Tag Archives: voting rights

Can Nonprofits Increase Voting? Short Answer: Yes!

It’s an election year.

An important one.

I’m still trying to wrap my head around that one, too.

But it’s certainly not too early to think about precisely how we can engage in the civic participation/Get-Out-the-Vote/voter empowerment process, as nonprofit service providers.

So, in case you missed it, here’s a really inspiring report from Nonprofit Vote, with case studies about what different nonprofits did to increase voter participation, and what lessons they learned in the process.

A few highlights, just to tide you over until you get through the 73 pages:

  • Don’t forget to register your staff. Really. Don’t forget that.
  • If you want people to register to vote, ask them. Individually. Posters are not an invitation. Asking people if you can register them is an invitation. And it makes a difference.
  • You can register people beyond your walls, and getting out to register voters also means building your name recognition and community presence, too.
  • Figure out what you want to measure, and then measure it. Do you care most about the total number of registrants? Voter turnout among those you register? Increasing participation among a specific population? Set goals and then hold yourself accountable.
  • Invest in staff training. Now. Voter engagement doesn’t necessarily come naturally to nonprofit staff, so staff development is essential.
  • Get people to pledge to vote–if they’re already registered, if laws prevent you from registering them, if you just registered them and you want to make sure they vote. Of course it’s no guarantee, but it gets you their contact information, and it gets them to acknowledge–at least briefly–that it matters if they show up. Both are huge.
  • Use peer pressure, like in group sessions where the interest of just a few can prompt broad voter engagement.
  • Partner. Remember that you don’t need to know/do everything, and you absolutely can rely on your field to carry some of the weight here. There are organizations that specialize in civil rights law, and they can help you with complicated questions/concerns about voting eligibility and restrictions.
  • Don’t assume that clients will view electoral engagement as a ‘distraction’–some organizations found that there was tremendous interest in talking about the election and issues and their rights as voters. You may find yourselves having to bracket this work so that it doesn’t spill over into other programs, instead of it being seen as an intrusion.

I’d love to hear others’ reactions to these case studies, or, especially, your own lessons learned from your organization’s civic engagement work. What do we need to be doing in February to ensure that our clients’ voices are heard in August and November? What capacity and support do you need now to make that happen?

What will you do to make sure that we keep answering, “yes!” to the question: Can Nonprofits Increase Voting?

New hopes for the new year

These days, I run on academic time, which means that mid-December is, essentially, the end of the year.

I will have some posts next week before I take a holiday break, until the second week in January, to make cookies and wrap presents and volunteer and read and–I hope–spend some time in front of the fireplace reading juvenile fiction with some very special kiddos.

But, today, a sort-of tradition:

My hopes for the new year.

In the spirit of holiday giving, I hope you’ll share your hopes for the future, too. Good news on your horizon? Cherished dreams you’re clinging to? Promises of good things to come that you’re no longer keeping to yourself?

At the risk of sounding greedy, I want them all!

Here’s to a new year, a few weeks from now.

Together, let’s make it a great one.

What are you hoping for? What will you do to make those dreams come true?

The What: We Still Need Voting Rights

More ‘whats’, in policy change.

Or, in this case, policy not-change.

Because, let’s be real:

We still need The Voting Rights Act.

We’re in the era of evidence-based policymaking, right?

Has there ever been a more successful piece of civil rights legislation in the history of the U.S.? No, really?

And so the idea that its very effectiveness is reason to scrap it is not just offensive (and it is; I am fairly chilled by hearing an Alabama official refer to ‘state sovereignty’ as reason to oppose a federal civil rights law). It’s dangerous.

I’m all for the role of the courts in policymaking (more on that tomorrow).

I just think that the U.S. Supreme Court should rule that the Voting Rights Act stands.

I’m glad that there’s a tremendous amount of advocacy going on, even while the Court deliberates.

If you haven’t already checked out these compelling videos showing how VRA provisions in various affected states are making a difference in how people can exercise their civic rights, check them out.

Look at this really great (although, again, disturbing) infographic on why we still need the Voting Rights Act.

You can’t call Antonin Scalia to point out that, Mr. Justice Sir, the right to vote is not a “racial entitlement”, because, um, voting isn’t an entitlement. That’s why it’s called the Voting Rights Act (He, of course, took objection to that, too, supposedly because it makes the legislation too popular for members of Congress to vote against? Como on, two members of the Kansas congressional delegation voted against the Violence Against Women Act, for crying out loud. These people are not afraid of catchy names.)

But you can tell everyone who will listen (friends, family, neighbors, the guy waiting at the post office) that, yes, we still need the VRA. We still need voting rights, in this age of photo identification and proof of citizenship and long lines at fewer polling places.

People bled for the right to vote in Alabama. That history leaves scars, not just on individual psyches but on institutions and ways of doing business.

That is why we need the Voting Rights Act.


Top of my Christmas list: Restoring the Right to Vote

The blog e.politics had a post a couple of months ago with a map that I find fairly haunting. (I can’t get it to embed, so click on it. Trust me.)

It shows the concentration of voter identification laws primarily in the states that, at one time, had poll taxes, plus Kansas, which purportedly has the highest concentration of ‘voter fraud’ cases in the country.

At 97 total cases, out of millions of votes cast.

Then, more recently, the Government Accountability Office released a report that failed to document any cases of voter fraud in any of the numerous states that have recently passed stricter voting regulations.

What the GAO did find was a substantial increase in voting requirements over the last 10 years. Twenty-one states passed new voter I.D. laws and seven heightened requirements, bringing the total number of states requiring restrictive identification to 31.

To address a virtually nonexistent problem.

Primarily in a part of the country still grappling with a legacy of restrictive voting laws that denied democracy to millions over generations.

It’s an abomination, and its epicenter, today, is in my home state.

The land of John Brown and Jayhawkers.

So, dear Santa Claus, what do I want for Christmas?

It to not be 1964 anymore.

I want people’s right to vote to be respected, not trampled on under the trumped-up guise of ‘voter fraud’. I want people to stop using totally specious arguments like “but you have to show ID to get into a rated R movie,” like watching a movie is in any way comparable to exercising one’s most fundamental constitutional right. I want us to tackle real problems–there are plenty from which to choose–instead of wringing our hands over mostly made-up statistics.

I want the man who is homeless and lacks a photo ID to be able to vote. Just like me.

Vote: All the cool kids are doing it

I KNEW it.

In this case, that’s surprisingly unsatisfying.

See, I have felt for years that trying to guilt people into voting by emphasizing how few people vote, and how important it is, and how they’re really bad people if they (like all of those other degenerates) don’t vote…is really, completely ineffective.

And, here, research discussed in Nudge that confirms my practice experience, culled from hundreds of hours spent doing voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote work, that telling people to vote because not very many other people do is exactly the wrong way to approach increasing voter turnout.

If we want to increase voter turnout (and, from the perspective of nonprofit organizations working with marginalized communities, we do!), what we need to do is channel people into voting, prime them for the voting experience, and, if we can…

make it sound like other people ARE voting, so they should, too.

I thought about this a few weeks ago in class when, despite the oncoming spring, 9 out of the 15 women in my class were wearing the exact same boots.

I mean, in marketing, no company would ever try to convince someone to buy something by stressing its unpopularity (“you should wear boots like these because only 35% of other young women wore them last season”? Not effective.).

We get people to do things, especially things they may have never done before, or may even be reluctant to do, by normalizing the experience, creating a like-minded community, and taking away as much of the uncertainty as we can, in order to make it really, really easy to make the behavior change.

So, what does this look like in the realm of voter engagement, since we want people to shape our electorate, not wear matching footwear?

What if we…

  • Had high school seniors register to vote as part of the classroom experience, when they turn 18, so that they’re registering as a group?
  • Used voter data to target those who are not engaged in the electoral process, by highlighting others within their social networks/peer groups who are? (“Can I register you to vote today? Your neighbors have really high voter participation, so I figured you would probably want to get registered, too.”)
  • Presented examples of reference peers voting, in a sort of micro-targeted ‘Rock-the-Vote’ way?
  • Implemented more user-friendly voting procedures, so that voting wasn’t such an extraordinary experience (like allowing online voting, or allowing people to vote in places they frequent (their own schools/colleges, for example) rather than the church down the street they only go in once every two/four years?
  • Invested in marketing campaigns that underscore not only the civic importance of voting but, indeed, its centrality to our understanding of what it means to be an American…a sort of, “everyone’s doing this, so we’d love you to join us” message?
  • Reached out to underrepresented communities year-round, instead of expecting that they’ll make a big behavior shift right around election time?

What kinds of approaches do you think would ‘nudge’ unlikely voters to civic engagement? How are you shifting from a ‘thou shalt’ to a ‘wouldn’t you like to, too?’ message?

How can we make claiming our civic right as ubiquitous as those boots?

2010 Turnout Gaps: Our Marching Orders for the 2012 Elections

Yes, I am haunted by voter turnout statistics.

And you should be, too.

Because this report from Nonprofit Vote has some fairly alarming data about what happened to voter turnout in 2010, particularly compared to 2008.

All of which matters tremendously for 2012.

And these figures should serve as a challenge for nonprofit organizations, because we are uniquely positioned to move the needle on these particular populations’ voter turnout.

And so we must.

Some of the “highlights”:

  • Only 24% of youth (ages 18-29) turned out in 2010, a sharp drop from 51.1% in 2008. When so much is at stake for future generations–the state of the economy, the future of entitlements, the availability of higher education, the likelihood of future foreign conflicts–allowing these decisions to be made, essentially, with only marginal input from those most affected is unconscionable.
  • There was a 20 point turnout gap between members of lower income and higher income households. Nonprofit organizations have strong relationships in many low-income communities, and significant presence as institutions shaping their lives. If we want to be a true, vibrant democracy, we’ve got to do better than this.
  • Only 35% of those with a high school diploma or less turned out in 2010, compared to 61% of those with a college degree or more. We will end up with policies that only work for those highly-educated, if only those who have been so advantaged are writing the rules.
  • There was a 34 point turnout gap between individuals who had resided in their home for less than a year (28%) and those who had resided in their home for at least 5 years (62%). Because this is often a proxy for both age and income, and because mobility is associated with some technical difficulties in actually registering and voting, we should make it a priority to reach out to those who are new in our communities, and to pursuing public policies (same-day registration, anyone?) that remove barriers to voter participation for these more mobile citizens.

There’s nothing magic, or even all that shocking, about these statistics; we know that those who are marginally connected to our political life 364 days a year–separated from the policies’ development, although certainly not from their impact–do not magically connect on Election Day.

But these statistics should be alarming to us, both because of what they represent about the failings of our representational system, and because nonprofit organizations need our constituents, including those who fall into the categories above, to participate in the electoral system if we hope that it will ultimately reflect our concerns.

So, I see these data as a to-do list. We know who we need to target for voter registration and Get-Out-the-Vote work, and we even have some benchmarks that can guide our definition of what “success” looks like.

Let’s produce some different figures in 2012.

And close the gaps.

Remember: We’re the Sunflower State

This Sunflower hangs on a gate at my house, as a reminder of what we must be.

These are tough times, Kansans.

The economy isn’t great (although we ended last year with a healthy balance, thanks to some pretty drastic funding cuts whose effects will be felt for generations).

We’re in the middle of redistricting, which is ugly in the best of circumstances and potentially explosive with a polity as divided as ours today.

We face battles in this new legislative session around Arizona-style “show me your papers” legislation, raids of the Children’s Initiative Fund, an attack on our revenue foundation, and more cuts compounding the cuts.

It’s a good thing we’re the Sunflower State.

Sunflowers were adopted as a symbol of the women’s suffrage movement by Kansas suffragettes, I think mainly to ensconce their movement fully within the social mainstream. It has been used in advocacy campaigns repeatedly since, according to my research, because sunflowers can take the heat.

And they always face the sun.

And that’s what we need today.

As advocates, we’ve never felt more heat. The stakes are high, and the threats are real.

But we know what our vision looks like, too, and that’s the promise, the sun, towards which we must set our sights, unwilting, unbending.