Hillsborough County, Florida publishes email newsletters to keep citizens engaged

This story was featured in our ELECTricity newsletter in May 2014. Sign up to receive more success stories from election offices across the country. And how is your election office using technology to run excellent elections? Tell us about it by emailing kurt@techandciviclife.org -- we'd love to share your story!

Hillsborough County is located in western Florida, along the Gulf of Mexico. Tampa is its largest city and also the county seat. The Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections is Craig Latimer, elected in 2012. His staff manages approximately 300 polling places (347 precincts) on Election day and hires 3,500 poll workers each year. Hillsborough County currently has 756,000 registered voters.

A Newsletter about a newsletter

Hillsborough County’s election staff publishes a free monthly newsletter to inform readers of upcoming elections, deadlines, and community events. The newsletter is distributed via email, and copies are printed for sharing at voter registration drives and their four offices. In accordance with Section 203 of the Voting Rights Act, the newsletter is published in both English and Spanish.

Hillsborough County's newsletter banner with image of Craig Latimer

Hillsborough County's newsletter banner with image of Craig Latimer

Director of Communications Gerri Kramer runs the comms department for the Supervisor. In addition to a regular newsletter, election staff is active on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. The newsletter content complements the office’s social media messaging, and the newsletter format enables staff to go into more detail about a specific topic -- for example, providing poll worker profiles.

Sending emails

Hillsborough County election staff members use Constant Contact for their newsletter email service. The cost of the service varies depending on the size of your distribution list and other factors. MailChimp is another popular email marketing service provider that's free for a list of up to 2,000 subscribers.

The staff is always working to grow its email subscriber list. There’s a subscribe link on the VoteHillsborough.org website. The newsletter is shared and mentioned on Facebook and Twitter. Neighborhood association presidents have been encouraged to subscribe and share it. And newsletter sign-up sheets are put out at events and open houses. In addition, Craig shares the newsletter when he speaks to local civic groups. Sign up for the Hillsborough County Supervisor of Elections mailing list to stay in touch.

Archiving newsletters

Regular newsletters create a narrative of an office’s mission. By archiving newsletters you can track the progress of your office and staff over time and use them for reference in the future. In addition to sharing their newsletter via email, Hillsborough County saves each issue for easy printing. Past issues are archived and available for viewing on their website.

Are you interested in writing a newsletter for your election office? We’re here with some tips and tricks to help you get started.

5 tips to help launch your election office newsletter:

  1. Make a plan and get approval. Develop a plan that identifies who will write the newsletter, who will proofread the newsletter, how it will be shared, and how often it will be published. Aim for a consistent tone and steady publication frequency. Get approval before investing too much of your team’s time.

  2. Write for your audience. First, define who your audience is. Then, determine what information is relevant to your audience. Write for your readers in every issue.

  3. Use plain language. Your audience may not be versed in election jargon. Make your material easy to understand by avoiding acronyms and complicated legal terms. Create short lists for when writing instructions.

  4. Include images. Most readers process visuals faster than text. Images and graphics can help readers retain information like election deadlines and registration requirements.

  5. Ask questions. Engage with your readers by asking questions -- for example, “What inspires you to be a poll worker?" Questions invite readers to join the conversation, and they help drive your mission forward.

This "personality" infographic is an example of what's included in Hillsborough County's newsletter

This "personality" infographic is an example of what's included in Hillsborough County's newsletter

In addition to these above guidelines, you should remember to stock printed copies of your newsletter in your local government offices, businesses, and civic groups. Keep newsletters available for your voter registration drives and community service events.

How does your election office use communications outreach to promote engagement among your community? Let us know at kurt@techandciviclife.org.