The Marion County Election Board (MCEB) is a small but powerful team governed by a bipartisan board that’s responsible for running and overseeing elections at every level in the county. That means they’re also in charge of staffing election centers, training volunteers, maintaining voting machines, and counting and certifying votes.
To say they had their work cut out for them leading up to the 2020 primary and general elections was an understatement. Then, COVID happened.
Our work with MCEB started in February 2020 as an engagement to communicate changes to vote center locations, and with those changes, the ability to vote from any location for the primary election. But the project quickly turned into much more.
Here’s what happened, what we did, what results we saw, and what we learned along the way.
- Communicate the latest, ever-changing information for both the primary and general elections: What started as communication efforts around updates to vote center locations turned into the need for ongoing information on changes related to mail-in ballots, in-person voting, safety measures, and evolving vote deadlines as the COVID situation evolved in the spring and summer of 2020.
- Respond to misinformation and disinformation: From mail-in ballots to voter suppression, this election cycle came with a lot of misunderstood information, and some information that was just flat-out wrong.
- Create an easy-to-update microsite and accompanying campaign assets: With the ever-changing information, we needed a campaign microsite that was easy and quick to update but still resembled the existing Marion County Election Board website, due to government regulations.
- Run a straightforward, but informative campaign: With a lot of information circulating and a lot of questions raised, we wanted to craft a campaign that could cut through the noise and go straight to the point, giving voters the information needed to cast their votes.
What We Did
- Got to know the client and their struggles: Our early meetings happened in person, before COVID, which gave us the opportunity to sit with the client and get to know the work put into elections, their challenges and pain points, and processes. Though meetings later transitioned to virtual, having the initial in-person contact and lengthy discussions provided a deep dive that helped us better understand them and their goals.
- Researched the search landscape and put together a budget-friendly media plan: We wanted to be smart and respectful of a budget that’s largely funded by taxpayer dollars, but also still make sure we were reaching the right audiences, in the right places, at the right times. In the end, we settled on Google Ads and Pandora, as organic social and Spotify were placing a lot of restrictions on political ads. Additionally, running ads on Google Search ensured we’d be there in the moment when users were looking for information, while Google Display and Pandora gave us larger awareness platforms.
- Outlined a microsite with key information, in order of priority: With a lot of information circulating and a lot to cover, we made sure to set aside time to carefully outline the website framework and pages, with special attention given to the priority of information on the page. We wanted to answer the most pertinent questions first (based on our search landscape research and input from the client), and ultimately get users the information and answers they needed, or direct them to the right place on the website or in-person.
- Created marketing assets and launched the microsite. For both the primary and general election, the design team created informative, interactive, and impactful ads to be used across print, digital, and radio spaces. The development team turned our outlines into a simple microsite within the existing government website framework, but with a simpler layout and navigation, and design blocks that were easy to move whenever and wherever needed.
- Google Ads search and display: Our Google Ads campaign ran on both the Search and Display networks for the general election from September through Election Day. During this time, our ads had more than 2.4M impressions, 110,000+ clicks, and a click-through rate of 31% for the search network campaign (for comparison, average Google Ads CTR is 2%), with a $0.04 average cost-per-click. From our research, we anticipated higher search volume and click-through rates for early voting and absentee voting, which ended up at 39.7% and 31%, respectively. We also anticipated higher impressions but lower clicks on the Display Network, and we ended up with more than 2M impressions for display ads, with a CTR of 0.06%.
- Pandora: Similar to display, we were expecting streaming radio to be more awareness focused, as listeners are typically distracted (driving, cooking, working out, or working). Our Pandora ads included six :15 and :30 spots, which had an average listen-through rate of 98%, which is an expected LTR for streaming radio platforms.
- Voter Turnout: While the ultimate measure of a campaign’s success is typically performance-based (conversions or sales), the measurable impact of this campaign was much different. With our goals being to bring more awareness and encourage Marion County residents to register to vote and then cast their vote, our best measure of success was voter turnout. And while voter turnout was expected to be higher in 2020, and can be attributed to many avenues of information, we were pleased to see higher-than-average voter turnouts for the general election. Of 2020’s registered Marion County voters, 58% cast their ballots, compared to 52% in 2016 and 54% in 2012. Of those votes, 54% were cast via mail, compared to 18% in 2016 and 24% in 2012.
In the end, we learned a lot from this campaign on both personal and professional levels, and we’re proud of the work we did. But we’re even more proud of MCEB for all the work they do year-round, behind the scenes, during presidential election years and non-presidential years alike, to ensure that every voter can cast a ballot and make their voice heard. Elections are truly run by people–volunteers, bipartisan boards, and everyday citizens—and we’re glad to have had the opportunity to help support those who make it happen.
You can learn more about the Marion County Election Board and all the work they do to bring citizens safe and fair elections. You can also learn more about Well Done’s digital work, including websites, campaigns, and more, on our blog.