'Your Neighbors Will Know'

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You might remember the letter Michael Crouch was telling us about back in August.

"This sort of rings of '1984,' George Orwell's book: Big Brother's watching," Crouch told us then.

The flyers, 80,000 of them, included 20,000 that read something like this:

"Here's a list of all the neighbors on your street. Here's who voted. Here's who didn't," Mark Grebner of Practical Political Consulting said.

Back in August, when folks like Crouch got the letters, Grebner told us they are part of a Yale University-funded research project to look at what might make people vote.

The relatively plain blue flyers drew a strong response from some who got them.

"I'd like my name off this stupid list," one caller said in a voice mail message in August.

But stupid as some thought it was, the letters worked: They increased voter turnout.

The letter that tells the recipient that his or her neighbors will know if he or she votes increased voter turnout by eight percentage points.

"From 30 percent to 38 percent," Grebner said.

It was a suprisingly large change for turnout in the August primary.

"It caused us to check all our work as a matter of fact," he said.

Three other types of letters went out. Ones listing personal voting history increased turnout by five points. Letters saying your voting habits are being watched sent another two percent of voters to the polls.

And the ones just saying, 'go out and vote,' increased turnout by just a single percentage point.

So what's Grebner's conclusion?

"It tells us conventional methods of encouraging voters really don't work," he said.

And the neighbor letters do work, despite all the agitation. Grebner figures he got about a thousand hostile complaints, including some directly to Yale.

Now the political consultant and Ingham County Commissioner is turning his attention to a similar project that measures its effect over time.

"If you voted four times in a row you get four stars after your name. And the people down the street only have three stars because they missed an election," he said.

Grebner says early results from the November general election show the letters could continuously increase turnout.