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‘Voter Shame’ letters create backlash

Patsy Keever RS

Keever apologizes for ‘intimidating’ tone but defends ‘social strategy’

By Roger McCredie-  A letter warning Buncombe voters that they would be called upon to “explain” if they did not vote in the upcoming election is stirring bewilderment, anxiety and anger among its recipients.

The letters, which began appearing in voters’ mailboxes last week,  were sent over the name of – but not actually signed by — former State Rep. Patsy Keever as “Election Day Coordinator.”  Similar letters, also bearing Keever’s name, were received by voters in Wake, Orange, Durham and New Hanover counties.  The common denominator for recipients seemed to be that they had not voted in the 2010 midterm election. (An individual’s election participation is a public record, although who a person voted for is not.)

The letters begin by addressing the recipient by his or her first name.  The most prevalent version of the text goes on to say:

“Our records indicate that you are registered to vote in Buncombe County.

            “Your vote is confidential; however public records will tell the community-at-large whether you voted or not.  As a service our organization monitors voter turnout in your community and it would be an understatement to say that we are disappointed by the inconsistent voting of many of your neighbors.   Our country was built on democratic engagement and your community needs you to vote. “

            There follows a bulleted list of information points as to local poll opening and closing times, voter ID and early voting procedures. Recipients are then told that more information is available at, a site maintained by the Wake County Democratic Party.

The letter’s concluding paragraph states:

“After the election is over, we will be reviewing the Buncombe County official voting records to determine whether you supported your neighbors and community in 2014 by voting. If you do not vote this year, we will be interested to hear why you let your community down by failing to vote.


            “Patsy Keever

            “Election Day Coordinator”

Trena Parker, Director of Election Services at the Buncombe County Board of Elections, told the Tribune there is no such title as “Election Day Coordinator” at her bureau, either as a job or as a volunteer service.  “It must be some kind of party designation,” she said.            However there is also no such title as “Election Day Coordinator” listed on either the state Democratic party’s website or the website for the county Democratic organization.

Shortly after first reports of the letters surfaced, Keever said she had authorized the distribution of a get-out-the-vote letter, but that the letter’s text was written by a public relations firm.  She indicated she had not seen the letter, which uses Democratic party logos and a footer saying, “paid for by North Carolina Democratic Party,’ in its final form.  Accordingly, the Tribune sent the following e-mail message to Gina Wright, Communications Director of the state party:

“Dear Ms. Wright:

            “Buncombe was one of the counties in which voters who allegedly had a less than 100% voting record were targeted with letters considered by many to be privacy-invasive and even threatening.  The Buncombe County letters were sent out over the name (but not the signature) of Patsy Keever.  Ms. Keever has gone on record as saying that while she authorized the letters in principle, she was not aware of their content, as they were prepared by a PR firm.  She has apologized for the ‘abrasive’ tone of the letters to those recipients who felt offended or intimidated by them.

            “[The Tribune’s] questions, then, are:

            “1.  Who is the PR firm? Is it state-based or was it engaged by the national Democratic Party?  If national, did it also execute the similarly worded letters that have been received by voters in other states?

            “2.  Ms. Keever qualified her apology by saying, “While some may find the tactic offensive, social strategy is a tactic that has been proven effective in getting out the vote — and that is the point!”  Is this the official party line, and, if so, does it mean that state voters can expect  such activity in future elections?

            “3.  Individual voting records, as these letters indicate, are public record and can be retrieved instantly.  As far as the party is concerned, does this ease of access trump personal privacy?”

            No reply had been received from Ms. Wright late Monday.

In a later statement Keever, as noted above, did apologize to recipients who, she said, may have found the letter’s language “abrasive,” but defended the practice of sending such letters in general. She said, “The fact is, our government is of the people and only works when citizens exercise their right and responsibility to vote. We should all vote for whomever we feel best represents us, but we should all vote!”

In yet another statement, Keever defended her position even more forcefully.

“This is a critical election,” Keever said, “ and it’s important to make sure our voters are getting out to vote, That includes stressing the importance of voting, talking about the voting process and what the stakes are for North Carolina. We will continue to look for every way possible to empower, educate, and encourage voters for the remainder of this election cycle.”

The “shaming” letter went viral on social media and generated considerable comment, most of it negative and ranging in tone from alarm to outrage.

“If I get a call from her people I’ll file a restraining order,” one local Facebook member posted.  Another said, “We can hold Patsy Keever accountable … she lives here. We can confront her on the street, or in a precinct or other meeting and shame her for her shameful behavior of cavalierly scolding from her ivory tower.”

Nor were some buying Keever’s apology and her statement that the backlash to the letter had been “very painful to me.”

“So now everything is just dandy…’she did approve the letters but wasn’t aware of the exact words’?? Either way, her actions speak to incompetence…Reminds me of responses from others in higher office,” another reader said.

The Tribune will continue to follow this story.

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