As we edge closer and closer to Election Day on November 3, folks across the country are heading out to the polls to cast their votes and let their voices be heard. And although there are many things about this election that make it different from those of years past, one thing remains the same: as Americans, we have the right and the responsibility to use our vote to build a better society for ourselves and our neighbors.
We know that while voting is powerful and important, our civic duties don’t end there. So today, we’re bringing you five ways that you can get involved in local elections, increase voter participation where you live, and boost civic engagement in your community. In doing so, you’ll be helping yourself and your neighbors build the habit of becoming lifelong civic doers!
1. Boost civic engagement by lending a hand by removing barriers.
“Democracy is not a sprint – it’s a marathon. It takes dedication, commitment, and focus – and it only makes sense that there might be some bumps and bruises along the way,” says Ioanna P, ioby leader of the Cincinnati project Civic Health First Aid Kit. “This election, more than ever, our civic health is at stake, and we need to take care of ourselves and each other.”
She’s right. The truth is, voting can be an intimidating process, especially for those who are casting their ballots for the first time. From long lines to questions surrounding eligibility and procedures, there are many components of the voting experience that can deter people from showing up to the polls. And to top it all off, this year the COVID-19 pandemic is adding an extra layer of difficulty for everyone.
The good news is there are things we can do to help our neighbors have the confidence to show up and vote. In fact, one of the best ways to increase civic engagement in your community is to empower your neighbors with information about the voting process!
Take it from Ioanna, who worked with her team to “take the guesswork out of civic participation” leading up to this election. “We partnered with local designers and artists to create a kit that contains all of the supplies to cover the hows, whats, wheres, whens, and whys of civic participation,” she says. Once the kit was created, it was then made available to download for free! She and her fellow changemakers also made it shareable “in order for YOU to help spread the message.”
We love how Ioanna and her neighbors stepped up to create a comprehensive guide to voting in their community. Maybe you’re feeling inspired by their work and want to create one for your neighborhood, too. That’s great! Anything you can do to make the process easier for your community is a step in the right direction.
But remember this: you don’t have to devote lots of time and energy to a formal project to boost civic engagement! You can make a big difference with small gestures, too. You’re an expert in your own community, and that means you’re in a great position to figure out how to best help your neighbors get out and vote.
If you’re not sure how to help, you could start by simply asking your neighbors if they’re planning to vote. If not, what’s standing in their way? Do they need childcare for an hour or two? Transportation to a polling site? Help researching the issues on their ballot or making sure they have the correct form of ID to vote? Whatever barriers they may be facing, there are actions you can take to remedy them. Reach out to your network or your local city council for support. And if you notice a widespread need in your community, you can start a project to address it!
2. Let’s Vote Together! Boosting voter turnout
As you’ve watched your local news and scrolled through your social media feeds lately, you might have noticed an increase in the number of public figures and celebrities speaking out about the importance of voting. And while these messages can—and do—have a positive impact on voter participation, it turns out that the people with the most influence over an individual’s voting behavior are the people who are closest to them.
“When we were launching When We All Vote, we did a bunch of research in focus groups. And we found…the number one most important person for folks to hear from about voting is from a friend, from a neighbor, from a family member, from a classmate—basically a trusted person that’s directly in that person’s community, directly in that person’s network,” Kyle Leirman, CEO and founder of Civic Advisors, told us in a recent webinar. That’s right: when it comes to voting, your friends and family are more likely to listen to you than to someone famous (yes, even Beyoncé!).
And here’s why: your neighbors know you and they trust you, too. So when they see you making it a priority to get out and vote, it encourages them to do so, also! That’s why Kyle and the When We All Vote team created the idea of a “Voting Squad”: a group of four or more people who get out and vote together. (We love this idea, and we thought you might like it, too.)
In Pittsburgh, Emily K and her neighbors are using the power of their collective voice to increase the turnout of younger voters. “We aim to reverse the trend of chronically low millennial and Gen Z engagement in the political process and give young people a louder voice in our community,” she says. Her project, Y2K Votes Northside, is fundraising to help educate young people and get them engaged in the voting process.
3. Celebrating your right to vote.
Exercising your right to vote is a wonderful thing—and it should be celebrated! According to research conducted by #VoteTogether, “voting celebrations are a powerful and cost-effective tool for increasing voter participation and can help build stronger voting habits over the long term.”
So this year, why not have a party at the polls? Whether you choose to generate excitement by hosting or attending a (safe!) gathering before voting begins or you want to spread a little joy to people waiting in line, there are lots of ways to create a positive experience surrounding the voting process.
Maybe you live in a warm area and have the resources to give cool water bottles to folks in line. Or perhaps you’re a musician who can play some tunes (respectfully, of course) to provide entertainment during the waiting process. And who wouldn’t love working on a crossword puzzle or playing a game of socially-distant bingo to pass the time? Even something as simple as bringing a backup cell phone charger and sharing it with your line neighbors can make the process a lot more pleasant!
Art is always a powerful way to reach people, too, and it definitely can play a role in the voting process. No one knows this better than Margy W, the leader behind Art on the Streets. She and her neighbors have been collaborating with local artists throughout the year to produce coloring kits that spread the word about COVID safety and census participation.
So when election season was nearing, they simply changed their focus to voter education. “We believe that sometimes information is most effectively shared by family members and neighbors, rather than from officials or a bureaucratic source. When kids bring coloring kits home, the creative approach brings attention to information in a whole new way!” Projects like hers remind us that voting is not only important—it can be fun, too!
4. Advocating for safer polling locations.
Holding an election in the midst of a global pandemic poses some tough and unique challenges for our cities’ leaders. In addition to ensuring that voters observe social distancing and mask guidelines, they also must plan for protections for poll workers, ensure accessibility, and implement plans to manage long queues.
It’s a big task, and it’s important that we get it right. That’s why Mike Lydon, President of Street Plans, and his team put together a guide called Streets for Voting. “The Guide is directed towards election officials, transportation professionals, and voting rights advocates who want to achieve as fair and inclusive an election as possible in 2020 and beyond,” its creators say. It “offers a number of spatial strategies, as well as low-cost, off-the-shelf materials that communities can use in rural, suburban, and urban environments to transform streets, sidewalks, parking lots, and other public spaces for voting activities.”
If you’re interested in helping your community provide a safer voting experience for all, we invite you to take a look at The Guide. In addition, we spoke to Mike about The Guide in our recent webinar, “Voting on the Block.” Feel free to check that out, too! And if you have an idea or a question about how to make voting safer in your community, you can always reach out to your city council for more information.
5. Get involved by being a poll worker.
And last but certainly not least, one way to get involved with your local elections is to apply to work the polls! Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many areas are facing a shortage of poll workers and are in need of help. Check out this guide to find out more about how to work the polls in your state.
Ready to get involved? Visit our safe elections and civic participation page to learn more and get inspired! And be sure to check out our “Voting on the Block” webinar for ideas on how to get involved in your local elections. If you’re ready to start your own project, let us know! We’re happy to help.
Remember, to be eligible to crowdfund with ioby, your project must take place in the United States, be local to where you live, work, or play, and have a clear community benefit. Your project must be non-partisan, and cannot benefit a political or lobbying campaign or party of any kind. Eligible projects related to an election could include, but are not limited to: toolkits to help neighbors understand their voting rights; flyers or campaigns to register voters; creating public art that celebrates and encourages voting; tactical urbanist interventions like street chalk, planters, or ramps that make it physically easier and safer to vote.