Are Your Neighbors Voting?

By: Tony Tagliavia
By: Tony Tagliavia

When you open your mailbox, you might expect some junk mail. But this?

"It listed everybody on my street and their names and who voted in the primary," Michael Crouch said.

Crouch, who lives in Haslett, found that in his mail this week. And he's not happy about it.

"I don't appreciate it. And I don't think it's my business to know whether my neighbors are voting," he said. "This sort of rings of '1984,' George Orwell's book: Big Brother's watching."

The mailing traces back to Practical Political Consulting Inc., listed with a post office box in East Lansing. We found the group's physical office on East Lansing's Albert Avenue.

"This is actually a research project I'm doing in conjunction with two professors from Yale University," PPC's Mark Grebner said. "It's more serious than you might think."

Grebner is behind the mailings. And like them or not, they're perfectly legal; voter records are public records.

"What we're trying to do here is to see if telling people that their neighbors will know if they are voting or not -- if that motivates them to vote," Grebner said.

Grebner, who's also an Ingham County supervisor, says 20,000 others got the same piece of mail listing their neighbors' voting records.

Another 20,000 received their own voting record, and not that of their neighbors. Twenty thousand more letters included only a reminder to vote. And yet another 20,000 got a note saying, in effect: We're watching whether you vote in this next election.

"Eighty thousand pieces to likely voters in the state," Grebner explained.

Organizers say they've received about 500 complaints about the letters. After we spoke with Grebner, we heard some of them on the group's answering machine:

"I'd like my name off this stupid list," one caller said. "I don't know whose idea this was, but I voted and I don't care who voted or didn't vote."

The callers will be removed from future mailing lists if they so desire, Grebner said.

For his part, Crouch, who told us he did vote in the last primary and general elections, has an idea of how effective the mailers will be at turning out the vote.

"I think it would be quite a turn-off," he said. "Make them say, 'Forget it.'"

But the researchers are content to sit back, wait and see if that happens. Grebner expects some results by September, with the study's completion date set for next April.

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