During this intense election year, all across America, people are hard at work to make it possible for more people to participate in the election process.
No single tool, online or off, is going to solve the voter engagement and voting rights problems facing our country. But, tools can help government agencies, community advocates, nonprofits, and citizens engage more people in the democratic process. Tools can give individuals the information they need about the voting process, their voting rights, and what’s on the ballot. Tools can also inspire people to become a voter by helping them register to vote and, ultimately, increase the odds that they’ll cast their vote.
Voter engagement (as well as voter disenfranchisement and voter discrimination) happens long before Election Day. It happens for months and years, through media coverage, via social media, in online discussions, at public events, in people’s homes, and on the street. Voter engagement also happens through ballot design and at polling sites.
Here are a variety of tools your agency or organization can use to increase voter engagement.
Voting Technology Project Election Management Toolkit
A public and media firestorm is raging over long lines at polling sites in Arizona during the state’s recent primary election. There are accusations of election fraud and voter suppression, and a Department of Justice investigation.
Other local election offices hoping to avoid similar problems can—nay, should—perform an analysis of their Election Day plans. Start with Caltech and MIT’s Voting Technology Project Election Management Toolkit, which includes calculators to show how to optimize poll workers, polling site design, and voting machines to decrease the time voters spend in line.
Voting Information Project
The Voting Information Project (VIP) exists to help states and others provide voters with official information about where to vote and what’s on the ballot. The Pew Charitable Trusts and Google head up VIP, so there’s a lot of trust and data integrity baked into the project.
Even those with basic skills can use VIP’s tools. Voters and voter advocates can look up polling places and ballot information using the Voting Information Tool, which can also easily be added to websites via a widget. Agencies and organizations can download VIP’s free, white-label smartphone apps, brand them, and release customized versions that can improve the voting experience in their community.
USPS Election Mail Communications Plan
Even in this increasingly electronic age, a lot of the election process takes place through snail mail. Voter registration, campaigning for political issues and candidates, ballot delivery, and even voting all happens in part by mail.
The USPS provides rules, resources, and information about how local election officials, campaigns, and advocacy groups can do their part to help election and political mail be properly handled and delivered on time. Compliance with the USPS’ guidance can also increase people’s confidence in mail as a reliable, efficient, and effective part of the voting process. The guidance is available from the USPS’s postal bulletin (PDF), the election mail webpage, and the Deliver the Win website about political mail.
Center for Civic Design’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent
The Center for Civic Design’s Field Guides to Ensuring Voter Intent are bite-sized booklets with guidelines on how to improve the design of election materials. The guides cover topics like designing usable ballots, effective poll worker materials, guiding voters through the polling place, and designing election department websites.
The Center for Civic Design also offers research, projects, knowledge sharing, trainings, and advocacy to ensure voter intent and make elections better. Check out case studies on how it has worked with local governments to improve the design of voter registration forms, election ballots, tax bills, and more.
Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP)
The Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP) is all about ensuring that overseas citizens, and service members and their eligible family are aware of their right to vote from anywhere in the world—and gives them the tools and resources to do so.
FVAP provides everything needed to boost the voter engagement of eligible voters based outside the U.S. These tools include lots of outreach materials such as videos, fact sheets, a press release template, a Facebook-ready video, posters, a website widget, and ads for print, television, and radio.
National Voter Registration Day
National Voter Registration Day is so much more than just a day for registering people to vote—though it does that remarkably well, with 129,851 people registered nationwide in 2015. Long before the day itself, thousands of organizations mass a coordinated nonpartisan effort to mobilize volunteers, educate eligible voters, and celebrate our voting rights, all to make sure no one is left out of the democratic process. Celebrities and everyday people can also take part in this special day that’s part social movement, part holiday.
Anyone can help raise awareness using handy National Voter Registration Day resources like social media profile images, pre-written tweets, and a customizable email. Organizations can also sign up as National Voter Registration Day partner. This year, National Voter Registration Day is on September 27, 2016.
Language as a tool
A small shift in the language your agency or organization uses can get more people to register and then vote on Election Day. Christopher Bryan, a researcher at Stanford University, found that simply changing your voter engagement messaging so that it calls on people to “be a voter” creates significantly higher voter turnout than saying they should “vote.”
The theory behind why this works is that telling people to vote burdens them with something to do, with all the negative associations and excuse-making of a chore. Whereas helping them to see themselves as a voter reinforces their positive self-image and appeals to the better person they aspire to be. Other research explores a variety of effective messaging techniques like emphasizing high expected voter turnout when talking to infrequent voters, helping people plan the details of their plans for voting, and good old peer pressure and personal obligation.
What are your favorite voter engagement tools that can help government agencies and community organizations boost voter turnout? Share your favorites (non-partisan ones, please) in the comments.
Lauren Girardin is a marketing and communications consultant, writer, and speaker based in San Francisco. She helps organizations engage their communities and tell their stories. Her website is laurengirardin.com and you can connect with her on Twitter at @girardinl.