Is everyone in your congregation registered to vote? Does everyone faithfully vote on Election Day or use early “absentee” voting opportunities? Does your community have lots of people who are unregistered or who don’t regularly vote?
The Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy is working with Virginia congregations to use the latest in voter file technology to register those in your congregation or community who are not registered to vote and to increase voter turnout from existing and new voters. The voter registration and get-out-the-vote program is non-partisan and focused on under-represented communities – those with low voter-registration and low-turnout. Hundreds of thousands of people in Virginia are eligible to register to vote and haven’t. More than 200,000 returning citizens (ex-offenders) are now eligible to register. Unregistered people and those who don’t often vote could be in your congregation or in your nearby community. Find out and do something about it!
There are five parts to the Faithful Citizenship program:
• Data Analysis
Data Analysis: Effective voter registration and getting folks to vote is based on good data. Luckily, there is a lot of public information about who is registered to vote and who actually votes in elections.
Through the Civic Engagement Table, Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy has access to the voter registration data and a sophisticated data manager. Congregations can:
• Compare your membership lists with the voter files to see who is and is not registered.
• Find out who in your community is registered to vote (so you can register those who aren’t).
• Analyze who in your congregation and community does not vote regularly even though they are registered. Make plans to focus your efforts on getting them to turnout.
• Partner with public housing resident councils to identify who in their communities are not registered, again using the data files, and support them in registering people.
Registering: Make your congregation and its members a center for registering people. You can drive people to various registration sites around your community, or even better, you can:
• Set up computers and help people register online (works for anyone with a Virginia ID or driver’s license).
• Print out copies of the hard-paper registration forms and mail or hand carry them in to the voter registration place (required for those without a Virginia ID or driver’s license).
• Canvass the neighborhood and help people register.
Pledging: Tests have shown that a simple way to encourage people to actually vote is to get them to sign a Faithful Citizenship pledge card promising to vote, address the card to themselves, and then send the cards back to the people a week or two before the elections. Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy can provide you pledge cards or give you samples you can print and adapt.
Preaching: Pastors can build excitement for voting by preaching on the importance of using the power God has given us to make a difference in the world. Sample sermon resources will be available on the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy’s website by September. (www.virginiainterfaithcenter.org).
Reminders: People need to be reminded to vote. You can do this by regular announcements in your congregation. You should mail people’s pledge cards back to them a week or two before the election. You can canvass your community a week before the election and then knock on doors or call people the day of the election. You can have team of people willing to drive others to the polls if people need rides.
Since voting is public information, the pastor or social action team can review voting data after the election and know who actually voted and who didn’t. Letting people know that you will know if (not how) they voted might encourage more participation.
Celebrations: Congregations can celebrate the privilege of democracy and build excitement about elections. You can organize a “celebrate voting” party for people who bring their voting receipts. You can hold an election night party to watch the returns. You can ask everyone who voted to stand in the service right after the elections and give the voters an applause.
Don’t forget your valid ID: Remember, in order to vote in Virginia, you must present a valid photo ID. Please check this website for proper forms of identification: http://va-gotid.pnstate.org/
If you would like your congregation to participate and to use VICPP’s data analytics, please email Kim@virginiainterfaithcenter.org.