Every election year, millions of Americans find themselves unable to vote because they miss a registration deadline, do not update their registration, or are unsure how to register. Our democracy suffers because of this, when participation in elections does not reflect the full range of diverse identities, backgrounds, and values that make up our country. Recognizing the role they could play in helping communities overcome this challenge, a group of nonprofit organizations founded National Voter Registration Day in 2012 as a positive, celebratory, and nonpartisan day of action to raise awareness around voter registration. That first year, over one thousand organizations signed on as partners and helped to update or register over three-hundred thousand people.
National Voter Registration Day, held annually on the fourth Tuesday of September, is an invitation from, and to, nonprofits, libraries, businesses, cultural and civic institutions, media companies, and election offices to unite in an effort to register as many eligible voters as possible ahead of the deadlines for voter registration and elections. National Voter Registration Day is backed by a wide variety of partners, from professional organizations like the National Association of Secretaries of State, to media and tech companies like Facebook and Google, to major nonprofits like the United Way and American Library Association.
Museums can be a key player in promoting voter registration. According to a study from AAM and Wilkening Consulting, museums are considered educational by 98 percent of Americans—across all ages, races, and geographical locations. When you reframe the problem of non-registration or out-of-date registration as a problem of education, it’s clear that museums are well-situated to inform voters and support their participation in elections. Further, museums are considered the most trustworthy source of information in America, rated higher than local papers, nonprofits researchers, the U.S. government, or academic researchers. In this era of partisan divide and mistrust in campaigns, museums are the unbiased messengers democracy needs to cut through the noise and inspire voters.
Now combine that trust with the access you have to communities. Millions of people visit your institutions and websites annually. From partnering with schools, outreach to rural communities, and offering free or reduced admission days, museums serve communities that have lower registration rates and persistent participation gaps.
How can museums help increase voter registration on National Voter Registration Day?
- Leverage your communication channels. Post on social media, your website, or put out a newsletter reminding people that it’s time to register ahead of November elections and the upcoming presidential primaries. Be sure to let prospective voters know that they need to update their registration if they’ve moved or changed their name. Link to a voter registration tool, such as org, if online registration is offered in your state, or to an event happening in your area.
- Offer voter registration in your lobby or at your information desk. Either offer registration forms for voters to take with them, or better yet, provide a place for voters to fill out the form and leave it with you to be turned into the election office the following day. Some voters will not turn the form in themselves, so this is the best way to ensure individuals are actually registered. Reach out to your local election office for registration forms.
- Talk to staff and volunteers. Instead of (or in addition to) informing and assisting the wider public with voter registration, work with your staff and volunteers to share registration information with them. Set a goal to get all eligible staff and volunteers registered ahead of your state’s deadline. Circulate links for finding polling places and what’s on the ballot.
No matter how you celebrate National Voter Registration Day, you’ll be among good company and participating in a new American tradition.
About the author:
Caitlin Donnelly is the education director of Nonprofit VOTE. She creates materials and trainings for 501c3 organizations, including leading a popular free monthly webinar series. Caitlin draws on her background of youth development, supporting people experiencing homelessness, and coalition organizing to support nonprofits to develop their capacity for voter engagement.
About Nonprofit VOTE:
Founded in 2005, Nonprofit VOTE partners with America’s nonprofits to help the people they serve participate and vote. We are the leading source of nonpartisan resources to help nonprofits integrate voter engagement into their ongoing activities and services.Skip over related stories to continue reading article