Campaign mailers clog Sacramento mailboxes

With Election Day coming Tuesday, many voters have been inundated by campaign mailers.
With Election Day coming Tuesday, many voters have been inundated by campaign mailers. Sacramento Bee file

Election Day has arrived, promising an end to the torrent of campaign mailers that for the past month has packed mailboxes, filled the bags of postal carriers – and left some voters exasperated.

Kim Alexander, who founded the nonprofit California Voter Foundation to improve the election process for voters, was so struck by the amount of campaign mail she received that she weighed it. “Our household is up to 4 pounds at this point,” she said Monday. “The last time I was moved to weigh my mail (in the June primary), it was 2 pounds. This time it was twice as much.”

Alexander lives in Sacramento’s Land Park neighborhood, where a hard-fought school board race, the city’s Measure L strong-mayor proposal and two competitive legislative races have boosted the amount of mail going to households of frequent voters.

Sacramento political consultant Doug Elmets, who has used campaign fliers to elect candidates, has been receiving eight to 10 pieces of campaign mail each day at his home in the Sierra Oaks neighborhood of unincorporated Sacramento.

“I, like everybody else, have been inundated,” he said.

Alexander has noticed that her mailman has been delivering as late as 7 or 8 p.m. as the campaign season has gone along.

Gus Ruiz, a spokesman for the U.S. Postal Service, said the amount of mail being processed each day at the region’s West Sacramento hub jumped 10 percent in October – the result not just of political mail but also catalogs and parcels marking the beginning of the holiday season.

Not that the folks at the postal service mind. With overall mail volume nationwide dropping by double digits between 2006 and 2013, anything that boosts business is welcome. “It’s actually our job – to deliver the mail,” Ruiz said.

Political mail may seem like an old-fashioned way to reach voters, but Alexander noted that it can be micro-targeted, focusing on gender, traditional voters, independents and other factors.

Elmets said television ads can’t be fashioned to appeal to specific voters like direct mail, which costs far less. “TV ads are expensive and they are a scattershot,” he said.

“People avoid television commercials, but with direct mail there are three places where that voter is likely to see that piece: when taken from the mailbox, when they put it on their counter and when they throw it in the trash,” Elmets said.

“At each step of the way, it is very possible that it will catch the eye of the voter.”

Campaign mail comes in at least two forms: the smiling candidate, spouse on arm, with smiling children – or the children of a supporter – and the attack mailer. With the state’s new election rules allowing the two top vote-getters in the primary to advance, regardless of party, candidates belonging to the same party are increasingly attacking each other to gain votes. Alexander said she thinks the new primary system has contributed to the mail volume, since even seats that are securely held by one party or the other are still up for grabs.

“You have contests that would have been decided in the primary going on to the general,” she said.

Alexander said she is convinced that there has got to be a better way to conduct a campaign. She lamented the money, planning and voter profiling involved in the mailings.

“Ninety percent of the people who got them are not going to look at them,” she said. “They are going to go right into the recycling bin.” She called them wasteful and inefficient, but conceded direct mail probably works or campaign staffs would not employ the method.

She said most mailers are designed to scare and confuse – not to inform. “That is sad because most running for office are good people with important messages,” she said.

Call The Bee’s Bill Lindelof, (916) 321-1079.