New York's Democratic Party is writing to registered Democrats telling them that unnamed organizations are monitoring their neighborhood's election turnout and that the party will want an explanation if they do not cast a ballot.
The letters went out to about 1 million voters this week ahead of Tuesday's election. It represents a get-out-the-vote tactic that is being used increasingly around the country by both parties.
The letters note that "who you vote for is your secret. But whether or not you vote is public record."
"Many organizations monitor turnout in your neighborhood and are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors," the letter reads.
It goes on to say that "We will be reviewing the ... official voting records after the upcoming election to determine whether you joined your neighbors who voted in 2014. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why not."
The letter has a phone number for Election Protection, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voting resource organization. Election Protection spokeswoman Marcia Johnson-Blanco said the organization had nothing to do with the letter, but has received 400 calls from voters concerned about it.
Peter Kauffmann, a spokesman for the state Democrats, said the letter "is part of the nationwide Democratic response to traditional Republican voter suppression efforts — because Democrats believe our democracy works better when more people vote, not less."
The letter relies on peer pressure and the possibility of surveillance to encourage turnout — a tactic that research shows is highly effective compared to more costly and time consuming get-out-the-vote efforts like phone calls and door knocking, according to Costas Panagopoulos, a political science professor at Fordham University.
The practice is becoming much more widespread, and similar letters have been reported this election year in Alaska, North Carolina, Rhode Island, Colorado and Iowa.
Panagopoulos noted that while they succeed with many voters, "these heavy handed social-pressure messages do generate considerable backlash."
"Shaming people to vote works," he said. "It's remarkably effective. ... It's not enough to ask people to be good citizens. What you have to tell them is that their actual behavior is being monitored."
New York Republican Party spokesman David Laska said the state's GOP has not adopted similar tactics and that the letters "are beyond the pale and inexcusable."
"Something's wrong in the Democratic Party if they're resorting to subtle threats to New York's hardworking taxpayers to drive turnout," he said.