What I’m watching: Season 4 of the West Wing
What I’m listening to: FM radio
What I’m reading: Center for Civic Design Field Guides
Happy National Voter Registration Day! Today community partners, organizations, and nonprofits will team up to encourage voters to engage in democracy. As a result, thousands of voters will add their names to voter rolls, update their address, and (hopefully) start thinking about their local elections this fall.
As a county clerk, it’s great to see so many people rallying around civic education, but it also illustrates the challenges that local governments have in getting voters to be involved all year. Local election officials are already preparing for 2020 and we want voters to be ready, too. Voter registration deadlines, confusing (and sometimes conflicting) early voting and absentee voting information, and other structural elements of election administration can make it difficult for voters to make their voice heard so it’s up to us to effectively communicate to them. As local government employees that might work in elections every day, it’s also critical to remember that not every voter comes to the ballot box with the same understanding of the process.
The Center for Civic Design has done a considerable amount of exploration into the different paths voters take to Election Day, finding that they often don’t align with election officials’ expectations. In fact, voter registration is not usually the entry point into the elections process because voters want to know what’s on the ballot first. National Voter Registration Day comes at the perfect time because most jurisdictions have their fall elections set (today is the first day of absentee voting for the November 5th election in Missouri, for example), but major voter registration deadlines haven’t passed yet. As a result, voters can find out what’s on their ballot now, but they also hear the message that registering is important before they miss the opportunity to be able to participate.
Today also illustrates the benefits of leveraging partnerships with groups that have additional resources, wider target audiences, and a different way of looking at election administration. Local government is not (yet!) known for cutting edge or well-funded initiatives, but Facebook, Twitter, Democracy Fund, and BET Networks—all steering committee members of National Voter Registration Day—certainly are. Their targeted voter registration campaign help magnify messages from local election officials. We can take the opportunity to talk about poll worker recruitment, reaching young voters and students, and ways to civically engage beyond registering to vote.
Local government relies on an engaged community, which requires active participation in our democracy. Take the time today to check your voter registration record and make sure it’s up-to-date. Tell your friends to do the same. You’ve only got 364 days to prepare for National Voter Registration Day in 2020!