A Mini Guide to Voting Rights Activism
If you’ve been wanting to get involved and can’t decide what to do, this guide is for you. You have limited time (don’t we all?) and you want to be effective, so what’s the best way to dive in? The purpose of this guide is to help you take action yourself and to engage as many others as you can.
Remember that educating yourself about the issues is important, but don’t stay on the sidelines. Democracy in the United States is in peril and the more people involved, the more likely we’ll save (and even expand) democracy. Take comfort in knowing that hundreds of thousands have become new activists in the past few years, and that everybody’s contributions – small and large – add up to a large impact. Please consider being a part of this!
One more thing: If you’d like to learn together and take action together with others on voting rights, join your local chapter’s Voting Rights workgroups. The names and contact information of CJJ's Voting Rights Team Leaders for each chapter are listed here (scroll down to the bottom of the page!).
BEING A VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVIST:
A MINI HOW-TO-GET-INVOLVED & WHAT-TO-DO GUIDE
CONTACTING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
Elected officials generally prioritize hearing from their own constituents, so one important approach is to contact your elected officials. This is a quick way to take action, and for issues you feel strongly about, contact your elected officials multiple times. They are keeping track of the number of contacts! It is also useful to contact Chairs of committees and the leadership of both the NC House and Senate since they often are the decision-makers.
To find your the names and contact information for your North Carolina legislators, use this link, NC General Assembly. Add them to your Contacts! The easier you make it for yourself, the more likely you’ll take action.
Sometimes people are reluctant to contact their elected officials if they are already on the ‘right’ side, but as it turns out, it helps them to know they are supported by their constituents. You may send an email with a different tone to officials you agree with, but it’s still important. On the other hand, if you think your elected officials will never support your position, it’s still important! Contacting them is a way to make your voice heard. If they don’t hear from you, whose voices will they hear? They need to know how poorly they are representing their constituents.
Making phone calls:
- Every elected official keeps track of the calls they receive for and against an issue, so it doesn’t matter if your elected official agrees with you or not. Calling takes less than a minute per call – faster than crafting an email!
- Some voting rights organizations’ websites will patch you through to your elected official; these websites often have talking points too. In any case, sometimes you will get a real person to answer your call, but often the call goes to voicemail.
- Leave a message – it can be brief, and make it personal. If you get a live person, let them know what you think. Their usual response is that they will relay your message; they won’t try to argue with you. You can try to engage them if you want, but it’s not necessary.
- You can email your elected officials on your own, but sometimes a voting rights group’s website will have links that make it easy to send an email to your representatives in Congress or the NC General Assembly. They often provide talking points or a canned email text.
- IMPORTANT: Emails are more effective if you craft your own message rather than using canned messages. If a sample email pops up, you usually have the option to re-write it. This is HIGHLY recommended. Even if you make the message shorter, make it personal.
AMPLIFYING YOUR VOICE
Each of us has one vote, but we help build support for voting rights by getting others to take action. This may involve our participating in phone banks, text banks, and/or sending postcards or letters. Sometimes we will be contacting voters in North Carolina, but there are also opportunity to contact voters in other states, asking them to contact their elected officials. Here’s the skinny on each type of activity:
- Phone banks: 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. There is always a training session (usually on Zoom), and 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, keep in mind that in one session you may have only 2-5 good conversations, with lots of people hanging up on you, and maybe some 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
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.“
Text banks: This is easy! You can send thousands of texts in a session. The initial text message to send is prepared for you ahead of time, as are a list of responses to choose from. You do need some comfort with the computer – there’s usually a platform for communicating with the organizer and another platform for texting (training is provided as is tech support during the sessions). Keep in mind that 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 call or email their elected official. 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 take them off the contact list). Again, it’s about expectations, knowing you’re a small part of a larger effort, and the satisfaction from the ‘yes’ responses.
Postcards and letters: There is increasing evidence about the effectiveness of this form of communication. A few studies with letters have shown small but meaningful effects (especially for special and other low turnout elections). Vote Forward believes that letters are better than postcards, but we don’t know if there are enough data to support this conclusion. There was not much in the way of positive findings about postcards until recently, but some recent studies show they do make a difference! It is 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 the traditional Get Out The Vote messaging closer to election time. Each campaign is targeted, for example to under-represented groups of voters, low propensity voters, youth, older adults, etc. Again, small effects multiplied by millions (yes, millions!) of communications 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, and for letters, you will 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 a pre-printed letter. Postcards may be partially pre-printed as well, but not always.
OPPORTUNITIES FOR NORTH CAROLINA
VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
(current as of 6/14/21)
PART ONE: LET'S GET FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION PASSED!
Help pass national voting rights legislation. The For The People Act, the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and the DC Statehood bill have passed in the House of Representatives and await action in the Senate. Click HERE to learn about the For The People Act, HERE for the John Lewis Voting Rights Act and HERE for the DC Statehood bill.
Ways to take action:
Contact our Senators about all three bills. Phone calls are easy (they take less than a minute), and emails are good, too. Do this on your own for all three bills. For two of the bills, you can go to these websites to walk you through the process. EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES! YOU CAN DO IT EVERY DAY!
- For The People Act: Democracy NC action page.
- Sign up for text banks and phone banks to voters in critical states, asking them to contact their elected officials. TAKES A 2-HOUR BLOCK OF TIME EACH TIME YOU VOLUNTEER. TRAINING AND SUPPORT ARE PROVIDED.
- Common Cause. They have many ongoing phone banks to engage citizens in critical states to let their legislators know they support the For The People Act or to combat anti-voting bills in their state legislatures. Some of the phone banks are also focused on ending or reforming the filibuster, which is necessary to get federal legislation passed in the Senate. Click here for a list of upcoming phone bank events and here for text bank events. There is also training to be a Phone Bank Captain if you’d like to do that and organize your own phone banks with Common Cause.
- Center for Common Ground/Reclaim our Vote. Ongoing phone banks to engage people in selected state to speak up for filibuster reform and to support For The People Act. As of June 9, all phone banking is to Arizona. Their phone bank times are very flexible.
PART TWO: LET’S FIGHT FOR VOTING RIGHTS IN NORTH CAROLINA AND BEYOND!
Express your opposition to a slew of anti-voting bills that threaten to disenfranchise voters. Under the guise of so-called “Election Integrity,” N.C. lawmakers have drafted Senate Bill 326, Senate Bill 724, and Senate Bill 725, moving hastily from committee meeting to committee meeting this week, trying to pass multiple anti-voter provisions without public comments. Two bills that also need our attention are in the House: HB782 and HB805. More information about the bills and links to take action can be found on Democracy NC’s website. EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES!
Senate Bill 326. This bill requires counties to throw out thousands of absentee ballots that arrive after 5 p.m. on Election Day, even if they were mailed before Election Day.
Senate Bill 724. This bill allocates millions of taxpayer dollars to enforce a racist voter ID law that is currently being litigated in court.
Senate Bill 725. This bill bans certain election funding sources for under-resourced communities to help elections run safely and smoothly, particularly in emergencies.
House Bill 782 Elections Certainty Act. This bill puts restrictions on absentee ballot, so that all ballots need to be received by 5 pm Election Day. This means that voting by mail essentially forcing voters to do so up to 10 days earlier than those who vote in person. If this had been in effect in 2020, over 11,000 ballots would have been discarded.
House Bill 805 Prevent Rioting & Civil Disorder. This bill proposes serious “riot” charges against protesters even if they have not caused harm or property damage. While this bail is not explicitly a voting bill, it is an affront to democracy, and felony charges against protesters would strip them of their right to vote. This would disproportionately affect people of color.
Contact North Carolina voters who have been removed from the voting rolls. (REQUIRES REVIEW OF TRAINING MATERIALS AND AS LITTLE OR MUCH TIME AS YOU LIKE!)
Democracy NC is coordinating calls to some of the 391,000 people recently removed from registration calls in our state. Although the goal of cleaning up the voter rolls is to remove people who have moved out of state or passed away, there are always people who get removed accidentally. We'll be calling voters who we think are likely to still be here and want to vote!
To participate, contact Cheryl Ellis for training materials and everything else you need to get started. You can make calls anytime between 9 am and 8 pm.
PART THREE: BE SURE COUNTY BOARDS OF ELECTIONS MAKE VOTING ACCESSIBLE.
Monitor your County Board of Elections (BOE) with Democracy NC
TAKES AN ONGOING COMMITMENT TO 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!
Democracy NC runs a volunteer program to monitor County Boards of Elections. BOE Monitors are some of Democracy NC's most critical volunteers: "They build relationships with board members and gather intel we need to advocate effectively. Decisions about polling locations, early voting schedules, budget and election security are all discussed at Board meetings. Most meetings are still online or at least accessible online."
Democracy NC provides a 90-minute training for “seasoned BOE monitors who want to be know the latest ways to achieve victories with your Board, and for those new to this program.” For information, go to Democracy NC.
PART FOUR: ADVOCATE FOR FAIR REDISTRICTING IN NORTH CAROLINA
All on The Line. This new organization works to get citizens and communities involved in advocating for fair maps in North Carolina. They currently have two programs: the Legislator Accountability Teams, aimed at engaging state legislators, are organized by region; and the Community Mapping Program, which fosters community input to the drawing of maps, and is holding trainings separately for each region of North Carolina. If you can’t attend your local training, you can still create a "Community of Interest" map using AOTL NC’s Representable training video as a guide. Later this year, AOTL will train and support citizens to provide public comment to the legislature. REQUIRES SMALL AMOUNTS OF TIME FROM NOW THROUGH THE FALL REDISTRICTING PROCESS.
Support Redistricting Reform in North Carolina EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES!
- Support the gold standard nonpartisan redistricting bill in the NC General Assembly to change rules for future redistricting. Contact your Representative and Senator through Democracy NC! For more information about the bill and how to take action click here. Don’t forget to personalize your email based on the information provided. It is more likely to get attention if you do this!
PART FIVE: GET OUT THE VOTE
There are no regular federal elections in 2021, but North Carolina may have local elections in many parts of the state this fall.
NORTH CAROLINA. Voter registration in person is coming soon! Get trained now!
REQUIRES MULTI-HOUR COMMITMENT: 1-HOUR OF TRAINING AND AVAILABILITY STARTING LATER THIS SUMMER TO PARTICIPATE IN IN-PERSON VOTER REGISTRATION EVENTS.
- You Can Vote is training volunteers online NOW and will be rolling out a schedule of voter registration events this summer. Go to https://www.youcanvote.org/training to sign up for a training.
PART SIX: RANKED CHOICE VOTING.
Ranked Choice Voting: Better Ballots NC (BBNC) is working 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.
Show your support by signing their petition. EASY! TAKES A FEW MINUTES!
If you want to support the first use of Ranked Choice Voting in New York City, join a text bank or phone bank here. REQUIRES A 2 HOUR BLOCK OF TIME!
PART SEVEN: JOIN A STOP DISINFORMATION TEAM ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Stop Disinformation: Common Cause holds ongoing shifts to “help protect voters from online disinformation by signing up as a Social Media Monitor. As a volunteer … "you’ll help monitor social media platforms and conversations in your community for democracy-related disinformation. Each monitoring shift is 3 hours long; volunteers can feel free to come and go as they please.” REQUIRES REVIEWING TRAINING MATERIALS AND JOINING A SHIFT FOR UP TO 3 HOURS.
PART EIGHT: KEEP UP TO DATE (REQUIRES ONE HOUR PER MONTHLY MEETING.)
Attend a monthly meeting for volunteers with one of our NC voting rights partner groups. This is a good way to stay up to date about opportunities to volunteer and take action:
- You Can Vote: Monthly volunteer updates are held on the last Thursday of the month at 6 pm. Click here to register.
- Democracy NC: Regular webinars are provided to keep volunteers informed about the work of DemNC and opportunities to be involved. For information about these events, click here.
- All On The Line: Monthly statewide meetings for volunteers are held on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6 pm. Sign up here.