A Mini Guide to Voting Rights Activism
If you’ve been wanting to get involved and can’t decide the best way to use your limited time effectively, this guide is for you. Remember that educating yourself about the issues is important, but don’t stay on the sidelines. This guide will help you move your worry and anger into action. Make your voice heard and engage others in doing the same!
A few words of encouragement: When you take action, you are joining thousands of others who have become new activists in the past few years. Everybody’s contribution makes a difference. It all adds up to a huge impact. There is much to be hopeful about, but we will succeed only if enough of us are willing and able to take action.
- SECTION ONE: An overview of ways to take action.
- SECTION TWO: An up-to-date description of current actions you can take.
BEING A VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVIST:
A MINI HOW-TO-GET-INVOLVED & WHAT-TO-DO GUIDE
Below you will find a collection of practical tips for how to most effectively communicate with elected officials, advocate for critical voting rights legislation, and motivate others to join you in the work. Scroll down further for specific opportunities to take action.
Please send all feedback and comments to [email protected]. I’m also happy to talk with you about my activist experience, to provide more information, and to connect. It’s always better to have companions on the path. Let’s do this together! Please email me if you’d like to receive updated versions of this guide as I create them.
AN OVERVIEW OF WAYS TO TAKE ACTION
A. CONTACTING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
If they don’t hear from you, whose voices will they hear?
This is the easiest way to take action, and it’s worth doing, regardless of whether your elected officials agree with you. In any case, they keep track of the number of contacts from constituents and the positions they support. If your elected officials are already on the ‘right’ side, contact them anyway! It helps them to know their constituents support them, and it can get them to prioritize your issue. Sometimes you will want to thank them; other times you will want to urge them to make a more public stance or otherwise provide more leadership on voting rights issues. If you think your elected officials will never support your position, it’s still important to contact them! Contacting them is a way to make your voice heard. They need to know how poorly they are representing their constituents. If they don’t hear from you, whose voices will they hear?
Voting rights organizations recommend you contact your elected officials more than once. Call daily when there is a push for action and an upcoming deadline. It is also useful to contact Chairs of committees and the leadership of both the House and Senate in North Carolina and in Congress, since they often are the decision-makers.
Make it easy for yourself: Add the names and contact information of your elected officials to your Contacts. The easier you make it for yourself, the more likely you’ll take action.
- To find the names and contact information for your North Carolina legislators, use this link, NC General Assembly.
- Contact information for our North Carolina Senators:
- To find the name and contact information for your U.S. Representative, click here.
- Some voting rights organizations’ websites will patch you through to your elected official. They may also provide a script, a prepared email, or talking points, too. It helps if you are on their email lists (see CJJ’s Resources Page).
Making phone calls:
- Calling takes less than a minute – faster than crafting an email.
- Sometimes a staff person will answer your call, but often the call goes to voicemail. That’s ok. Just leave a message. If you are nervous about talking to someone, call after hours and leave a message.
- You can be brief, but make it personal. Be polite and state your position, why it matters to you, and what you want them to do (e.g., support or oppose specific legislation). If you reach a real person, they typically will relay your message to the elected official. They won’t try to argue with you. You can try to engage them if you want, for instance, by asking about the position of the elected official or getting them to consider the consequences of the policy you support or oppose, but it’s not necessary.
- It’s easy to email your elected officials. It’s ok to make the message short, but make it personal. IMPORTANT: Emails are more effective if you craft your own message rather than using canned messages.
- If you are using a canned email from a voting rights group, you usually have the option to re-write it or edit it. This is HIGHLY recommended. Often their website will provide talking points you can refer to.
B. PHONE BANKS
This is an effective way to amplify your voice!
- When you join a phone bank, you make calls through your computer or your phone, depending on what platform the organization is using. Platforms like Hubdialer do all the dialing for you, and you only speak when they get through to a real person. You bypass almost all voicemails, and the call recipient doesn’t see your phone number. With other systems, you dial yourself, getting the numbers from a webpage the organization shares with you. In either case, the website gives you the person’s name and gender, and town they live in. For some phone banks, the organizers will want you to leave voice mail messages, but that varies. All phone banks provide you with a script, which you can review and practice before using it. Phone banking sessions typically start in a Zoom room with review of the purpose of the calls and a training in how to use the technology. Phone bank captains are available throughout a session to answer questions and provide tech support.
- Many people dread phone banks, and there is definitely a psychological hurdle (especially if you hate to receive political calls yourself or are nervous about talking to people you can’t see and may not agree with you). See if you can get past that – phone banking is effective - and commit to a 1.5 – 2 hour block of time. You just might find it rewarding if you have realistic expectations. Keep in mind first of all that by making calls, you can reach people who may not use computers or have a smart phone. Second, it’s realistic to expect that in one session you may have only 2-5 conversations, with lots of people hanging up on you, and maybe a couple of rude people. Just keep your focus on the big picture: With hundreds of volunteers and volunteer shifts – in the fall of 2020 there were sometimes hundreds of people phone banking together – every little bit adds up to a lot of impact! If you have questions or doubts and want to talk to a veteran phone banker, contact Marilyn Hartman. There are also videos with tips for volunteers with trepidation! For instance, look for the recording of ‘Overcoming Fear and Loathing in Phone Banking’. Also, here’s a great pep talk for potential phone bankers.
- For more encouragement: This is what the Center for Common Ground says about phone banking: “Most of our volunteers consider CCG phone banking relatively low-stress. We are not persuading anyone to vote a certain way; we're simply offering people tools and information to facilitate political engagement. When we call, we leave LOTS of pre-written voicemails (and sometimes texts), which have proven effective at turning out our voters, or motivating them to call their elected officials on proposed legislation.“
C. TEXT BANKS
- This is easy! You can send thousands of texts in a session. Sometimes a text bank session will send over 400,000 texts in a few hours. You do need some comfort with the computer, but it’s not hard. There’s usually a platform for communicating with the organizer (e.g., Slack) and another platform for texting. Training is provided, as is tech support during the sessions. The initial text message to send is prepared for you, and when people respond to the initial text, you have a list of responses to choose from. You won’t hear back from most people, maybe a few percent at best. Of those who respond, you’ll get a good number of people willing to take action (e.g., call or email their elected official, or engage in other ways). You’ll also get some ‘no’ responses, some ‘take me off your list’ responses, and inevitably rude and offensive responses (which you are instructed to ignore and to remove from the contact list). Again, it’s about expectations. Keep in mind that you’re a small part of a larger effort, and there is a lot of satisfaction to be had from the positive responses.
D. LETTERS & HANDWRITTEN POSTCARDS
- To send letters, organizations like VoteForward provide you a list of names and addresses, and a file with partially pre-printed letters. You then print them out, add a personalized message, and provide the envelopes and stamps. Each organization will send instructions on how to add a personal message. To send postcards, you need to order them and pay then pay for mailing labels (and sometimes stamps).
- There is increasing evidence about the effectiveness of letters to increase turnout by more than one percentage point. This may seem small, but it is meaningful, because many races are decided by a small number of votes, sometimes a few percentage points or less. In local elections in 2019, 39 municipal elections were decided by a couple of votes, with coin tosses required in several cases! Every vote is a gain. Positive results have in particular been found for special and other low turnout elections.
- Recent studies of postcard writing are showing evidence of impact. Reclaim Our Vote’s postcard campaign to voters who had been removed from the polls in one county in North Carolina’s 3rd Congressional District resulted in 20-25% of the de-registered voters re-registering before the September 2019 special election in that district. A study of voting in the North Carolina and Texas 2020 primaries showed a 1.7% in turnout.
- Studies have shown a slightly smaller impact of postcards than letters, but the differences are small and there are no studies directly comparing them. Election dynamics are changing, and none of the data are from 2020. I find it encouraging that letters and postcards are being used in more new and creative ways. There are initiatives for thanking voters for voting (to increase the likelihood they will vote again), for asking them to contact their elected officials about voting rights legislation, as well as for getting out the vote messaging. Campaigns can be narrowly targeted, for example, to under-represented groups of voters, low propensity voters, youth, older adults, etc. Again, small efforts multiplied by millions (yes, millions!) of communication add up.
- One upside to this form of action is that it’s easy to do it in groups or to get a group of friends to divide up the load. The downside is that you have to pay for postage yourself. You need to buy postcards and stamps, and for letters, you need to print out the letters, buy envelopes, and address them by hand. The letters themselves are easy – usually a few lines to add to an otherwise pre-printed letter. A script is provided.
E. LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
- This is easier than you think and offers an additional avenue for effectively making your voice heard. Elected officials pay attention to these letters in the communities they represent, and letters can create another voice advocating for voting rights. You can use them to share information with other people and give them ways to articulate their feelings and opinions
- You can do this on your own or be on the lookout for opportunities put forth by voting rights organizations. When there is a call for Letters to the Editor, organizations often post information on their website to help you. Sometimes they will submit your letter for you to the appropriate news outlets. Letters are short (they have word limits) and can be written in just a few minutes. It doesn’t have to be a masterpiece to succinctly get across your point.
F. ADDITIONAL WAYS TO IMPROVE ACCESS TO THE POLLS
- Be a Board of Elections monitor: In North Carolina, every county has its own Board of Elections, and their meetings are open to the public (in many cases with virtual as well as in-person options). The Boards maintain the voter rolls, buy voting machines, determine early voting schedules, identify polling locations, process absentee ballot requests, hire staff and staff the polls, and of course, count votes. By participating in these meetings, you can make sure voting in your county is accessible to everyone, keep voter roll purges from de-registering eligible voters, and advocate for the best choices for your community. (For more information, see Part 5 below.)
- Register voters: Voter registration is a year-round activity because it takes time to reach people who have moved, those who are marginalized, as well as youth, older adults, disabled individuals, and people with past criminal justice involvement. In-person voter registration drives are starting again, and will ramp up for the 2022 elections. This is a good way to engage voters, to help them make sure their registration is up to date. It also is a way to let them know that they are affected by election results and to promote the idea that each vote makes a difference. Low voter turnout is due in part to obstacles to casting a ballot, and in part to people’s disconnection from the political system. If we can listen to people and connect their needs and values to electoral issues, we can increase participation in voting. (For more information, see Part 4 below.)
- Monitor social media for misinformation and disinformation: There is a lot of misleading or intentionally false information about voting and elections. To counteract this, you can sign up for shifts and work together with other people to uncover and take action on social media posts that need attention. (For more information, see Part 7 below.)
CURRENT OPPORTUNITIES FOR
VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
(current as of 11/5/21)
The most urgent actions at this moment are to push for voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate. But there is other important work to do as well! If you’d like to learn more and take action together with others in CJJ, join your local CJJ chapter’s Voting Rights workgroup.
A. PUSH FOR FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION!
Help pass national voting rights legislation. There are two bills awaiting Senate action after having passed in the House earlier this year: One is the Freedom to Vote Act, which has replaced the earlier For The People Act. The second is the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act, Click HERE to learn about the Freedom to Vote Act and HERE for the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act. Perhaps the single most important point is to understand the urgency of these bills. They are sorely needed to counteract the dozens of anti-voting bills being passed in state legislatures this year, and the ongoing destructive attempts to sow doubt about the integrity of elections.
As 2021 draws to a close there is a renewed push to pass these bills. Debate on both bills has already been filibustered. The only solution is to get rid of the filibuster or to exempt voting rights bills from being filibustered. Senator Schumer, President Biden, and other Democrats are as determined as ever. Behind the scenes they are holding ongoing conversations with key Senators, such as Senators Manchin and Sinema. The Democrats appear focused on getting voting rights legislation passed! Let’s help them by applying pressure!
Ways to take action:
- Contact the White House. President Biden can use your help. You can submit a comment encouraging him to push for these bills and to support changes or elimination of the filibuster rule. Send an email on the White House website and use the White House Comments Phone Line (202-456-1111). The Comments Line is open Tuesday through Thursday 11 am -3pm. EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES!
- Contact both NC Senators. It may seem a waste of time, but it isn’t. Our Senators need to know what their constituents think and hear challenges to their positions. Phone calls are easy (they take less than a minute), and emails are good, too. Do this on your own for both bills. EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES! YOU CAN DO IT MORE THAN ONCE! Voting rights groups say that daily calls are helpful! Vote.org has an easy tool for calling and emailing your Representative and Senator.
Sign up for phone banks to voters in critical states, asking people to contact their elected officials in support of the Freedom to Vote Act. TAKES A 2-HOUR BLOCK OF TIME EACH TIME YOU VOLUNTEER. TRAINING AND SUPPORT ARE PROVIDED.
- Common Cause. They have ongoing phone banks. There is also training to be a Phone Bank Captain if you’d like to organize your own phone banks with friends.
- Center for Common Ground/Reclaim our Vote. They have ongoing phone banks providing support for participants. Their phone bank times are very flexible, in part because they offer the option to make calls at your own convenience. Click here to sign up.
B. GET OUT THE VOTE FOR 2022!
Elections are over for 2021, but it’s already time to look ahead to 2022. The primaries are in March and the general election will be held in November! The highest priority in the coming months is to register voters. As of early November, 2021, this work is not yet in full swing, but there are several avenues to take action now.
REQUIRES MULTI-HOUR COMMITMENT: 1-HOUR OF TRAINING PLUS AVAILABILITY AND WILLINGNESS TO PARTICIPATE IN IN-PERSON VOTER REGISTRATION EVENTS.
- You Can Vote operates throughout North Carolina to educate, register, and mobilize eligible residents to become lifelong voters. They train volunteers to do this work. Currently there are already a few voter registration events, and more will be happening soon. Click here to check for voter registration events as well as training opportunities as they are posted.
C. MAKE VOTING ACCESSIBLE IN YOUR COUNTY – MONITOR YOUR BOARD OF ELECTIONS!
Monitor your County Board of Elections (BOE) with Democracy North Carolina: Local Boards of Election are responsible for implementing elections fairly. Decisions about polling locations, early voting schedules, the election administration budget and election security are all discussed at county-level Board meetings. Most meetings are still online or at least accessible online. By attending their meetings, you can monitor their activities and offer community input. The Boards meet monthly except close to elections, when they meet more frequently, for instance to review absentee ballots and conduct final vote counts.
Find out where and when your Board of Election meets at this link.
Democracy North Carolina runs a volunteer program to connect you to others monitoring your County Board of Elections and to collect the information gathered. They believe that these monitors are some of their most critical volunteers. Volunteer monitors build relationships with board members and gather information that Democracy North Carolina uses to advocate effectively. To view information and access training materials, go to the Elections Advocacy page at Democracy North Carolina.
TAKES A COMMITMENT TO REVIEW TRAINING MATERIALS AND ATTEND ONCE A MONTH MEETINGS (WITH OCCASIONAL ADDITIONAL MEETINGS). MEETINGS USUALLY LAST ONE HOUR AND YOU NEED ANOTHER 15-20 MINUTES TO SUBMIT YOUR NOTES ONLINE TO DEMOCRACY NORTH CAROLINA.
D. ADVOCATE FOR RANKED CHOICE VOTING IN NORTH CAROLINA!
Ranked Choice Voting: There is a movement at BetterBallotNC.org to institute Ranked Choice Voting in North Carolina as a means of making sure those who win elections receive at least 50% of the votes. With Ranked Choice Voting, voters rank order their preferences, so that if no candidate receives a majority of the votes, those with the fewest first choice votes are eliminated until one candidate receives at least 50% of votes. For a very short video that explains the concept, click here. Show your support and sign up to get information by signing a petition. EASY! TAKES A FEW MINUTES!
E. JOIN A “STOP DISINFORMATION” TEAM ON SOCIAL MEDIA!
Stop Disinformation: Common Cause holds ongoing shifts to protect voters from online disinformation. As a Social Media Monitor, “you’ll help monitor social media platforms and conversations in your community for democracy-related disinformation.” Each monitoring shift is 3 hours long, but you may come and go as you please. When you sign up for a shift, you’ll have access to training materials. REQUIRES REVIEWING TRAINING MATERIALS AND JOINING A SHIFT FOR UP TO 3 HOURS.
F. KEEP UP TO DATE!
You can always keep up with the action by signing up for newsletters from partners listed on our Resources Page.
You can also attend a monthly meeting for volunteers with a North Carolina voting rights group. REQUIRES ONE HOUR PER MONTH TO ATTEND EACH MEETING OR SIGN UP FOR ACTION ALERTS.
- You Can Vote: Monthly volunteer updates are held typically on the last Thursday of the month at 6 pm (although the next session will be on December 8, 2021). Click here to register.
- Democracy North Carolina: You can sign up for Alerts so you’ll know when action is needed and important meetings are scheduled. You can also check for Events such as periodic briefing meetings at https://democracync.org/news/
GUIDE BY MARILYN HARTMAN. PREPARED FOR CAROLINA JEWS FOR JUSTICE (www.carolinajewsforjustice.org).
Please send all feedback and comments to [email protected]. Marilyn is also happy to talk with you about her activist experience, to provide more information, and to connect. It’s always better to have companions on the path. Let’s do this together!