Photo of Aaron Rouse and his supporters
Apr 5 2023Success Stories

Aaron Rouse Wins Important State Senate Race in Virginia

In 2023, Aaron Rouse, a Democratic Virginia Beach city council member and former NFL player, was elected by his community to the Virginia Senate in a close race, after mailing more than 10,000 vote-by-mail applications and sending 124,000 text messages, including peer-to-peer listening, persuasion, absentee ballot chase, and GOTV mobilization messages. Rouse's seat had previously been held by Republicans for many years. 

Background

When Aaron Rouse decided to run in Virginia’s 7th State Senate District special election in December 2022, he faced a challenging race. Rouse — a nonprofit founder, former NFL player and Democrat who formerly served on the Virginia Beach City Council — was vying for a seat previously held by Republicans for many years. While Democrats had only narrowly lost the seat in the last election, the Rouse campaign understood that turning out progressive voters in the special election would be key to success. The Rouse campaign needed a cost-effective and efficient way to reach voters. 

Challenge

With only a few weeks between the start of the campaign and the January 2023 election, the Rouse team needed to quickly mobilize voters. Rouse faced challenges that many candidates running in special elections have: contacting potential voters quickly, persuading any undecided people, and turning out supporters to vote in a very compressed timetable.

Solution

The Aaron Rouse campaign teamed up with Civitech to build and execute a multi-step program that included sending vote-by-mail applications with a text follow-up, a ballot chase texting program, and additional voter outreach texting. 

Rouse’s campaign chose Civitech’s TextOut Turnkey, a full-service texting package that includes a dedicated team to run the texting programs. We worked closely to write texting scripts based on campaign goals and conducted a multi-step plan for victory. 

The Rouse team understood the need to get voters to the polls, especially voters confused by why they needed to vote in January. To make sure voters turned out, we worked with them to execute a targeted vote by mail program aimed at voters who don’t typically turn out. 

Programs

Vote by Mail

Vote-by-mail (VBM) applications 

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We sent targeted vote-by-mail application forms to potential voters in Virginia’s 7th State Senate district. The forms also included a link to an online form to request a mailed ballot and barcodes for tracking returns.

VBM application follow-up and ballot chase 

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Our texting team followed up with potential voters who received a vote-by-mail application and encouraged them to return it. Later, we followed up with any voters who requested a ballot, but hadn’t yet returned it.

Voter Outreach Texting 

Persuasion

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Our team of texters ran a persuasive texting campaign to listen to voter concerns and provide persuasive information about Rouse.

Early Vote

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Following the persuasion text series, Civitech texters encouraged supporters to vote early.

Event mobilization 

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Through texting outreach, Civitech texters spread the word about a meet-the-candidate event as well as a Vote Early rally closer to Election Day. 

GOTV Efforts

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As part of Get out the Vote (GOTV) outreach, we provided information about voting hours and reminders to vote. We also asked voters to “vote triple” by asking their friends, family and housemates to vote. Relational organizing research shows that people are more likely to vote if a friend or family member reminds them.

In addition, redistricting caused confusion among voters about polling locations. When we realized that in-person voters were having trouble finding their polling places online, we quickly created a texting campaign to provide that information. 

Results

With nearly 40,000 total votes cast, Aaron Rouse won the close race by 696 votes, flipping the 7th Senate District from a Republican to a Democratic seat. 

Rouse faced a small deficit when Election Day in-person voting and early votes were counted, but absentee ballots broke by more than 2-to-1 for Aaron Rouse. Our vote-by-mail program turned out more potential voters than the margin of victory.

The complementary vote-by-mail and texting outreach programs helped Rouse meet his win number and flip an incredibly important seat in the Virginia State Senate. 

Our results include: 

  • We sent applications to more than 10,000 households and saw a response rate four times higher than a typical vote-by-mail campaign. 

  • Our texting programs reached nearly 40,000 unique voters and included 124,000 texts, with a 7% response rate.

By the Numbers: Texting

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  • 124,000 texts sent 

  • 7% response rate

  • 39,894 unique voters reached

By the Numbers: Vote By Mail

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  • 10,667 vote-by-mail applications sent

  • Response rate 4x higher than the average vote by mail campaign

“Civitech helped our campaign contact and mobilize the voters we needed to win this race. Both the vote by mail and texting programs helped make the difference in a close and important election. We are excited to keep working with the team to find the most efficient and effective methods of contacting voters.”

Ryan Jackson, Campaign Manager, Rouse for Senate

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