 texts in the last hour and a half,” said Cesar Leyva, the Communications Workers’ Charlotte-based statewide legislative and political coordinator, who was rounding up union volunteers to contact voters. “I’ve been interacting with folks. It’s very easy. Because those responses are built in, I can very efficiently respond back.”

“As technology workers, we understand first-hand why more people than ever rely on their smartphones for information, especially the convenience and speed of text messaging,” he said. “Hustle is a game-changer that will let us engage hundreds of thousands of low-propensity voters via text to gain a turnout advantage that will help Ross, Cooper, and Clinton win tough races in North Carolina.”

The Hustle program harvests cell numbers from Democratic voter registration rolls.

Leyva said union volunteers in Charlotte sent 36,160 texts to voters on Thursday night and received 2,893 responses.

The union also is using the technology in Missouri, Colorado, Arizona and Indiana and soon will expand its use to Nevada and Minnesota, he said.

From the time the campaign started, the union expects to contact 2.4 million voters over four weeks.

Greg Gordon: 202-383-6152, @greggordon2