I. In Focus This Week
March for Our Lives nets thousands of new voters
State and local elections offices and nonprofits work the crowds
By M. Mindy Moretti
On Saturday, the March for Our Lives took place in dozens of cities throughout the United States and the world. At most of those events, voter registration was as important as the speakers and performers on the stage.
State and local elections officials, as well as national nonprofits that work in voter registration worked at rallies from coast to coast.
HeadCount, a nonprofit that’s registered about 500,000 new voters since 2004, mostly at music events, partnered with Voto Latino, the Hip Hop Caucus and others to register voters in several cities including at the main march in Washington, D.C.
According to Tappan Vickery, volunteer coordinator for HeadCount, the groups 2,000 volunteers registered more than 4,800 voters nationwide during the March for Our Lives.
“This was spot on for our target,” Vickery said. “We didn’t really know what to expect, and are really proud of our volunteers’ work.
In DC, there were about 800 volunteers who went through an hour-long training on voter registration before spreading out through the crowd that some estimated to be around 800,000 people. There were six drop-off points for volunteers to return the completed forms.
According to Vickery, all the forms are submitted to HeadCount’s central office in New York the next business after the event via FedEx.
“From there, we centrally process the forms pursuant to our arrangements with the states—send to state, county, municipality, etc.,” Vickery explained. “Every major election year we check with all the state offices to confirm our procedure prior to kicking off field operations.”
Volunteers tell the new registrants to expect their voter registration card in the mail in four to six weeks, or they can go to HeadCount’s website to verify their voter registration through their state’s website.
“If they do not get confirmed through either method, we ask them to let us know and we will follow up for them,” Vickery said.
When possible, HeadCount works with the state-specific voter registration form, but also has the national mail voter registration form on hand too. Volunteers were given a fact sheet so they knew what information registrants needed to complete and what states they could not register voters for — New Hampshire, New Mexico, North Dakota, Texas and Wyoming. New Hampshire, North Dakota and Wyoming do not accept the national mail voter registration form, and the registration laws in Texas and New Mexico, where there is a 48-hour turn-around time for signatures, are too burdensome to overcome for large events like this
“Having the federal form delivers value to where local orgs only use local - for example, in Nashville, Tennessee, there were multiple voter reg orgs but we were the only group with the federal form and registered 100 people in 17 states,” Vickery said.
Although 74 percent of the states now offer online voter registration, Vickery said HeadCount still largely relies on paper for their process.
“We are implementing tablets in the field in states, such as Colorado and Wisconsin, where so much accessibility is determined by their online systems,” Vickery said. “However, at many of our events, especially festivals, have limited or no Wi-Fi or cell services, paper is always going to have a major role in our efforts.”
With personal security at the forefront, Vickery said HeadCount works hard to ensure that the information gathered from voters is secure. Volunteers are asked to turn in completed forms every 30 minutes and the forms are always in custody and control of team leaders.
According to Sam Mahood, spokesman for the secretary of state’s office, the Sacramento office completed 119 registrations/pre-registrations and the Los Angeles office, which partnered with the Los Angeles County registrar’s office and Yvote registered/pre-registered 125 voters.
“Young people have consistently lag behind in both voter registration and voter turnout rates. Secretary Padilla wants to change that because our democracy is stronger when more citizens participate,” Mahood said. “It has been clear that many young people are engaging in our electoral process in the wake of the Parkland shooting. We had already seen a recent spike in pre-registration. The March for Our Lives event was geared towards young people and receiving a lot of attention. It made sense for our office to provide nonpartisan voter registration and pre-registration opportunities to the many, predominantly young, people who would be in attendance.”
Mahood said that with a state as large as California, they receive voter registration forms, including the federal form, on a constant basis.
“Many groups get California specific voter registration forms from our office or county registrars ahead of big events, so we do not have many issues. Completed federal forms are acceptable. Federal forms get mailed to our office, and these forms do not include a field for voter’s county, so there can be a slight delay in processing time,” Mahood said.
In addition to the national efforts in Washington, D.C. on Saturday, the DC Board of Elections participated in the event as well.
“DCBOE is committed to reaching our youngest voters and getting them registered for the 2018 election cycle,” said Rachel Coll, acting public information officer for the DCBOE. “We have held several registration drives at local high schools specifically for that reason. Given the projected high numbers of young people in attendance at the MfOL Rally, DCBOE hoped to engage large numbers of young eligible District residents.”
Coll, who worked the rally along with Policy Advisor Terri Stroud and Voter Outreach and Education Coordinator LaDwane White said they did have a few non-DC folks approach them about registering, but they pointed them in the direction of their home state’s voter registration. Although DCBOE didn’t register a large number of voters, attending the event was worthwhile.
“While we didn’t register many voters, we did have an opportunity to update voter registration information for several voters,” said Rachel Coll, acting public information officer for the DCBOE. “Additionally, individuals stopped by our table to ask questions about upcoming elections, pick up information, and thank us for attending the rally.”
In Massachusetts, the secretary of state’s office coordinated with march organizers and registered about 400 to 500 new voters.
“I’m very pleased we did it. I think it was a great opportunity to transfer [demonstrators’] energy and concern into practical action,” Secretary of State William Galvin told the Boston Globe.
Volunteers maned a table by the entrance to Boston Common where the march was held and also fanned out through the crowds. Galvin told the paper that Saturday’s event was the largest haul of new voters from one event he could remember.
The League of Women Voters worked the crowds in New York City along with HeadCount. Diane Burrows, vice president of the League told NBC News that her group sent out 45 volunteers with clipboards and voter registration forms. Burrows told the network the day after the march that the League had registered more than 150 voters with forms expected back later in the week.
“The engagement has really increased and I think it’s an awareness,” Burrows told NBC. “People are really understanding the power of the vote and that’s what’s really motivating a lot of them. They’re figuring out the importance and power of civic engagement.”
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