Voter Mailer Do's and Don'ts

thumb up, thumb downThe objective of mailers from the perspective of people in the media or the mailing industry is not quite the same as for candidates and campaign operatives. Before you can launch a successful mailing program, you will need to know what may work and what may not work.

The time you have to get your message across is usually the time it takes the recipient to walk from the mailbox past the trash can, no matter what information you put on your mailing label. Although not all households do it, generally, the first person to go through the mail discards the “junk” mail no matter whose name is on it.  And candidates should not be offended if their political mailer is viewed as junk mail by some of the recipients.

What follows is not written in stone; it is based on experience, anecdotal evidence, and sometimes just common sense. There are exceptions to every rule, but most candidates, especially new candidates, would do well to take notice of many of our recommendations and concerns.

Mailer Design Basics

Let us state that the first and foremost purpose of political mailers is to establish or reestablish name recognition. The second purpose, to inform the voter, is important, but ancillary to helping the voter recall, hopefully fondly, your name when he or she enters the voting booth.

  • Your name
  • Your picture or at least a good picture to endear yourself to the voter
  • No more than three or four bullet points. Don’t list every award, honor, or lifetime achievements.
  • The date of the election, and the punch number if it is known.

Use card stock with the largest format you can. 10" by 13" is the largest US Postal recognized "flat" that you should consider.

Generally, do not send a political message in an envelope and has to be opened.

Label Formats

The purpose of a label is to get your mail piece to the voter's house; not to send a message. The mail piece is the message.

Avoid Using the Voter's Complete Legal Name

Avoid using the complete legal voter name furnished by the Department of Elections. It is historically the voter's name on his or her birth certificate, and few people use their name in that incarnation. For example, my name in the voter file is HUGH ALLEN COCHRAN. I have never used my middle name, and when I get a piece of mail addressed like this, I have a negative reaction. The first emotion is that this is some type of legal notice, or it is from the IRS, or the sender does not really know anything about me.


Using something like THE REED FAMILY, has the potential of creating a negative emotion.

In the event, and it is so common in today’s world, that any particular family member is no longer living at the residence, there is a negative feeling generated when the remaining person or family members see this greeting. Any time you associate a negative feeling with your mail piece, you are running the risk of losing that person’s vote. If the recipient has lost any family member in the past year or so, brother, sister, son, daughter, mother, etc. for any reason, death, divorce, moving off to go to college, you are evoking a negative response to the mail piece and, by inference, yourself.

Another address line to avoid is “THE COCHRAN RESIDENCE.” As with the legal name, this address line demonstrates no attempt at familiarity with the voter. It is rather cold.


Depending on whether or not you NCOA (National Change of Address) your mail files, you can save a little money on Postal charges by using the address line, HUGH COCHRAN OR CURRENT RESIDENT. Even though you may save a few dollars on postage, we believe this is a faux pas. This is about as unendearing as an address line can get.

Every two years or so, a candidate insists that we prepare the mail data in this fashion. We always oblige, but advise against it.

Avoid trying to programmatically create "MR AND MRS"

Do not try to do “MR. AND MRS.” Every time you are wrong about that family tie, the voter will be annoyed, which is just the opposite of what you are trying to accomplish.

Random vs Programmatic Selection of Voter

Do not get fancy and try to address each piece to, for example, the oldest male in the household. It is programmatically not that difficult, but there can be unintended consequences.

Many years ago, campaigns began requesting that I choose the oldest male in the household as the designated recipient of all mailings. After about a year of doing it this way, letters to the editor from female voters started appearing in the local newspaper complaining that political mail pieces were never addressed to any female voter in the household. The voters noticed, complained, and candidates finally stopped the policy.


After almost 15 years of preparing mail files, we have found that the least objectionable label address consists of using  a single, randomly selected voter name from the household.


You may recall from Psychology 101, that three (3) is the magic number of times someone needs to hear or see you before they remember your name or your message. Mailers should adhere to the same strategy. You will have a significantly greater voter impact by sending the same person three different mailers rather than sending three targeted mailers one time to three different groups of voters.

Sending a mail piece to every qualifying member in a household is a waste of money. You need to household the mailer.


Householding is a pet peeve. Many mail houses and campaign operatives try to convince me to create a mail list to send a separate mail piece to every person with a different last name in the household. There is no justification for this, other than to increase the number of mail pieces, and therefore, the cost of the mailing and the added income to the mail house and/or the campaign operative. 

Avoid Mini-Disasters

Graphic designers are notoriously bad about mailer designs until they have gained a good deal of experience. They will inevitably create a mailer that the Post Office will not accept for red tag processing.  For instance, several times in the last 8 years, we have seen graphically creative pieces that were postal blunders: One mailer, for instance, was designed from a square piece of card stock. When square, the postal sortation machinery cannot discern which side is the top or which side is the bottom. The US Postal service did not accept it for bulk processing.

Another mail piece did not measure out to the required minimum acceptable size. Other mailers did not include verbiage that would qualify the piece for political mailing. Still other mail pieces did not allow the proper spacing around the address box.

So…. Your designer must know what the post office will accept and what they will not accept for political bulk mail processing (Red tag).

Design is crucial and must follow Post Office requirements. Safety says:

Send a mock-up to the mail house before it goes to print.  The mail house may not get it right every time, but they know a ton more about what the PO wants than does your graphic designer

Every mail house can still make a mistake regarding whether or not a piece will fly with the PO. If your mail piece is exceptionally innovative or creative, actually take it to the PO for their opinion.

A last point to remember, be careful of "glossy" card stock for a mailer. Many mail houses will be unable to inkjet a mail piece if it is too glossy. The printer will usually know what can or cannot be ink jetted.

A Final Admonition

The candidate should avoid getting caught up in the production of mail pieces. That is not their job. Their job is to raise money and meet people and get votes.