Aug. 1 2006 12:00 AM
Mark Grebner mailed 80,000 voter lists last weekend, informing recipients of their neighbors' voting records. (Courtesy Photo)
Grebner, CEO of East Lansing-based Practical Political Consulting Inc., has mailed out voter lists to 80,000 likely primary election voters throughout Michigan. The lists contain the names and voting records of every registered voter on a recipient's block.

His goal: to raise voter turnout.{mosimage}

According to the secretary of state, 25 percent of registered voters turned out to the polls in the August 2002 primary election. That number fell to 20 percent in 2004.

Grebner sent out four variations of the letters last weekend.

“Dear Registered Voter,” begins one of the letters, “YOU ARE BEING STUDIED!”

The letters include a list of all the recipient's neighbors' voting records since August 2004.

Isn't Grebner simply shaming nonvoters?

“I wouldn't call it shame  — that's too strong,” Grebner says.

“More like embarrass.”  

The project is the fourth phase of 2-year-old experiment dubbed “EOTV” (“vote” spelled backwards) aimed toward getting more people to participate in democracy.

“I'm studying the effect knowing that your voting is public has on participation,” Grebner says. “So the first step is to make it public. Maybe it will create rivalries over who has the best voter record on the block.”

“Maybe a few people who currently fib about voting will discover the tactic doesn't work anymore.”

The first phase, conducted in summer 2004, involved sending “report cards” to 3,700 people throughout the state.

Phase 2 involved doing the same thing for the 2004 general election.

For the third phase, Grebner sent out 2,700 letters to likely voters in the Detroit mayoral primary election.

But the latest installment is by far the biggest, and as such, has resulted in numerous angry phone calls to his office.

“The reason for all the calls is this panel is huge,” Grebner says. “So even a 1 percent response rate — which is what I expect — would involve 800 contacts from generally angry people.”

People have even called the secretary of state's office and the attorney general's office to complain.

“There are no violations that we know of,” said secretary of state spokeswoman Kelly Chesney.

“We wouldn't condone this or think it's an appropriate way to condone voters,” she added.

Grebner paid for the first three rounds himself. This phase is being funded by grant money from Yale

University political science professors Alan Gerber and Donald Green, who specialize in the voter end of politics.

Grebner, who is also an Ingham County commissioner, points out on his firm's Web site that people may have their names removed from future mailings if they wish.

But that doesn't mean he won't stop watching.

“Although we will not include your name on subsequent mailings,” Grebner says on the Web site, “we will of course continue to watch whether you vote and see whether our experiment has affected you.”

“Thank you for your participation, however unwilling!”