Get Ready for Huge Changes in Voting Rules—and Big Opportunities for GOTV
With this year’s general election less than six months away, it’s time to talk about how to get out the vote—and we mean NOW ! Call it GOTV(N).
At the start of the year, traditional milestones like the Iowa Caucuses in February and the Super Tuesday primaries in March were the big events. But the election was radically disrupted by the advent of COVID-19, changing voting rules, placing major emphasis on Vote-by-Mail (VBM) initiatives and scrambling the common wisdom about turnout.
Now, voters must be re-educated about how, when and where to vote. They need this information to participate in our democracy. They need this information to vote responsibly and safely during a national health crisis. They need it NOW.
The ‘New Super Tuesday’
At least 16 states have postponed or consolidated presidential, congressional, and other primary elections. Others have changed election rules for Vote-by-Mail as traditional in-person voting at a polling place has become undesirable, unhealthy and logistically undoable (poll workers, who are traditionally retirees and older Americans, aren’t volunteering).
Many of these postponed elections have been moved to June 2, which is looking like a brand new Super Tuesday, though in this case the metric to match will be turnout rather than delegate count. Many states will vote on June 2, including Delaware, Indiana, Maryland, Montana, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, as well as Washington DC.
Phone2Action’s Jason Langsner displays the Vote-by-Mail absentee ballot that he received this week for the Maryland June 2 Primary.
But the real changes, all surround VBM and what it will do to traditional voter turnout models. A recent study that focused on Colorado, which has practiced all-mail voting since 2014, found that overall turnout increased by 9 percentage points—and far more among some groups. Youth turnout, for example, increased by 16 percentage points.
“Elections with all-mail voting increase turnout among everyone, especially groups that tend to vote less frequently,” the researchers wrote in The New York Times. “Those results merit permanent, wide-scale shifts.”
Voting By Mail
All states offer some form of Vote-by-Mail and many of the primaries that have taken place since the onset of coronavirus in the US have moved to an all-mail approach, but the rules still vary widely state-by-state.
The National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) reports that five states currently conduct all elections by mail. The states include a red state such as Utah; blue states like Hawaii, Oregon and Washington; and even Colorado, a purple state.. At least 21 other states have laws that allow certain smaller elections, such as school board contests, to be conducted by mail.
“For these elections, all registered voters receive a ballot in the mail,” the NCSL reports. “The voter marks the ballot, puts it in a secrecy envelope or sleeve and then into a separate mailing envelope, signs an affidavit on the exterior of the mailing envelope, and returns the package via mail or by dropping it off.”
In other states, voters must request absentee ballots. In some of these states a reason or excuse must be given for why a voter needs to vote absentee, while In others, they operate with a no-excuse rule. These rules are changing in 2020 as health concerns become acceptable reasoning.
Companies, nonprofits and trade associations can and should prioritize and promote the idea that Americans should vote, and do so early. They should steer clear of partisanship, or expressing support for the election or defeat of a specific candidate. Instead, prioritize civic engagement.
Of course, absentee and early voting is not a new phenomenon. Encouraging civic engagement is a tried and true practice, with deep roots in American history. During the Civil War, 150,000 Union soldiers voted absentee in the 1864 presidential election. By World War II, 3.2 million soldiers serving overseas voted in the 1944 presidential election. Those elections were not disrupted and they were not delayed. They were free, fair, and accessible.
Indeed, soldiers serving overseas vote absentee today. So do out-of-state college students. Individuals who have business trips, those with medical needs, and those who just want to choose to vote early or absentee do so. Rock The Vote, Vote Or Die, Vote.org and many other groups have encouraged broader civic engagement for years. In the 2018 midterm election, roughly 27 percent of all votes cast were from ballots that were mailed to voters.
If you have an advocacy program, you should be running an election education or get-out-the-vote program to supplement it. They help boost engagement and provide value to your advocates, plus legislators listen to organizations that can sway large numbers of voters. If you don’t engage your advocates, you’re inviting groups with competing objectives to do so and you’ll be playing from behind in the next legislative session.
Launching Your Program
If you’re thinking of launching an election education or get-out-the-vote program, or improving on efforts you have made in the past, here are some steps you can take:
- Read this 2019 Harvard Kennedy School Ash Center case study, which shows that GOTV programs are not just good for democracy, but also good for business.
- Review the resources and background at the National Vote at Home Institute.
- Reach out to Phone2Action to hear how similar organizations have leveraged our election and communication tools to power their election strategy. You can learn more or request a conversation at www.phone2action.com/gotv.
Phone2Action is a market leader in providing objective election information through our Civic Action Center. When your advocate enters their address, they are presented with a list of candidates and elected officials; the election dates and election rules based on where they live; their polling place; and other voter information. We also provide information on voting absentee, by mail, and election rules for every state. The tools also allow users to register to vote or check their registration status.
Earlier this year, Phone2Action was proud to join as a founding partner for Vote Early Day 2020, which is encouraging organizations to help promote early voting on Saturday, October 24. This provides organizations of all kinds with an opportunity to start engaging advocates and educating them about how to vote safely.
Although many primaries have been postponed, we know one thing is certain: the 2020 general election will happen on November 3. Since 1845, federal law has held that the presidential contest must take place the Tuesday after the first Monday in November. For many organizations, this is an opportunity to help employees, donors and members become more informed voters. In the process, you can create a new cyclical engagement model that begins with the election, moves onto the legislative sessions in Washington and the states next year and then transitions into your grassroots advocacy activity.
Because, no matter what, we know that election is coming. As political science professor Charles Stewart III put it, “if the zombies are walking the street and asteroids are raining down on us on November 3, we are still going to have an election.”
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