My National Voter Registration Day Experience

4 mins read

Action is the Antidote to Despair

Joan Baez

I have literally made that quote my personal mantra–it’s on my business cards, in the signature for my email, and it’s the name of my giving circle. Basically, when the news gets ugly, I look for an action to take. Today, it was helping out at National Voter Registration Day.  

Quoting from their website: “National Voter Registration Day is a national holiday celebrating our democracy. It was first observed in 2012 and has been growing in popularity every year since.” At last year’s event, they registered a staggering 800K voters. 

The holiday is strictly non-partisan, which honestly is as it should be. I went on the website, typed in my zip code, and found an event near my home at the Upper West Side campus of the New York Institute of Technology. I joined a group of students and one faculty member by helping out at their table.  

Confession time: I had tried to register voters the weekend before and not had much (or any) success.  I’ve learned that when that happens, I have to ‘get back on the horse’ right away and try again, so this was the perfect opportunity.  I showed up and was really warmly welcomed, which felt good. The organizer went over their forms, and gave a few tips, like really encouraging people to put down their drivers’ license number or the last four digits of their social security number: it makes it much more likely that their registration will be accepted.  I added a nudge to remind folks that New York has closed primaries and our date for changing party registration–October the year before–is tantamount to voter suppression. If they wanted to vote in the presidential primary, they needed to register Democrat or Republican.   

I made a point of getting out on the sidewalk and asking every single passerby if they wanted to register, and I had some luck, as five people came over to the table registered.  But I did make an important observation: our target population was mostly students and our student volunteers got really incredible results without even standing up, simply by calling out to their friends and classmates and pushing them to register–to the tune of 21 registrations in an hour and a half, which is a lot higher than the 1-2 per hour I’d been told to expect on my previous outing.  Conclusion: it really makes a difference to have someone from your own community pushing you to register. The students knew what to say to their classmates and how hard to push–and they got results. New York now has 21 new young voters to make their voices heard. 

I was proud to help out and do my part, and hope to continue to build my registering skills.  But it would also make sense to spend time recruiting volunteers from target groups or raising money to support neighborhood organizers. One committed young person reaching out to their friends can do more in an hour than I could in five.

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