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Nationwide Voter Registration Day engages new voters round democracy

Kunis said food banks are including voter registration forms in the bags of food they distribute and community health clinics are putting a registration form with visitor paperwork. A few days before National Voter Registration Day, rapper 2 Chainz hosted an event as a part of the “Feed Your City Challenge.” People received free groceries and an opportunity to complete a voter registration form and learn more about the U.S. census. 

After six months of organizing under a pandemic, many organizations now have working systems for how to engage with potential voters and volunteers. Kunis’ team has even provided a set of guidelines on their website for how to do in-person voter registration during COVID-19 and instructions for hosting a drive-thru registration event. She said people are shifting how they’re doing their in-person work, with some organizations doing drive-thru voter registration events where volunteers are masked up in parking lots and available to answer questions.

“No matter who you’re going to vote for or how you plan to vote, getting registered is the first step,” said Kunis.

Some organizations planned online events tailored to maintaining a sense of community as if they were in person. Others will be doing traditional tactics like phone banking and texting, encouraging peer to peer conversations. Fully virtual events such as dance parties and livestream concerts will include intermittent voter registration breaks.

“We like to think of the holiday as the starting point for a lot of these groups in terms of changing the way they interact with political processes,” Kunis said. “We describe [National Voter Registration Day] as a gateway for bigger and bolder civic participation for a lot of our partners.”

Partner organizations leverage community relationships and relevant cultural connections to engage potential voters. Xochitl Oseguera, vice president of MamásConPoder, pointed to National Voter Registration Day as an opportunity to bring in younger voters who are already online. “National Voter Registration Day has been getting a lot of young organizers involved,” Oseguera said. “We see even high school and college students organizing in a big way on this day.”

A Spanish-language initiative of MomsRising, MamásConPoder engages Latino voters, including infrequent mom voters, in Spanish and with culturally relevant content.

“We create original content for everything,” said Oseguera. With team members from several different Spanish-speaking countries, MamásConPoder creates content that is authentic and relevant to the people they want to organize.

Oseguera said this year her team was using WhatsApp to reach voters. “We’re starting to use it as an organizing tool, especially to make sure we give information and answer questions for our organizers and volunteers,” Oseguera said. It is estimated that more than half of all Latino people in the U.S. use WhatsApp. Estimated at 32 million eligible voters, Latino voters are a growing segment of the electorate and make up over 25% of the voting populations in Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Like many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited MamásConPoder in terms of canvassing and in-person events. But voter engagement still can have a personal touch—with postcards. MamásConPoder mom staff and volunteers have handwritten 2.1 million postcards in English and Spanish. They also launched a trusted community voices video campaign. Service providers in Latino communities such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and religious leaders were asked to make a 60-second video encouraging eligible potential voters to register to vote. “We’ve had a great response from our communities because they trust these community voices,” said Oseguera. “And they are really energized and engaging, based on the ask from someone that they know.”

MamásConPoder is working on taking its precinct captain program, Beacons of Hope, digital. Beacons of Hope will also use WhatsApp for communicating with potential voters and volunteers. “We are making sure that Latinas and our families take voting to the next step, not just registering themselves but organizing their communities,” Oseguera said. “We are making sure that Latinos have all the tools to organize and to lead in their communities.”

Participation in National Voter Registration Day has expanded since it first launched in 2012. This year there are over 100 premiere partners, which includes larger national organizations, corporations, and brands. Over 4,500 community partners are participating, including grassroots organizations and local chapters of national organizations like the League of Women voters as well as high school and college campus organizations.

“We are excited and encouraged by the record-setting number of coalition partners assembled under the banner of National Voter Registration Day this year,” said Dr. Deborah Turner, president of the League of Women Voters, in a statement. A founding organizational partner of National Voter Registration Day, the League of Women Voters has almost 600 local chapters participating this year. “This degree of participation underlines the fact that Americans are determined to keep our democracy strong despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.”  

Anoa Changa is Prism’s electoral justice staff reporter. Follow her on Twitter @thewaywithanoa.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by our national media. Through our original reporting, analysis, and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to build a full and accurate record of what’s happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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