In America, one of a citizen’s most important rights is the right to vote. Each vote has an impact, but not all eligible citizens are registered or have easy access to vote: nearly 2 million eligible Americans didn’t vote in the 2016 elections. Fortunately, campaigns, nonprofit organizations, and advocacy groups undertake tremendous voter mobilization efforts to boost registration rates, especially in the time leading up to critical elections. For instance, Stacey Abrams’s Fair Fight Action sent over a million text messages and more than half a million phone calls leading up to Georgia’s Senate run-off elections.
Efforts to get out the vote (GOTV) are crucial to a strong democracy. Helping even one eligible voter to vote can make a tremendous impact. One voter who reaches out to their network of friends and family members can kick off a chain of voter registrations. After all, this method of outreach (called relational organizing) can make someone 8x more likely to opt-in to an organizing event and 6.5x more likely to sign a petition.
Groups that are looking for the most effective ways to boost voter mobilization should follow these points:
1. Remind voters of election times.
One of the simplest ways to boost voter mobilization is simply to inform eligible voters of an upcoming election. Most voters are aware of major elections, like the presidential election, but are less likely to be informed about local elections. City council elections and mayoral elections have as much impact on constituents as presidential elections, but only 27% of eligible voters participate in local elections. Local elections can happen in years between presidential and midterm elections, so voters may miss an election if they aren’t informed of when to vote. Simply sharing information about local elections is one of the best ways for groups to mobilize a community.
2. Personalize messages to voters.
When speaking to eligible voters, volunteers may find more success by having personalized conversations with potential voters, rather than pushing a candidate or specific issue. There are many reasons why an eligible voter may not vote, and the best way to support an eligible voter is to hold an open conversation and answer any questions they may have about the voting process. Efforts like these are more impactful for voter mobilization than one mass email.
3. Conduct outreach to Limited English Proficiency voters.
Scores of eligible voters across the country don’t speak English as their first language. A language barrier during elections can increase the challenges a voter faces, even with language access rights. In the 2018 midterm elections, volunteers in Brooklyn mobilized voters by creating a sample ballot to ease the voting process for Arabic-speaking Limited English Proficiency voters with great success. Helping Limited English Proficiency voters can make a great difference in flipping Republican-held congressional and state senate districts.
4. Help voters make a plan.
Voting can be a challenge for voters who lack the information to make a voting plan. This can be especially true for communities of color. In fact, 15% of African American and 14% of Hispanic survey respondents said they had difficulties locating polling places on Election Day. Additionally, voters in some states may not know that they have the right to take time off to vote if they can’t make it to polling locations during work hours. To improve voter mobilization, volunteers can empower voters by helping them plan where to go to fill out their ballot, or when to schedule time off on Election Day.
5. Speak with low-propensity voters for more impactful voter mobilization.
High-propensity voters turn out for every possible election. On the other hand, low-propensity voters are generally less likely to vote in elections other than the presidential election. Groups that target high-propensity voters over low-propensity voters can inadvertently create inequality. By failing to reach out to voters who are less likely to participate in all eligible elections, they miss opportunities to reach out to historically disenfranchised communities. As high-propensity voters don’t need as much outreach to vote in an election, volunteers should instead invest time in reaching out to low-propensity voters to boost voter mobilization.
Sometimes, elections can come down to a slim margin: Senator Tina Smith of Minnesota, won her re-election campaign by a margin of 170,000 votes. With Impactive, organizers for Smith’s campaign contacted over 100,000 voters who hadn’t returned their ballot yet. The efforts of a few hundred organizers who helped to get out the vote may have changed the outcome of an election.
By personalizing messages, informing voters in their native languages, and helping every voter make a voting plan, groups that engage in GOTV can increase voter mobilization and empower voters to shape their representation.