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The pandemic has pushed National Voter Registration Day partner organizations to think big and outside of the box. Organizations adapted to the current moment, finding innovative ways to engage potential voters while keeping people safe.  

“Given the pandemic environment, we are working with a lot of nonprofits that are integrating voter registration calls to action into the services they’re already providing to the community,” said Lauren Kunis, program director of National Voter Registration Day. “They’re looking at these natural touch points they have with the community.”

Kunis said food banks are including voter registration forms in the bags of food they distribute and community health clinics are putting a registration form with visitor paperwork. A few days before National Voter Registration Day, rapper 2 Chainz hosted an event as a part of the “Feed Your City Challenge.” People received free groceries and an opportunity to complete a voter registration form and learn more about the U.S. census. 

After six months of organizing under a pandemic, many organizations now have working systems for how to engage with potential voters and volunteers. Kunis’ team has even provided a set of guidelines on their website for how to do in-person voter registration during COVID-19 and instructions for hosting a drive-through registration event. She said people are shifting how they are doing their in-person work with some organizations doing drive-through voter registration events, where volunteers are masked up in parking lots available to answer questions.

“No matter who you’re going to vote for or how you plan to vote, getting registered is the first step,” said Kunis.

Some organizations planned online events tailored to maintaining a sense of community as if they were in person. Others will be doing traditional tactics like phone banking and texting encouraging peer to peer conversations. Fully virtual events such as dance parties and livestream concerts will include intermittent voter registration breaks.

“We like to think of the holiday as the starting point for a lot of these groups in terms of changing the way they interact with political processes,” Kunis said. “We describe [National Voter Registration Day] as a gateway for bigger and bolder civic participation for a lot of our partners.”

Partner organizations leverage community relationships and relevant cultural connections to engage potential voters. Xochitl Oseguera, vice president of MamásConPoder, pointed to National Voter Registration Day as an opportunity to bring in younger voters who are already online. “National Voter Registration Day has been getting a lot of young organizers involved,” Oseguera said. “We see even high school and college students organizing in a big way on this day.”

A Spanish-language initiative of MomsRising, MamásConPoder engages Latinx voters including infrequent mom voters in Spanish and with culturally relevant content.

“We create original content for everything,” said Oseguera. With team members from several different Spanish-speaking countries, MamásConPoder creates content that is authentic and relevant to the people they want to organize.

Oseguera said this year her team was using WhatsApp to reach voters. “We’re starting to use it as an organizing tool, especially to make sure we give information and answer questions for our organizers and volunteers,” Oseguera said. It is estimated that more than half of all Latinx people in the U.S. use WhatsApp. Estimated at 32 million eligible voters, Latinx voters are a growing segment of the electorate and make up over 25% of the voting populations in Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Like many organizations, the COVID-19 pandemic has limited MamásConPoder in terms of canvassing and in-person events. But voter engagement still can have a personal touch with postcards. MamásConPoder mom staff and volunteers have handwritten 2.1 million postcards in English and Spanish. They also launched a trusted community voices video campaign. Service providers in Latinx communities such as doctors, nurses, teachers, and religious leaders were asked to make a 60 second video encouraging eligible potential voters to register to vote. “We’ve had a great response from our communities because they trust these community voices,” said Oseguera. “And they are really energized and engaging, based on the ask from someone that they know.”

MamásConPoder is working on taking its precinct captain program, Beacons of Hope, digital. Beacons of Hope will also use WhatsApp for communicating with potential voters and volunteers. “We are making sure that Latinas and our families take voting to the next step, not just registering themselves but organizing their communities,” Oseguera said. “We are making sure that Latinos have all the tools to organize and to lead in their communities.”

Participation in National Voter Registration Day has expanded since it first launched in 2012. This year there are over 100 premiere partners, which includes larger national organizations, corporations, and brands. Over 4,500 community partners are participating including grassroots organizations and local chapters of national organizations like the League of Women voters, as well as high school and college campus organizations.

“We are excited and encouraged by the record-setting number of coalition partners assembled under the banner of National Voter Registration Day this year,” said Dr. Deborah Turner, president of the League of Women Voters, in a statement. A founding organizational partner of National Voter Registration Day, the League of Women Voters has almost 600 local chapters participating this year. “This degree of participation underlines the fact that Americans are determined to keep our democracy strong despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.”  

Anoa Changa

Anoa Changa is a journalist and organizer focused on innovating electoral justice coverage. Follow her on Twitter at @thewaywithanoa.