We Need Voter Empowerment, not just Voter Registration

Contributed by Alison Symons, TWW NoVA

 

In the not too distant past, in the months leading up to a state or national level elections, there would be a flurry of activities to register voters by local political party committees and 3rd party organizations. By the rules of the Virginia Department of Elections, anyone conducting voter registration have to be trained. However, training is very superficial and focuses solely on how to fill out the paper form and properly turn in the collected information. Trainees are not urged nor instructed to impart any other information about the voting process. However, not only can a lot go wrong with registering via paper form, but being a registered voter does not necessarily mean they will go out and vote and know how to navigate the complicated VA voting rules in order to ensure they vote successfully. This is particularly true for young HS and college students who are newly registered first time voters.

 

In looking into what has been done and by whom to-date, it is becoming apparent that there are major gaps that need to be filled if we are to achieve greater success in voting. It is found that though HS and college students may register to vote, no effort is made to educate them about the voting process that in VA is fraught with what I like to call “boobie traps“.  This has led to situations of “voting fails” amongst young new voters. It’s as if the VA legislators have purposely set up a process so complicated that it’s more likely to trip people up than not! Who knew?!

 

Consider this case of voting fail at the Wellesley Precinct for some Christopher Newport University students as recently as this past 2016 Presidential election. 33 students ran into trouble either because they were registered to vote elsewhere or their registration record did not properly show up for this particular precinct on Election day. Some who lived within a few hours of home, and had the means to get there in time, went home to vote. Others were provided provisional ballots, but only after 8 hours! And in many cases provisional ballots are never counted.

 

Here is the article about the voting snafu in Newport News:

http://www.dailypress.com/news/newport-news/dp-nws-nn-voter-registrar-problems-20161117-story.html

 

All this indicates that what we really need to be doing, BEYOND just filling out the paperwork and sending people on their way, is to also inform and educate them about things that they should know to ensure that they vote SUCCESSFULLY.

 

This is an important election year for VA. The Governor, Lieutenant Governor, Attorney General, and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election. Let’s make sure we get it right this year. So much is at stake.

 

Here are a few important things to be very mindful of where HS and College Students just registering to vote for the first time need to bear in mind. These things can make or break the success of their first voting experience. Remember — successfully registering to vote is just the first part of the equation. We also want them to actually then go out and vote AND have their votes be counted! 

 

 

  1. 17 yr olds who will be 18 by the next General Election day (November 7th, 2017) can register to vote NOW and participate in the Primary on June 13th — even though they’re still 17. They just need to be 18 by November 7th.

 

  1. The easiest and most efficient way to register is Online, where they can go ask their parents for their SS# in the privacy of their home. Here is the link to the VA Department of Elections website with all information you need to know about voting and elections and where you can also register to vote online: http://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/how-to-register/index.html

 

  1. The deadline to register to vote is 22 days before the polling date. It will be May 22nd for the June 13th Primary and October 16th for the November 7th General Election for this year’s VA election.

 

  1. The address they enter will determine the polling station they vote at and they CANNOT be registered at 2 different addresses. Therefore, if they will be going away to college, they will have to decide where they want to be registered. IF they use their home address (i.e. their parents’ house) then they will either have to return home to vote OR do mail-in Absentee voting.Here is the link to learn about how to do Absentee mail-in ballots: http://www.elections.virginia.gov/casting-a-ballot/absentee-voting/index.html There is a specific procedure and deadline for doing Absentee mail-in so they need to make sure they know how this is done in advance. Some HS kids have never bought a stamp or know how to do snail mail before they go off to college! Not kidding!

 

  1. Take advantage of Early In-Person Absentee Voting! If they are registered at their home address, and have the opportunity to be home within 45 days of Election Day, they can go to cast their vote at their local Registrar’s Office. There are 19 options of “excuses” they must have to select from to be able to do early in-person Absentee voting such as they will be away from home at college.

 

  1. Whichever way they chose to register, make sure they go in to check the status of their VR online before the deadline to make sure everything is correct and in order.https://vote.elections.virginia.gov/VoterInformation They do not want the disappointment of being turned away from their polling station because something went wrong and they were not properly registered.

 

  1. Young people move around a lot after HS and college. They must remember to update their change of address if they want to be able to vote where they live. There are several ways you can do this. See here:http://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/view-your-info/index.html

 

  1. The only time you need your SS# is when you register to vote. When you go to vote VA requires a photo ID. If they do not have any of the acceptable forms of photo IDs, they can apply for a free VA voter photo ID at their local General Registrar’s office. Here is where they can find more detailed information about acceptable photo IDs and to apply for a VA voter photo ID if they need one:http://www.elections.virginia.gov/registration/photo-ids-required-to-vote/index.html

 

Many of these things are information useful to all eligible VA voters, seasoned and new. Given the number of hurdles and hoops we have to jump over and through just to get to vote in VA, we want to arm ourselves with the knowledge of how the process works and give them as little excuse as possible to not count our votes. The status quo is unsatisfactory, but the only way we can change and improve the way voting and elections are conducted in VA is if we elect representatives who will fight for the change we want. And that means we need to win under the (rigged) system that we currently have right now.

 

 

Here’s to wishing for successful voting for all voters in the 2017 VA election and beyond!

One Reply to “We Need Voter Empowerment, not just Voter Registration”

  1. Alison, we are so on the same page.

    My group of devoted volunteers have engaged in conversations with thousands of voters to show them (1) how to vote successfully (and avoid the many pitfalls to voting in Virginia) and (2) how to vote conveniently (early, on their own schedule.) We impart confidence to the voter, clarifying the many misunderstandings about voting in Virginia.

    We use a carefully-worded, sturdy “gripcard”, which guides volunteers in their conversations with individual voters. Our goal is to provide an individual voting plan, circling the early voting code of interest, highlighting where and when to vote early in their county. (Obama’s team found that having a voting plan increased turnout by 7.5%.)

    And by asking whether other members of the household might also benefit from the info, we give future purpose to the gripcard, providing yet another reason to keep it and use it.

    We talk with all passersby, regardless of their voter registration status. So we speak individually with, say, 100 people, not just the 2 who need to update their registration.

    In 2016, we spoke with close to 40,000 individuals (about 3000 were part of a canvassing effort), 9000 were in Spanish, and other 9000 were specific for college students.

    We were virtually the only game in town promoting early voting in this manner. (The DPVa/Combined Campaign gave us specific instructions to not interact with their paper-only-voter-registration operation.)

    Results: Fairfax County had 40% more early voters in 2016 than in Obama’s 2012 election. The 19,825 additional early voters were both experienced voters who voted early for the first time, and first-time voters who figured out how to vote early. Turnout overall was the highest ever in Fairfax (were more people enabled to vote who otherwise would not have?), and we had by one measure 35% fewer provisional votes (a barometer for voters not tripping over the barriers.)

    “When we VOTE, We Win!” I love that motto!

    A controlled test was run using the gripcards with the Lu An Bennett campaign in Congressional District 10. While Lu Ann Bennett lost by ~4 points to Barbara Comstock in Fairfax County, Lu Ann had 29% more in-person early votes than Comstock–a clear testament to power of the gripcard.

    As you can tell, Alison, I too am passionate about helping every citizen vote in Virginia. Democracy works only if the final vote is representative of the will of the people. Demystifying the voting process can bring many more people to the polls, and no doubt, help get democrats elected.

    I hope to meet you at the Women’s Summit!

    Regards,
    Janice Yohai

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *