How to Comply with Text Messaging Requirements in US Elections

Learn about special considerations for political campaigns that use text messaging.

Introduction to political texting

If you’re running for office in the US, or managing a political campaign for someone who is, there’s a lot to learn along the way. We’re here to help you with one of your tasks — how to use text messaging for your campaign in compliance with applicable laws.

According to a report by SMS spam blocker company Robokiller, Americans received an estimated 15 billion political text messages in 2022 — an increase of 158% compared to the previous year. Some of that jump is likely due to the greater number of races in a federal election year, but at the same time political voice calls decreased by 57%. That reinforces the fact that, according to one source, 85% of people in 2023 prefer receiving text messages over a phone call or email. The average open rate for text messages is 98%.

You already know that texts have several advantages over old-school communications like media advertising and direct mail.

  • Direct communication: Text messaging allows campaigns to reach voters directly, bypassing traditional media and potential biases.
  • Personalized outreach: Texts can be tailored to specific demographics or individual voters, making communication more personal and relevant. National campaigns can send messages from numbers with local area codes and exchanges to create a sense of community with text recipients.
  • Broad availability: Most people keep their mobile phones with them, so campaigns can reach voters anywhere, anytime.
  • High open rates: Text messages boast a high open rate, often over 90%, ensuring the message reaches a broad audience effectively.
  • Cost-effective: Text campaigns are more affordable and yield a better ROI than traditional advertising media.
  • Integration: Text campaigns can be integrated with other digital strategies, such as links to videos or donation portals.
  • Data collection: Feedback and engagement metrics from text campaigns provide valuable data for refining future strategies.

Political texting examples

Creative campaigns can use SMS for a variety of purposes. Bulk SMS allows you to end communications to a large group of recipients at one time.

Volunteer opportunities and requestsConnect with people who have previously volunteered to assist with campaign events informing them of the date, time, and locations of events where you need help. You can also send surveys via text to drill down on what opportunities people are interested in, so you can segment your lists for future requests.

Voting registration reminders

Voter registration deadlines vary by state and also by method of registration. Keep supporters in the loop and make sure they don’t miss critical deadlines that can cause you to lose out on a vote in tight elections. You can send links to state voter registration sites or other official websites.

Event or rally notifications

Make sure your supporters know where to find you in the days leading up to the election. You share details of upcoming events and also request RSVPs to ensure your venue is prepared for the expected number of attendees. Use texts to promote special guests such as musicians or actors who may draw additional support to these live events.

Voter turnout encouragement

Send details about polling place locations and hours, early voting availability, what people need to bring with them, or what they can’t bring with them to the polls. Ask for supporters to share “I voted” selfies on social media with your campaign hashtags and spread the word.

Donation requests

Solicit donations in the months, weeks, and days leading up to the election. Share details of what that money will go to, such as digital ads or radio and tv spots, and ask supporters to chip in via a secure link.

Policy information

As your policy stance solidifies, make sure to keep supporters and potential supporters up to date on where they can find the latest information. For example, as you add to the policy section of your website, send an overview of your position along with a link to the site to learn more.

Endorsements notifications

Political endorsements carry a lot of weight with undecided voters. Keep voters up to date when a new political heavyweight, political action committee, union, or advocacy group come out and endorse your campaign. You can also send testimonials from those names via MMS.

Clearly, texting should be part of every campaign arsenal because there are a million ways to use it to communicate with your supporters and potential supporters. But you can’t just blanket your constituency with texts. Federal, state, and local regulations control how you can and can’t use text messaging in campaigns. Telecom carriers have their own regulations too, since they have a vested interest in keeping spam off of their customers’ screens.

Keeping compliant

There’s no single clearinghouse that campaigns can visit to check off all of the necessary regulatory compliance boxes. Each jurisdiction (state or country) has its own rules and regulations, but we can tell you the major ones to consider.

Start with the Telephone Consumer Protection Act (TCPA), which defines rules for political calling and texting. The top rule is the requirement to get recipients’ consent before sending them messages. The US Federal Communications Commission states, “Political campaign-related autodialed or prerecorded voice calls, including autodialed live calls, autodialed texts, and prerecorded voice messages, are prohibited to cell phones, pagers or other mobile devices without the called party's prior express consent. ... However, political text messages can be sent without the intended recipient’s prior consent if the message’s sender does not use autodialing technology to send such texts and instead manually dials them.”

The Federal Election Commission also has rules about text messaging. Among them, campaigns must disclose the source of each text message, such as the name of the candidate or committee that’s sending the message.

Pay attention to the Federal Trade Commission’s National Do Not Call Registry. Political campaigns must honor requests by individuals who don’t want to receive text messages from them.

In addition to federal regulations, political campaigns also have to comply with state laws on telemarketing and text messaging. Some states have stricter regulations than the federal government.

Did we leave anything out? We’re not lawyers, so you should consult with an accredited expert who’s familiar with all of the legal details.

How to get consent

Campaigns can gather opt-in consent in several ways — through a website or a physical form, for example. The easiest way is to get people to text a keyword to a number associated with your campaign. (We’ll talk about what number types you can use in a moment.) When people contact you, that provides implicit consent to receive SMS. Follow our best practices guide when crafting your confirmation text, and for more information about gaining consent.

Political texting is application-to-person messaging

Political texts are categorized as application-to-person (A2P) messaging, as opposed to person-to-person (P2P). Your messages should include your candidate’s name or the name of the organization sending the text and the reason you’re sending the message. You should also tell them how to opt out of receiving texts from your campaign. You must follow certain content guidelines, which we’ve summarized for all A2P senders.

US carrier codes of conduct unambiguously require you to obtain opt-ins from recipients before you send them any messages. Other policies, such as adding opt-out instructions at the end of messages, also apply. If carriers receive complaints from text recipients, they may suspend your campaigns or ask you to provide additional information. And campaigns must keep opt-in records and share them with carriers if audited.

Best number types for political campaigns

Like businesses, which use A2P messaging for sales and marketing, campaigns have a choice of three number types for sending text messages: long codes, toll-free numbers, and short codes. All of them require some kind of registration, verification, or approval, so be sure to start that process well before you expect to need your number.

1. Long codesLong codes are a great choice for political messaging. Before you send your first message, however, you must register the long codes you use as 10DLC numbers. 10DLC is a special category of long codes approved and vetted for texting by an organization called The Campaign Registry (TCR) on behalf of carriers.

Plivo doesn’t have a way for you to register political campaigns from our console. Instead, read our guidelines for 10DLC registration, then visit The Campaign Registry’s site. Refer to their FAQ page to create a TCR account, then create a brand for your campaign.

Next, obtain a token from Campaign Verify, the political vetting partner for The Campaign Registry, and import it to your brand on TCR. (See the Campaign Verify FAQ page.) Once you’ve done that, create a political campaign on TCR and follow campaign registration guidelines. Make sure you follow campaign messaging guidelines so that telecom carriers don’t reject your campaigns.

Submit a Plivo support ticket that includes your brand and campaigns and ask us to import your campaigns to Plivo. When we do so, we’ll submit your SMS campaigns to the carriers. We’ll let you know when the carriers approve them, and then you can link numbers to your campaigns and send messages using our SMS API. If a campaign is rejected by a carrier, Plivo will share with you the reasons and our feedback; you can resubmit your campaign after addressing the issues. (Plivo can help if a messaging campaign is rejected for minor issues such as the phrasing of sample text messages, but not if you fail a carrier review for more substantive reasons, such previous violations on the part of your brand.)

The registration process can take two to three weeks.

10DLC numbers have an impressive maximum throughput of 75 messages per second. Many organizations find them the most cost-effective way to send texts.

2. Toll-free numbers

You can rent a toll-free number for texting from Plivo, or if you already have a toll-free number for your campaign you may be able to use it for texting. Either way, campaigns must use only verified toll-free numbers for political messaging. Verifying toll-free numbers serves the same purpose as registering long codes before they can be used as 10DLC numbers. We’ve documented the verification process for you; it involves filling out a Google Form with information that Plivo can take to telecom carriers. The process can take about six weeks. The maximum throughput for toll-free numbers, 25 SMS per second, is the lowest of the three number types.

3. Short codes

Short codes are great for texting. Unlike the other two number types, short codes don’t support voice calling, but they have the highest available throughput for texting campaigns — up to 100 messages per second. However, it can take 10 weeks between the time you apply for a short code and when you’re authorized to use it, because carriers thoroughly review your application and consider your plans on how to use a number before they activate it.

If you want to rent a short code, follow the process we’ve documented — you’ll need to download and fill out a form and submit it to the Plivo support team.

The costs of doing business

All three of the number types have various costs associated with them, including one-time procurement costs, monthly number rentals, per-message charges, and surcharges applied by carriers for use of their networks. Knowing your expected texting volume will help you make an informed decision about which number type or types will be most cost-effective for you.

Why you should partner with Plivo

A cloud communications platform like Plivo can help you be agile when it comes to political texting. We can guide you through the registration and sending processes you need to follow — but start getting approvals well in advance of when you want to start sending messages, because the registration and verification procedures each number type requires can take as long as 10 to 12 weeks.

Plivo makes an excellent ally for political campaigns. Our cloud communications platform is extremely reliable, we have local and national numbers for you to use, and we offer a 24-hour support option that comes with guided onboarding and a customer success manager who serves as your personal advocate.

How to get started with Plivo

Political text messaging is a powerful tool when used responsibly and in compliance with all applicable laws and best practices. To get started, contact our sales team, and include “political campaign” in the Detailed Requirements field along with your campaign website’s URL. Be sure to also indicate your expected monthly volume, as we offer annual agreements with discounted pricing for a million or more messages a month.