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 answer that question. My goal is to help you take action to make your voice heard and to engage as many others as you can in doing the same.
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 of people have become new activists in the past few years, and that everybody’s contributions – small and large – add up to huge impact. You can keep up with ways to take action by signing up for newsletters from partners listed on our Resources page. Please consider being a part of this! It’s no time to feel discouraged. There is much to be optimistic about, but we will succeed only if enough of us are willing and able to take action.
This guide begins with my perspective on voting rights activism (even for people who don’t call themselves activists). Following this is an overview of ways to take action. The last section is an up-to-date description of current actions you can take. Things change quickly, as legislative bodies go in and out of session, and as redistricting and elections take front seat later this year. I plan to provide updates in the coming months.
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
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.
CONTACTING YOUR ELECTED OFFICIALS
If they don’t hear from you, whose voices will they hear?
This is a quick and easy way to take action. If your elected officials are already on the ‘right’ side, it’s important to contact them - it helps them to know they are supported by their constituents. Just use a different tone to officials you agree with. Even 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. They need to know how poorly they are representing their constituents. If they don’t hear from you, whose voices will they hear?
For issues you feel strongly about, it’s recommended to contact your elected officials more than once. Voting rights organizations urge people to call daily for hot point issues when there is a push for action and an upcoming deadline. Elected officials keep track of the number of contacts from constituents and the positions they support. 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: 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.
Making phone calls:
- This is the easiest way to take action, and it’s worth doing! Calling takes less than a minute – 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 a staff person will answer your call, but often the call goes to voicemail. That’s ok. Just 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, their usual response is that they 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.
- You can email your elected officials on your own, but sometimes a voting rights group’s website has links that make it easy to send an email to your representatives in Congress or the NC General Assembly. These 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 or edit it. This is HIGHLY recommended. It’s ok to make the message short, but do make it personal.
AMPLIFYING YOUR VOICE
Each of us has one voice and one vote, but we help build support for voting rights and for full participation in elections by getting others to take action. The most common ways to take action involve outreach to voters by phone banking and text banking, and/or writing postcards and letters. You may contact voters in North Carolina in these ways, but there are also opportunities to reach out to voters in other states, for instance, asking them to contact their elected officials or helping them to cast a ballot.
Other ways to amplify your voice are monitoring local Boards of Election in North Carolina, helping to register voters, and deep canvassing. Below is the skinny on each of these types of activity, showing you how you can flex your activist muscles.
- 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 Hub Dialer do all the dialing for you and you only speak when it gets through to a real person. You get to bypass almost all voicemails or nobody answering, 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 usually gives you the person’s name, gender, age, 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 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. 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.“
- This is easy! You can send thousands of texts in a session. Recently I participated in a text bank session where we sent over 400,000 texts in less than 3 hours. You do need some comfort with the computer – 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. 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 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.
Postcards and letters:
- There is increasing evidence about the effectiveness of this form of communication. A few research studies with letters have shown small but meaningful effects (especially for special and other low turnout elections). Vote Forward (www.votefwd.org) believes that letters are better than postcards, but I don’t know if there is enough data to support this conclusion.
- There was not much in the way of positive findings about postcards until recently, but recent studies show they do make a difference! For instance, 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.
- 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) and 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. Campaigns are narrowly 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 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, 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 are often partially pre-printed as well, but not always.
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 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 have a page on their website to help you write a letter and 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.
Additional ways to advance 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 the early voting schedule, identify polling locations, process absentee ballot requests, hire staff and staff the polls, and of course, count votes. 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, marginalized voters, youth, older and disabled adults, and people with past criminal justice involvement. In-person voter registration drives are starting now, and will ramp up in the coming months. 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.)
OPPORTUNITIES FOR NORTH CAROLINA
VOTING RIGHTS ACTIVISTS
(current as of 8/21/21)
The most urgent actions at this moment are to push for voting rights legislation in the U.S. Senate and to oppose anti-voting bills in the North Carolina legislature. But there is other important work to do as well!
PART ONE: LET’S GET FEDERAL VOTING RIGHTS LEGISLATION PASSED!
Help pass national voting rights legislation. The For The People Act and the DC Statehood bill have passed in the House of Representatives and await action in the Senate. The John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act was passed by the US House on August 25th, and now moves on to 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.
August 2021: Of the three federal legislative initiatives, the currently most urgent one is the For The People Act. It will be taken up again shortly by the US Senate when it reconvenes in early September. This bill will override the dozens of anti-voting bills being passed in state legislatures across the country. The bill needs to pass this summer because the fall session will be packed with other legislative issues, and because we need this bill in time to impact the 2022 elections. Passing the bill requires changing or eliminating the filibuster rules to allow majority rule in the Senate. Although the news media have made it seem as though the For The People Act is doomed, their pessimism is not warranted. 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 laser focused on getting the For The People Act passed! Let’s help them by applying pressure to all Senators!
Ways to take action:
- Contact both NC Senators. Phone calls are easy (they take less than a minute), and emails are good, too. Do this on your own for all three bills. EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES! YOU CAN DO IT MORE THAN ONCE! Voting rights groups say that daily calls are helpful!
- Contact the White House. You can submit a comment on the White House website EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES!
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. Some of the phone banks are also focused on ending or reforming the filibuster, because the filibuster is likely to be used to stop federal legislation from getting passed in the Senate. Click here for a list of upcoming phone bank events. There is also training to be a Phone Bank Captain if you’d like to organize your own phone banks with Common Cause.
- Center for Common Ground/Reclaim our Vote. Ongoing phone banks engage people in selected states to speak up for filibuster reform and to support the For The People Act. Click here to sign up. Their phone bank times are very flexible.
PART TWO: LET’S FIGHT FOR VOTING RIGHTS IN NORTH CAROLINA AND BEYOND!
Bills restricting voting in North Carolina are moving towards enactment. We need to prevent their passage. In addition, voting roll purges (called ‘list maintenance) continue to be problematic, with removal of everyone who has not voted recently and not responded to a postcard from the Board of Elections. Since January, 2021 almost 400,000 people in North Carolina have been purged from the rolls. Although the goal of cleaning up the voter rolls is to remove people who have moved out of state or passed away, some of these people have been removed by mistake and may be unaware of the problem.
Legislation: 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, trying to hastily move multiple anti-voter provisions with minimal public comments. Another bill that needs our attention is in the House: HB805. More information about the bills and links to take action on both the Senate and House bills can be found on Democracy North Carolina’s website: For the Senate Bills, click here. For House Bill 805, click here. 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 bans certain election funding sources for under-resourced communities to help elections run safely and smoothly, particularly in emergencies.
- Senate Bill 725. This bill allocates millions of taxpayer dollars to enforce a voter ID law that disproportionately affect people of color, the elderly, and other marginalized groups and is currently being litigated in court.
- 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 bill 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.
Voting rolls: Contact North Carolina voters who have been removed from the voting rolls. REQUIRES REVIEW OF TRAINING MATERIALS AND THEN AS LITTLE OR AS MUCH TIME AS YOU LIKE!
Democracy North Carolina is coordinating calls to some of the almost 400,000 people recently removed from registration calls in our state. Call voters that Democracy North Carolina thinks are likely to still be here and want to vote!
To participate, contact Cheryl Ellis at [email protected] for training materials and everything else you need to get started. You can make calls on your own, anytime between 9 am and 8 pm.
PART THREE: ADVOCATE FOR FAIR REDISTRICTING IN NORTH CAROLINA IN 2021!
Redistricting will take place this fall. New voting districts will be drawn for the House of Representatives, the North Carolina General Assembly (Senate and House), and in some cases municipal or county-wide elections. Population growth and redistribution of the population across the state will affect the drawing of all maps this year. North Carolina gains one Congressional seat, but state and municipal district lines will be redrawn as well.
The party in power at the State Legislature controls the redistricting process, with no governor veto possible. While we should continue pushing legislation to move to nonpartisan redistricting, such legislation will have no effect in 2021, so the most urgent need is to engage people to advocate for fair maps that respect their communities of interest and for a transparent process with adequate public input. None of these are a given. For an overview of redistricting in North Carolina, see this handy summary from All On The Line.
Advocate for fair maps in North Carolina:
- League of Women Voters. They have created a wonderful Fair Maps toolkit. It gives an overview of the goals for 2021: transparency for the process of Republican legislators drawing maps, openness about the criteria used to draw maps, and the use of nonpartisan criteria.
Make your voice heard through the public portal. The Joint Committee on Redistricting had a somewhat promising start at its first meeting on August 5th. However, the fairness and transparency the leadership promised are now very much in question. All on the Line NC shared this information on August 20th about what occurred at their latest meeting and suggested next steps including using the portal. As always, it is important to make your comments personal. Some items in question are:
- There are only 10 public hearings scheduled, all before the maps are drawn. It is important that public hearings be available after maps are drawn for public comment.
- Many of these sites are more than an hour away from significant population centers.
- These meetings require in-person attendance to testify.
- The criteria the Committee has established offer much leeway to protect incumbents.
- Eleven nonpartisan organizations sent this letter to the Joint Committee leadership as well as the NC General Assembly leadership outlining key points they felt should be considered in the creation of the districts. The points noted can help you in framing your comments.
- Contacting your legislators. All on the Line has created regional Legislator Accountability Teams, aimed at engaging state legislators. You can join one and work with others and All on the Line staff to keep your elected officials in the General Assembly informed and accountable. The toolkit from the League of Women Voters provides specific talking points and lays out the different types of messages needed at each point in the process. See especially pp. 6-8 with talking points for contacting your legislator. At this point, you want to let your Senator and Representative in the NC General Assembly know that you are concerned about gerrymandering and to ask them what they are doing to advocate for fair maps. You can also contact all the legislators on the Redistricting Committees in the Senate and House. See pp. 9-13 on the League of Women Voters’ toolkit with pointers about posting on social media, including a list of Twitter handles for all members of the Redistricting Committees.
- Support reform for future redistricting North Carolina: Support the gold standard nonpartisan redistricting bill (SB 673) in the NC General Assembly to change rules for future redistricting. Contact your Representative and Senator through Democracy North Carolina. 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! EASY! TAKES ONLY A FEW MINUTES!
PART FOUR: GET OUT THE VOTE (GOTV)!
There are no regular federal or statewide elections in 2021, but North Carolina will have local elections in many parts of the state this fall. Municipalities that have districted elections for School Boards, County Commissions, and City Councils are having their elections moved to 2022 due to the delay in release of census data, but other municipalities will follow their normal election cycle schedule
Register voters: In-person voter registration is happening again! REQUIRES MULTI-HOUR COMMITMENT: 1-HOUR OF TRAINING PLUS AVAILABILITY AND WILLINGNESS TO PARTICIPATE IN IN-PERSON VOTER REGISTRATION EVENTS.
- You Can Vote is training volunteers online NOW and has started rolling out a schedule of voter registration events. Click here to sign up for a training and click here to sign up for events.
Get Out The Vote in other states: Currently Vote Forward is running a letter-writing campaign in Virginia to encourage voters from under-represented communities to request their absentee ballots for the statewide November elections. Go to https://votefwd.org/ to start writing. TIME COMMITMENT VARIES. REQUIRES ABOUT 15 MINUTES FOR 5 LETTERS. WRITE AS MANY AS YOU LIKE.
PART FIVE: BE SURE COUNTY BOARDS OF ELECTIONS MAKE VOTING ACCESSIBLE!
Monitor your County Board of Elections (BOE) with Democracy North Carolina: Local Boards of Election are determining the early voting schedule NOW! What’s needed now is for people to consider attending your Board’s meeting (virtually or in person) until the schedules are finalized later this summer in order to advocate for optimal hours and well-chosen polling locations.
Find out where and when your Board of Election meets at this link.
Democracy North Carolina runs a volunteer program to monitor County Boards of Elections and 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. Decisions about polling locations, early voting schedules, the election administration budget and election security are all discussed at local county-level Board meetings. Most meetings are still online or at least accessible online.
Democracy North Carolina provides a 90-minute training for “seasoned BOE monitors who want to know the latest ways to achieve victories with your Board, and for those new to this program.” For information, 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.
PART SIX: 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! You can volunteer as well. Click here for more information.
PART SEVEN: 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.
PART EIGHT: KEEP UP TO DATE!
Attend a monthly meeting for volunteers with a North Carolina voting rights group. This is a good way to stay up to date about opportunities to volunteer and take action. REQUIRES ONE HOUR PER MONTH TO ATTEND EACH MEETING.
- You Can Vote: Monthly volunteer updates are held on the last Thursday of the month at 6 pm. 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.
- All On The Line: Monthly statewide meetings for volunteers are held on the fourth Thursday of the month at 6 pm. Sign up here.
GUIDE BY MARILYN HARTMAN. PREPARED FOR CAROLINA JEWS FOR JUSTICE (www.carolinajewsforjustice.org)