Help us regiter thousands of voters!
August 6, 2007 8:30 PM   Subscribe

I would like to do a major service project with my Chicago middle school students where we register voters in their (and our school) neighborhood. What ideas might you genius mefites have for us? What organizations should we work with? How can we maximize our efforts through creative events/ideas? Any ideas? Any?

I just thought up the idea today so I don't have any big plans other than I thought, "We could register 5,000 inner city voters before the presidential election." My wife thought 5k was too high, but I'm not sure. Anyways, if anyone has an cool/original ideas for events to attend, organizations to hook up with, or what number might be plausible, I'd appreciate it.

btw around 130 students would be involved.
posted by allthewhile to Education (7 answers total)
In order to register people to vote, you have to be a Deputy Registrar (I registered people to vote as a freshman in college). It's an easy process, but you have be a registered voter to be a Deputy Registrar. So, your kids won't be able to actually register anyone to vote. Maybe you could have them volunteer for a campaign or raise money for their favorite candidate.
posted by nooneyouknow at 8:56 PM on August 6, 2007

Also, maybe your kids could do volunteer work for some of the voter registration organizations in your area. The Chicago Board of Elections should be able to give you list of organizations in your area.
posted by nooneyouknow at 9:05 PM on August 6, 2007

Check out Kids Voting USA.
posted by ericb at 9:25 PM on August 6, 2007

Best answer: If you find a way to do this so that you can register people and the kids can participate: I don't believe that a straight message of "you should vote, so register here with us" is compelling in the inner city. I say this as someone who worked get-out-the-vote and campaign at county, state, and Congressional level -- as a partisan operative where we had money and personnel to expend on the effort -- which you do not, and plus you are also taking on the admirable but risky goal of teaching children a lesson about community involvement.

So, I would say your first step should be to research successful GOTV efforts (look at 2004) within communities that look very much like the demographics of your target area. Then, I would poach ideas from what worked in those similar areas.

For example, one campaign I worked had an inner-city GOTV effort where the majority of the target constituency was blue-collar Latino/a, many with English as a second language. Research showed that the idea of voting as a civic duty did not resonate with this community, since that was an American ideal and was culturally irrelevant to them.

Instead, we focused on the Hispanic value of strong commitment to family and the welfare of and responsibility to children. We reached out to male heads of household, and asked them to make a pledge to their family. We used numbers that demonstrated ways that elected officials could affect their children's lives directly (school funding, health care, etc.). By correlating "registering to vote = fulfilling an obligation to your family," we had a relevant message that spoke directly to the person's emotions.

In other words, a successful GOTV campaign will take into account that people of different motivations and stations in life vote for very different reasons. It's not one-size-fits-all.

League of Women Voters
and Rock the Vote are two non-partisan orgs that support voter registration. The former is an on-the-ground group that likely has a chapter in your area; you could talk to them about possible ways to launch your project. The latter is a national advertising campaign that does very well at identifying the messages that reach the apathetic young voter block of 18-25 year olds. Both might be of help to what you want to do.

I believe that GOTV works best when the effort is small and personal. House parties, block parties, neighbors talking to neighbors, peers talking to peers, families talking to each other. I don't think that supermarket sign-up tables and the like (strangers pressuring strangers without a compelling emotional argument) is a good way to get people to register.

You could do a community pledge activity, where a "mission statement" was drafted and published stating why the community will benefit from increased voter turnout, and anyone who is registered to vote receives a commensurate recognition -- whether a car decal, yard sign, thank-you note.

But, at risk of seeming super-negative in the face of an excellently noble idea: I agree with nooneyouknow that this might not be the best project for this group. Here are my reasons:

1. It's really hard to get even old people (like us) -- who have a vested interest in voting -- to go and vote or register. Not to mention: this isn't actually an election year. Kids will get more excited about this kind of project when they are being reaffirmed of its value in daily media.

2. Registering 5,000 people to vote is an exciting idea, but it doesn't create demonstrable results. You aren't guaranteed to see GOTV results at the polls.

3. If you fail, you could have a negative effect on the citizenship and service interest of these kids.

Your school board probably has a policy about teachers leading students in partisan political efforts, so I do not recommend substituting campaign work or fundraising.

An alternative might be changing a law. You could have your students go through everything from identifying a community need that could be solved through legislation... to conducting "feasibility studies" and writing sample fiscal notes via research... to considering which elected official at which level of government is most likely to be able to solve the problem... to crafting a proposal to him or her about the issue... to collecting signatures of support from the community, agreeing with the course of action recommended in the proposed legislation... to drafting a sample bill and submitting it... to attending the committee meeting or floor session where the legislation is considered. Tons of opportunities for kids to get their hands in the process, and to also see tangible results. Even if it's not possible to get the legislation filed or moving, you could always talk to the appropriate elected official and ask him or her to help you with an event to recognize your kids' extraordinary civic involvement... maybe a ceremony at City Hall where families are invited... or the gift of a flag flown over the U.S. Capitol in the name of the class/project, presented with totally-official-fancy-looking certificate complete with gold seal.

Another option that would demonstrate the value of increased voter registration and easier access to polls would be to get the school to agree to let you require students to register to vote for a student body election. Model the school's voter registration on your IL state policies. When a kid forgets to register in the required window of time, he doesn't get to register, nor vote. If a kid just moved into the district the month prior, she doesn't get to register, nor vote. Let those who are unfairly kept from electing a class officer use their ire to draft a proposal to the IL election board that voting registration should be made easier and more convenient.

You can probably tell that I am very passionate about encouraging citizenship in children. I have a lot of background in children's citizenship activities. Email me if you want to discuss further. And good luck with whatever you decide!
posted by pineapple at 9:49 PM on August 6, 2007 [2 favorites]

I know Jesse Jackson's org, Rainbow Push Coalition is very involved in registration. They might have some ideas.
posted by lee at 10:59 PM on August 6, 2007

I have some thoughts on what would make a big difference. In Chicago, the state primaries and the alderman elections are the big unknowns. You should research your specific district for those, and let the local voters know how important it is for them to keep their incumbents honest by voting in primaries. Troutman is a good example; by demanding bribes she almost certainly drove away business and jobs from her ward. Corruption and incompetence aren't hard to find in Chicago politics, and the idea that corrupt idiots make lots of money by making working people's lives harder is infuriating. I think that "you are (or could be) getting fucked because someone thinks that this is a safe district" is more motivating than "you should get up early to vote in the big races that are virtually decided already."

If you really want to do this for the presidential election, think about how much more uncertainty in who will get nominated than in who will carry IL given the nominations.
posted by a robot made out of meat at 5:12 AM on August 7, 2007

Going with an alternative? This would work better with a smaller group, but you might be able to come up with enough tasks to make it worthwhile...

What about a candidate forum for candidates for state representative, state senator and even national congressperson (whatever happens to be up)? Back when my high school government class did this, we organized the whole thing, including inviting the candidates, coming up with the questions to be asked and MCing the event.

We also hosted a forum on a school voucher ballot initiative, inviting experts from each side to respond to our carefully thought out and nervously delivered questions. If there's a hot-button ballot initiative, that could be a good project.

Oh, and our grades were dependent upon bringing a certain number of registered voters to the event (2-3?), so the house was always packed. With your recruiting ambition, you could set a much higher quota!
posted by moreandmoreso at 12:42 AM on August 8, 2007

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