Election 2020: 8 Simple Things You Can Do to Help Get Out the Vote
It's important for everyone to play an active role in choosing our government representatives—especially this year. Here's how you can help boost voter participation.
It’s election season, and while it’s always important to exercise your constitutional right to vote, as you’ve likely heard time and again, this election just may be the most significant in a long time. After all, there’s a lot on the line, from health care to education to social justice issues, as well as potential lifetime appointments to the Supreme Court. That’s why voting is not optional in 2020.
No matter what your political affiliation, you need to make your voice heard—and not just when it comes to your choice for president. “At the local, state, and federal levels, the decisions made by officeholders affect our everyday lives,” says Elizabeth C. Matto, PhD, an associate research professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick. “By registering and voting on Election Day, voters young and old can play a vital part in determining who holds these offices and makes these decisions.” The good news: There are easy things everyone can do to help get out the vote.
Figure out a voting plan—and help others with theirs
We’ve all been reminded with increasing urgency—by everyone from local election bureau officials to voting advocacy groups—about the importance of having a voting plan. Decide how you will vote, and start preparing now if you haven’t already. If you’re voting by mail, find out how to request your ballot, then carefully review the rules for how, when, and where your ballot must be submitted. If you’re opting to vote in person, see if early voting is an option in your area. You also want to confirm where your voting location is, as some cities have added new sites to allow for social distancing. Once you have your plan in place, help everyone in your circle finalize theirs. Doing this now lets you spot any potential issues or areas where they may need help—such as if they will need a ride to the polling location on Election Day.
Important: Start early! You can’t wait until the last minute, especially this year. Not only are there a number of changes due to COVID, but issues with the USPS have also caused delays and disruptions with mail delivery, which could impact mail-in ballots. A handful of states automatically send mail-in ballot applications to all registered voters. Many others have expanded their normal process for mail-in voting due to the pandemic, but you need to be aware of important deadlines—both for when your application for a ballot must be received, as well as for the ballot itself. All but all handful of states have some form of early voting. This chart at Vote.org provides a state-by-state calendar. Plus, at Vote.org and Vote411.org, you can search by location to get the details about voting in your area and also check your registration status.
Become an organizer
The term “organizer” might sound formal and intimidating, but anyone who wants to help and likes to motivate other people would qualify to claim the title. It literally means you engage with local residents, encourage them to participate in the voting process, and look for ways to help boost voter enthusiasm and participation. “A healthy system of self-government requires an active citizenry in this election and in all elections,” notes Matto, who also serves as director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for Youth Political Participation.
The team at National Voter Registration Day has a comprehensive toolkit that’s a treasure trove of resources to help you become an ace organizer in no time. The resources include premade social media graphics, printable stickers and posters, and a guide for setting up your own voter registration drive. (National Voter Registration Day was officially held on September 22, but most of the information and resources can be used at any time.) Find out why we vote on a Tuesday in November.
Be an election protection volunteer
It’s essential that every American be able to exercise their right to vote safely, without interference or harassment. Election Protection is a nonpartisan organization led by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law. Their volunteers educate local residents about their voting rights and report any issues of concern, such as voter intimidation or problems at polling locations. Some of the group’s volunteers are lawyers or legal professionals, but if you don’t have any legal experience, they can train you to help with specific tasks, such as watching for disruptions at polling locations, monitoring social media for voting-related misinformation, and connecting voters with legal resources to answer questions they may have. Learn how to spot potential acts of voter suppression happening in your area.
Host digital events
Like everything else in the era of COVID, political events have gone digital. The good news is, that means you can engage with voters and potential voters from a much larger geographic area, from the comfort and convenience of your own living room. You can coordinate a number of different types of digital voter activation and registration events, from simple registration drives involving people in your neighborhood to more ambitious initiatives like rallies to support a specific initiative or candidate that you host via an online platform like Facebook Live. Community Change Action has put together a handy toolkit to help you host your own virtual or online event. It includes a list of the most popular platforms such as Facebook Live and Zoom, plus checklists and timelines so you can prepare ahead of time.
Do a shift (or several) as part of a phone bank crew
Phone banks consist of volunteers who contact local residents by phone. You can make calls on behalf of a specific candidate or party, but nonpartisan organizations also use volunteers to encourage general voter registration or participation. Some examples of the latter include the League of Women Voters and When We All Vote. If you’re interested in serving on a phone bank for a specific candidate or party, contact their office to volunteer or connect with them on social media. Things have certainly changed since our country’s founding. Check out these 13 bizarre facts about America’s earliest elections.
Work your existing networks and routines
The easiest way to jump-start a digital voter participation event is to take advantage of existing routines and platforms you already have. This could be things like PTA groups, church networks, or other social circles. Equal Ground is a voter education organization that came up with the idea of helping church communities in Florida conduct voter registration/engagement drives at events they called “Park & Praise.” Held in parking lots to allow for social distancing, the events allowed attendees to stay in their cars while they listened to political candidates, local officials, and other speakers, while also participating in religious services at the same time.
“This election will be won by a razor-thin margin, and we can’t leave any voter behind, so we must meet them where they’re at,” says Equal Ground founder and consulting director Jasmine Burney-Clark. “We’re using our people power to incorporate neighbor-based outreach in our voter turnout efforts in addition to making phone calls and texting. We have also implemented our Park & Praise events, where voters can drop off their ballots and get their praise on at the same time.” In case you were wondering, here’s why these five states hold odd-year elections.
Make a pact and stick to it
This is one time when peer pressure can be a positive thing. It’s common knowledge that we are more likely to stick to a resolution or pursue a goal when we tell people about it. By simply making a public commitment to voting, someone is more likely to actually follow through. And everyone in your circle can serve as one another’s accountability squad to ensure you stick to your voting action plan. If you’re voting in person, you can even go as a group and make an event out of it.
Some groups have created a “voting commitment” announcement people can post on their social networks, to give things an official feel. Women Vote Florida created a simple pledge card that you can complete and then share with friends via Facebook or Twitter; the organization is using it to kick-start a voter registration and commitment drive. “My goal is to get 50,000 women in Florida to take the pledge and commit to voting,” says Carolina Castillo, Women Vote Florida’s co-state director. “As a Latina and a mom of a 10-year-old daughter, I know my vote counts and makes a difference in changing and uplifting my community. Plus, we are four generations strong! I’m amplifying my vote by helping my mom and 96-year-old grandma vote by mail during this pandemic. The most important thing everyone can do is make a plan to vote.”
This year, we also happen to be celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote. Check out these 13 rarely seen photos of the first women voters in 1920.
Adopt a swing state (if you’re not in one)
Every vote counts, but the reality is that certain states are destined to play a critical role in deciding this election. In particular, these are “swing states” like Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, and Minnesota, where the 2016 election was decided by an extremely thin margin. Voter participation in the swing states is seen as especially important, so there are many initiatives that allow people from other parts of the country to take part in outreach programs to connect with swing state residents and then encourage them to register and vote.
Once you sign up, you are given a mailing list and instructions. Some programs involve sending a simple postcard with information, while others encourage you to send a letter with a personal story about what voting means to you. These initiatives are generally tied to one party or a political cause/candidate, so do a search for “adopt a swing state” or “postcards to voters” and you can find the option that best aligns with your own political leanings. Next, learn about the most common election scams and how to spot them.
- Elizabeth C. Matto, PhD, an associate research professor at the Eagleton Institute of Politics at Rutgers-New Brunswick, and director of the Eagleton Institute of Politics’ Center for Youth Political Participation
- Jasmine Burney-Clark, Equal Ground founder and consulting director
- Carolina Castillo, Women Vote Florida’s co-state director
- Vote.org and Vote411.org
- Election Protection