National Voter Registration Day was established as a non-partisan civic holiday in 2012. Since then, nearly 4.5 million people have registered to vote on that day. For defenders of voting rights, it is the second most important day of the year, behind election day.
A focus on young people
Since many newly registered voters are young people, a significant portion of the campaigns are focused on college campuses. The Alliance for Youth Organizing and the Students Learn Students Vote Coalition collaborate each year during the civic vacation on a Campus Takeover program. The two groups work with nearly 2,000 campuses in all 50 states to mobilize students around elections and create a culture of civic engagement.
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This year, Campus Takeover distributed over $ 55,000 in mini-grants to 140 organizations and campuses to help strengthen civic engagement activities in colleges. The grants can be used to organize creative and fun events, like voter registration campaigns with free food and live music, said Eddy Zerbe, director of special projects for the SLSV Coalition.
“We are already seeing so much interest in the program, and this gives us concrete proof that the wave of enthusiasm we saw in 2020 is still going strong in 2021,” Zerbe said.
Last year’s National Voter Registration Day broke Vote.orgrecord new registrations in one day with more than 730,000 people registered, said CEO Andrea Hailey. This year, the organization is preparing for a new influx of visitors to the site.
Vote.org and its partners use social media to promote voter registration. The group is also working with the NAACP and its chapters across the country to provide digital voter registration and information tools. And in preparation for Virginia’s statewide election this fall, Vote.org will host civic engagement events at all historically black colleges and universities in the state.
“We encourage people to register, but also to reach out to their family and friends and to be in a way the voting captain of their own life, their own community and their own family,” said Hailey said.
National Voter Registration Day activities are not only strong at the national level, but also at the local level. Forward Montana hosts events in Billings, Bozeman, Missoula and the Flathead Valley. Events are mainly focused on areas where young people congregate, including college campuses, cafes and breweries. Pari Kemmick, Billings field manager for Forward Montana, said the group sees more success in in-person voter registration because they “meet people where they are.”
While more attention is usually paid to national elections, Kemmick always emphasizes the importance of local elections when engaging with voters.
“People are really excited about national elections because we’ve always been told about the President and Congress and all of these decisions they make,” Kemmick said. “But our communities and indeed how we are affected on a daily basis is determined by who our mayor and our city councilors are.”
Another civic engagement group, Mississippi Votes, will be visiting nearly every college and university in the state to register young people and educate them on the voting process.
“Voter registration is the first step to owning the results of our democracy,” said Arekia Bennett, executive director of Mississippi Votes. “By registering to vote, we are making a commitment to ourselves and our communities to use our voice to influence change where we are.”
Overcome obstacles at the ballot box
Last year, virtually all efforts to “withdraw the vote” went virtual due to the pandemic, making it particularly difficult to register voters in the seven states without an online registration system.
Organizers in Mississippi, Montana and Texas – three states without a full online registration system – said not being able to engage with voters in person had hampered their outreach efforts. But they found new and innovative ways to reach voters.
Forward Montana created its own online portal last year, Kemmick said. The site allowed people to fill out a registration form and have it mailed with a prepaid envelope so that they could sign the form and return it to their election office.
While other registration events will be held in person this year, gatherings will always be small to ensure the safety of those in attendance.
In addition to the pandemic, voting rights advocates are also grappling with the wave of new election laws enacted by state legislatures this year. In Texas, where GOP lawmakers have approved a major electoral system overhaul, educating voters about the new rules is a top priority.
“Education for us is always a really critical part of what we do because we are working with young voters for the first time,” said Charlie Bonner, director of communications for MOVE Texas. “We know young people don’t have a problem with apathy, they have a problem with access, a problem with information. Too often young people in the state don’t understand the wobbly rules that have been created around it. of our electoral system, so that part education is really essential to our efforts to “get the vote out”.
In Kansas, a recently enacted law prohibits anyone from knowingly running as an election official. Violation of this rule is an offense. As a result, civic engagement groups have completely halted their voter registration activities in the state for fear that their people will be mistaken for election officials, said Sarah Audelo, executive director of the Alliance for Youth Organizing. .
“In our opinion, welcoming people into our democracy, ensuring that they are registered to vote, that should be the role of government. But when government fails, young people like the people of the Alliance for Youth Organizing Network, they step in and they do this work, ”Audelo said. “So having such a terrible law on the books, when the government hasn’t registered people to vote and then penalized those who aim to register them, it just makes you think, ‘What the hell is going on- he? “”
Despite these challenges, franchise advocates see an increased appetite for civic engagement, especially among young people. Voters under 30 turned out in record numbers for the 2020 election, and advocates hope the trend will continue for the 2022 midterm elections.
“People understand that they are trying to be silenced by our leaders here in Texas, and instead of being silenced, they are getting involved in the fight,” said Bonner of MOVE Texas. “It is essential that we remind people that they still have power, even when these intentional barriers are erected. When we work together, we can overcome these barriers.”