An avalanche of more than 50 political text messages has caused one north-central Indiana resident to reconsider voting at all in Tuesday’s midterm election.
Nancy Lindenmayer, a 47-year-old self-described independent voter who works at Blackhawk Winery in Sheridan, told the Tribune Friday morning that she received 54 political text messages in the previous 24 hours.
The majority of those messages, she said, related to the U.S. Senate race between incumbent Democrat Joe Donnelly and Republican challenger Mike Braun.
Although more dramatic than other texting tales, Lindenmayer's experience reflects a campaign trend that's become a storyline of its own right during this year's midterm election.
“The messages are just downright, a lot of times, nasty,” she said, describing the political attack ads she used to see only on TV or in mailers but which are now sent directly to her phone.
“And I’m actually getting them from both sides of the board, too,” added Lindenmayer. “I’m getting them from Democrats and Republicans.”
To get away from the messages, Lindenmayer has even turned her phone off, only to turn it back on and see dozens of unread election-related messages.
“Very, very frustrating,” she responded, noting she used to get 20 to 30 text messages per day, only to see things ramp up as Election Day creeps closer.
The texts, explained Lindenmayer, have even interfered with her job. Often, she uses the Square app to take payment from customers by swiping their debit or credit cards with her phone.
But when text messages pop up at the same time she’s trying to accept a payment, Lindenmayer has to ask the customer to wait until the process can be restarted again.
“I have to use my phone at my job, and I have all these text messages coming in constantly. I’m not able to do my job the way I should,” she said. “When you swipe your card with [Square], it goes through the phone. And when I have a text message coming in from the political parties, I can’t swipe.
“So I’m getting four or five of those, and I have to apologize to customers because I’m not able to get to them until that text message…is marked as read.”
Her vote has now been lost – to both parties.
“They are turning voters off, and nobody is going to win my vote because I’m not going to vote at this point. I’m sick of tired of them using my phone as a political campaign,” she said, noting she was undecided between Donnelly and Braun before her phone began to explode.
“I would have voted for who I thought was the best man. But there’s no best man now.”
The new Facebook
Text messaging, like phone calls and mailers before it, has become the hot new tactic for political parties, campaigns and outside groups to reach voters.
Nearly every message is read and many are replied to — sometimes with thanks, other times with snark.
And occasionally with hate, in the instance of Indiana House candidate Amie Neiling, who used the app Hustle to text voters and urge them to vote early, only to receive a vulgar death threat in response.
Neiling told the Tribune’s newsgathering partners at WTHR that she uses Hustle because it enables her to rapidly send multiple peer-to-peer text messages.
Mass-texting apps like Hustle can download voters’ contact information so candidates and campaigns can easily send hundreds or thousands of texts, reported WTHR.
Phone numbers can be obtained through voter records or even the purchasing of voter information from firms and data providers.
“I can't say specifically where they got your phone number, but trust me you've given your phone number to somebody – by that I mean an organization – that has created a list,” Andy Downs, director of the Mike Downs Center for Indiana Politics at Indiana University-Purdue University-Fort Wayne, told the News and Tribune in Jeffersonville.
“You're part of that list and the list has now been sold to somebody.”
The Democratic National Committee, for instance, “acquired the cellphone number of every registered voter across the country for whom a cell phone was commercially available,” according to an email from Seema Nanda, the DNC’s CEO, made public earlier this year.
That included the purchase of 94 million additional cellphone numbers in 2018.
“Many people much prefer texting to calls, and it makes sense,” Roddy Lindsay, the co-founder and CEO of Hustle, told NBC News.
“When you get a call, it’s interruptive. You have to stop what you’re doing and take the call. But a text message, you can reply back at a moment of your convenience.”
Pete Seat, the executive director of strategic communications with the Indiana GOP, called texting “the most effective way of getting people’s attention.”
He noted, however, that the state Republican Party only sends texts after someone requests an absentee ballot, about whether the ballot has been received and if the voter plans to turn it back in.
“The engagement has been great. People seem to really appreciate it,” said Seat in comments to the Tribune. “Of course, there are one or two people who are angry, but most everyone else is engaged with it.
“And the open rates are practically 100 percent; everyone looks at their text messages. It has been very effective. … Text messaging in 2018 is what Facebook was to campaigning in 2012.”
‘This is President Trump’
The text messages received by voters range in content, from information about early voting hours and polling locations to scare tactics and attack ads, all sent directly into a voter’s pocket.
Many texts are sent from individual campaigns or people operating independently; others are blasted out by state and national political parties. Occasionally it’s hard to tell who sent the message.
One message sent to a Tribune reporter, from “Megan” with the “Indiana Democrats,” urged the recipient to vote — and soon.
“I know you usually vote on Election Day, but this election is REALLY close,” read the text. “Then only way we’ll win is if enough people vote early. Can I send you the info for how to vote early? (You can literally vote today or tomorrow in Howard County!)”
That variety has been seen by Tammy Lively, a radio personality on Kokomo’s WWKI country music station.
Just three hours after voting early, Lively received a text message: “This is President Trump. Your early vote has NOT been RECORDED on Indiana’s roster. I need you to vote GOP.”
Lively knew she wasn’t actually getting a text from the president asking her to confirm her polling place.
Still, it disturbed her.
She had just voted, and now a strange text message linking her to the Republican National Committee website was seemingly saying the vote had not counted.
Lively wondered: How many people are being duped?
“I know enough about all of the things that are meant to obfuscate the truth out there, all these different campaign tricks that have been going on,” said Lively, who called the Indiana Election Division to ask whether such messages are legal; they are, she was assured.
“So I know my vote has been counted, but I thought: How many people who won’t know that get something like this? … How many people are not going to realize this is not from the president? This is something altogether different. I don’t like it at all.”
Lively ultimately replied to future messages with “STOP,” a tactic that unsubscribes voters from lists they never subscribed to in the first place.