GUEST POST: How workshops helped Turn Up Turnout at the University of Michigan

By Elizabeth Pratt, University of Michigan student

In an ideal world, Americans young and old would storm the polls, or fill out their absentee ballots, with enthusiasm and knowledge come election day. It would not matter if the election was for local officials or the president, because American citizens would care regardless. Unfortunately, this is not the world we live in, at least for the moment. The world we do live in is a world where many people feel discouraged to vote—especially 18- to 24-year olds. 

“Why is this?” you may ask yourself. For some young adults, the problem with voting is the complicated registration process. For others, it is a lack of understanding about how to register to vote, and then how to actually vote at the polls. Others may not understand the importance of voting, especially in midterm and local elections. Turn Up Turnout, a nonpartisan student group at the University of Michigan started by Professor Edie Goldenberg, hopes to encourage 18- to 24-year olds to vote despite these concerns. 

This past summer, Turn Up Turnout, known by its members as TUT, worked to create and implement a workshop teaching incoming students at the University of Michigan WHY it is crucial to vote in midterm and local elections, as well as HOW to register and vote. The workshop includes a deliberative discussion encouraging participants to share differing opinions, common misconceptions about voting, a timeline detailing when certain groups of Americans gained the right to vote, and reasons why it is important to vote. The workshop is meant to be interactive and educational, allowing students to voice concerns about voting, which facilitators can address in hopes of demystifying the voting process. 

One challenge we faced, even before facilitating, was remaining nonpartisan. This has been the basis of TUT from its inception, the treasured key to our success. Therefore, we had to be concerned about everything from the colors of the slideshow to the deliberative discussion topic, since no data could appear to clearly favor one argument over another. We overcame this difficulty by meticulous editing of the presentation and thorough research into the information we provided. However, the most important way to remain nonpartisan was to remind ourselves of the purpose of the workshop: to teach and encourage everyone to vote, because voting is the lifeblood of the democratic process. 

Through the facilitation of these workshops, we learned a lot. For one, we learned how important it is for participants to be given a voice, regardless of their opinion. We encouraged this by circling the room during the deliberative discussion to hear what everyone said, calling on people who had not talked yet or raised their hands, and allowing for uncomfortable silences in hopes that someone would feel like talking who had not done so before. We also learned that many participants did not understand aspects of voting such as absentee ballots or not having to fill in every item on the ballot—concerns that we now make a priority to address in our presentation. 

Furthermore, TUT has partnered with the Ginsberg Center at the University of Michigan to register students on TurboVote at new student orientation. This initiative resulted in the registration of over 1,200 students on TurboVote, placing the University of Michigan at the top of the TurboVote leaderboard for over two months. The main challenge we faced was: how do we make sure our booth is not ignored by students who are tired of waiting in line and have their hands full with pillows and suitcases?  We dealt with this problem by having someone stand outside of the sign-in room and tell students, in firm language, that the next step of signing in was to register to vote. Thus, students understood the importance of what we were doing and could ask us questions while navigating TurboVote. From this process, we learned how crucial it is to have students register in front of you, where they are held accountable and can see how easy it is to use TurboVote, which will aid them in registering to vote and much more. 

TUT’s work will not stop here. We are proud of our summer initiatives, and plan to continue to develop them over the fall, as well as tackle some new projects. Some of our next steps include:

  1. Training facilitators at Michigan universities to implement our workshop in high schools across the state;
  2. Continuing to register the University of Michigan students through TurboVote at campus events;
  3. Teaching a class on strengthening the right to vote; and
  4. Kicking off the Big Ten Voting Challenge. The Big Ten Voting Challenge starts in September 2017. This is a competition between all Big Ten schools to see who can achieve the highest percentage improvement of voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections, as well as who can most improve their percentage of voter turnout in the 2018 midterm elections (compared to the 2014 midterm election turnout). TUT and the Ginsberg Center will be hosting events on campus to register students through TurboVote and engage students in hopes of helping U of M win the challenge.

In closing, we at TUT hope sharing our challenges and triumphs will give other universities the tools to implement movements on their campus, because the time has come for universities to acknowledge and use their power to impress upon students the importance of fulfilling their civic duty. One piece of parting wisdom is that increasing student voter turnout is composed of three simple aspects: 

  1. Collaboration between students and faculty;
  2. Transparency of universities concerning voter turnout statistics on campus; and 
  3. Hard work by people who are passionate about their mission. 

Good luck! 

For more information on TUT, our initiatives, and our events, visit sites.lsa.umich.edu/tut.
 

SPOTLIGHT: National Voter Registration Day with our corporate and nonprofit partners

By Jill Brownfield

If variety is the spice of life, then TurboVote partners are living it up. On National Voter Registration Day this year (September 26), our partners went above and beyond with their unique approaches to engagement and—in turn—impact.

Across all partner pages, we added nearly 10,000 new TurboVote users on NVRD! Approximately 70 percent of our traffic was mobile, while the rest was desktop/tablet based. We served users from all 50 states and DC, and the states with the most new users were CA, NY, MD, and OH. 

Here, we’ll highlight some of our favorite examples of partner implementations from that day. You can see even more of them by checking out our retweets on Twitter! While you’re there, won’t you share this blog post?

We’ll start with a TurboVote Partnerships team member cameo! Mike Ward, the Director of TurboVote Programs, hit the front page of Twitch on Tuesday and walked through a TurboVote signup LIVE! He’s wearing the VOTER shirt featured in Boost Mobile’s 2016 “Boost Your Voice” campaign (because we love feeding two birds with one hand).

Twitch is one of our newest partners, and we’re very excited about working in the video gaming space. We’ll have a more in-depth look at this implementation to share soon, but for now, take a look at Mike spreading the word of voter registration on NVRD! Shout out to Brian Petrocelli from Twitch and Steve Place from Corillian for their huge roles in making this implementation a reality.

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Next up, we want to highlight Foursquare Swarm’s awesome in-app calls to action! Users were reminded to make their voices count by registering to vote, and were then encouraged to share out that they registered. 

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Social Works Chi turned to social to make a big splash on NVRD, and even got their co-founder Chance the Rapper in on the fun! Social sharing is a great way to amplify your impact and reach, especially on days like National Voter Registration Day, and SWC nailed it!

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VICE Impact used their homepage to highlight the importance of registering to vote on NVRD! They continue to use their TurboVote partner site as a call to action for much of their content, and have more engagement work planned for 2018! 

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Defend Our Future also used social media to reach their audience, and used posts on Instagram to count down the days to NVRD! Here is their day-of post, featuring a graphic from NVRD’s team.

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Many of our partners took to Twitter for NVRD implementations. We co-hosted a Twitter chat with Presence on September 26 and participated in Young Invincibles’ #MillennialMon chat the day before. Both were able to bring together diverse organizations, answering common questions voters have. These are great examples of implementations partners used to reach voters where they are and we couldn't be more proud of their success!

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We’re so happy to highlight the great work of our partners. We wouldn’t be able to make voting fit the way you live without them. If you’re interested in becoming a partner, please reach out to partnerships@turbovote.org for more information!

2017 is the biggest year for elections since...2016

By Mike Ward, with Ada Vargas contributing

Nearly half of the people in our country have an election in their area on November 7, 2017. That’s a good bit more than one might expect for a year without a full slate of federal elections. With National Voter Registration Day (September 26) one week away, we thought it might be worthwhile to illuminate how big 2017 actually is in terms of elections.

If you live in the United States and are eligible to vote, chances are you have (or had) the opportunity to cast a ballot this year. The Democracy Works research team, led by Ada Vargas, uncovered over 2,500 races between January 1 and September 1, 2017. Many of them were municipal-level, but more than a few statewide and federal races slipped into the calendar while the country was otherwise occupied by the news juggernaut that is 2017. 

Looking forward to November 7, there are eight states with statewide elections (NJ, VA, NY, ME, OH, PA, TX, VA, and WA), two states with municipal elections that are nearly universal across the state (CT and UT), and at least three states with elections scattered around the state (CA, KS, and MN). 

If you live in any of these states and aren’t yet registered, register now! If you live in one of these states and are already registered, sign up for TurboVote’s election reminders so that you get all of the information you need to help clear any process barriers to voting. And if you don’t live in one of those states, sign up for reminders anyway. Chances are, you’ll miss a future election without them. 

“What are election reminders?” you might be wondering. Before every single election that Democracy Works’s research team uncovers, TurboVote sends an email/text message series to every user eligible to vote in that election. The text messages in particular, which would be impossible without our collaboration with Twilio, add a personal element to voter engagement that seems desperately lacking in our democracy today. We also have a help desk staff on hand to answer any questions. In 2016 alone, we responded to over 18,000 help desk requests. 

We live in a time of information overload. If you consider yourself a voter, you need reminders to make sure that you live up to the identity you stake out for yourself. Celebrate National Voter Registration Day this year by signing up for reminders and make sure you never miss an election again. 
 

GUEST POST: The 2017 TurboVote Associates Summer in Review

By Michelle Shim

My name is Michelle Shim, and I’m a rising second year at the University of Chicago. This summer, I had the chance to meet peers from all over the country with interests as diverse as our geographical backgrounds; five of us served as TurboVote Summer Associates in the Democracy Works office in Brooklyn, NY. Alex from the University of Kansas was the climate change warrior, and Brian hailing from Duke was our comp-sci tech guy; Prince from Texas State knew the lyrics to every pop song we could name, and Eloise from Harvard proved her extensive historical knowledge by dominating in Chronology every game night. “No,” she would drawl, exasperated. “That happened a decade after the Civil War, my friend.”

From left to right: Associates Alex, Brian, Prince, Michelle, and Democracy Works staffers Anjelica, Sara, and Emily. Not pictured: Eloise

From left to right: Associates Alex, Brian, Prince, Michelle, and Democracy Works staffers Anjelica, Sara, and Emily. Not pictured: Eloise

For most of the summer associates, this was our first taste of the inner workings of a nonprofit organization, and we were ready to dive into whatever work was available. Little did we know that countless projects had already been meticulously planned to ensure our summer would be as productive and rewarding as possible. And so began 10 fulfilling weeks spanning everything from public policy research on voting laws to a complete overhaul of the TurboVote Toolkit website, from outreach projects on potential new partners to the creation of helpful materials for our current ones. We even brainstormed innovative implementation strategies for both our higher education and corporate partners.

One such brainstorm session brought a staff member, Sofia, from a major social media network to our office on a rainy Monday. Over lunch, we offered ideas on how, with a foothold in the political sphere, they could bolster voter education and engagement in the coming years. The associates chatted with Sofia about potential new features, our everyday experiences with the platform fueling the conversation. Laughter about some particularly outrageous, but perhaps not entirely crazy, ideas drove away the low clouds. Even outside of enhancing voter participation, scouting out potential partnerships, and learning about various other sides to Democracy Works such as the Voting Information Project, we associates found ourselves forming new skillsets. We learned to document meticulously for any project, to hold ourselves accountable to self-prescribed deadlines, and to clearly and concisely communicate with fellow associates and our superiors. We grew increasingly cognizant of the footprints we were leaving on whatever we touched.

Occasionally, we were also entrusted with extremely imperative tasks that would take priority over all else, like creating a grocery list for our summer BBQ—was it to be guacamole or salsa? Spicy black bean burgers or standard veggie ones? Oh, the possibilities! We even led brown bag presentations (informal talks over lunch) for the entire Democracy Works family on topics of our interest. I flaunted a website I created about democratic architecture, Eloise advised us on how to predict the weather, and Brian discussed the potential benefits of legalizing the organ market, while Alex delved into his passion for the banjo. Prince taught the staff on how to use Snapchat with fluid expertise, especially stressing the cultural importance of a “streak.”

The fact that we were in the DUMBO district of Brooklyn was not lost on us, and we took advantage of our perfect proximity to NYC—close enough in terms of accessibility, and distant enough for refuge from the often overwhelming bustle of the city. The associates spent their lunch breaks gazing out at the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges from Pebble Beach, the city skyline in the background. A few times after work, I would cross either bridge on foot to meet friends for dinner in Chinatown, dessert in Little Italy, and some window shopping in SoHo. I even took a leap of faith to get my ears pierced, dragging Prince with me for moral support.

With fuller minds (and somewhat fuller bodies from all those food trucks), the 2017 TurboVote Associates are heading back to college with a better understanding of the terrains of ourselves. Where our faults lie and where our peaks are, which old passions are running dry and which new ones are springing up. The steep slopes of the many challenges ahead, but also the deep reservoirs of our own determination, tenacity, and grit.

We trusted traffic signals with our lives when crossing the street, scowled at tourists, avoided Times Square at all costs, and numbed our noses to occasional whiffs of rancid garbage. We called the “metro” the “train,” knew the best dollar pizza stores, and discovered the importance of a hardy attitude and even hardier shoes. “We’re basically New Yorkers now,” we’d jokingly say. Eloise, a native New Yorker, rolled her eyes but smiled.

Voting Abroad: FVAP’s report on the 2016 election

By Amy Cohen

After every federal election, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) conducts the Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS) on how the election was administered and issues a report; I wrote about much of the report when the 2016 survey results were released earlier this summer. In addition to questions about voting and registration for the population at large, the survey also asks questions about military and overseas voting and registration, because this is an important population that is difficult to serve. The section of the survey on this population is now conducted in conjunction with the Federal Voting Assistance Program (FVAP), a division of the Department of Defense that is dedicated to helping state and local election officials communicate effectively with military and overseas voters, and helping those voters register to vote and vote successfully. In addition, FVAP conducts a separate survey of active duty military (ADM) voters to understand their experience with voting and elections. FVAP released their report on the 2016 election that discusses both the EAVS data and the survey of ADM on August 8. Data on overseas citizens is expected to be published later this year.

Some highlights from the 2016 report include:

  • The states reported approximately 137,793 Federal Postcard Applications (FPCAs) were sent by military voters, and an additional approximately 238,488 FPCAs from overseas voters. An FPCA is a form that allows military and overseas voters to simultaneously register to vote and/or request an absentee ballot. 39 percent of ADM used the FPCA to request an absentee ballot, down from 47 percent in 2012. In many states, the FPCA is the only way to ensure federal legal protections for military and overseas voters.
  • Approximately 950,836 absentee ballots were sent to military and overseas voters. If a military or overseas voter does not receive a ballot they requested, or they are worried that it will not arrive in time, they can download and complete a Federal Write-in Absentee Ballot (FWAB), which is a backup ballot. If a voter submits a FWAB and returns their absentee ballot, only the absentee ballot is counted. States reported receiving approximately 24,313 FWABs in 2016.
  • The Military Postal Service Agency returned more than 51,700 voted ballots from military members to election offices (ballots are identifiable because of the kind of postage). The average military ballot return time was 5.1 days.
  • Among the general population, voter registration increased and turnout remained relatively constant from 2012 to 2016, however registration and turnout among ADM decreased. In 2016, 68 percent of ADM were registered to vote, and 46 percent of all ADM cast a ballot; in 2012, 81 percent were registered to vote and 59 percent of all ADM cast a ballot. Some of these decreases are likely related to demographic changes in the ADM population, which has become slightly less white and less married, as well as somewhat less likely to have a college degree. All three of these demographic characteristics have been linked to higher rates of voter participation.
  • 61 percent of ADM who did not cast a ballot in 2016 said that they did not want to vote, up from 47 percent in 2012.
  • Importantly, 2016 saw a significant increase in the percentage of ADM who received the absentee ballot that they requested. In 2016, 33 percent requested an absentee ballot, and 84 percent received it; in 2012, 41 percent requested an absentee ballot and only 75 percent received it. Those nine percentage points represent several years of concerted effort by FVAP and election officials to make sure that more of the ballots requested by military members are actually received, such as work with the Military Postal Service Agency and the U.S. Postal Service to better track and manage military address changes, which can be frequent.
  • 87 percent of ADM in the Coast Guard who requested an absentee ballot returned it, as did 82 percent in the Navy, 80 percent in the Air Force, 79 percent in the Marine Corps, and 76 percent in the Army.
  • 19 percent of ADM in 2016 were first-time voters.

FVAP is a critical resource for helping state and local election officials mitigate the challenges of communicating with voters overseas, and provides important resources for military and overseas voters who need assistance. Issues these voters experience range from problems with the U.S. Postal Service or Military Postal Service in their country of residence to confusion about voting eligibility for children or grandchildren of Americans overseas who are citizens but have never resided in the United States. Data such as those above, and those included in the FVAP report, are important to understanding and improving how our democracy functions for those citizens who are overseas.
 

A moonshot: coalition-building and the TurboVote Challenge

By Jill Brownfield, with Mike Ward contributing

When I first heard about our 80 percent voter turnout moonshot goal, the political scientist in me raised her eyebrows. I had only been with Democracy Works for a couple of months and my deep-rooted belief in our mission was just a seedling.

This skeptical reaction was, and remains, a common one, but we chose 80 percent precisely because it is such a bold goal. It has been a little over a year since that goal was established. I can now see a clear path to achieving that goal, and I’m not alone. In one year, more than 50 corporations and nonprofit organizations have signed on to the TurboVote Challenge, a community that brings corporate and nonprofit leaders together to increase U.S. voter turnout. 

While Challenge members are active in voter engagement year round, one of the most critical pieces of the work has been our annual symposium. In the summers of July 2016 and June 2017, Democracy Works and Challenge members gathered in person for a voter engagement summit to learn from one another and plan for the future. There are three major takeaways that I’d like to share from our most recent convening, graciously hosted by the Democracy Fund and sponsored by Facebook and Starbucks.

First, anyone working on long-term plans to influence voter engagement should start that work early. There’s a tendency in some sectors, including corporate America, to create a new voter engagement campaign from scratch mere weeks before an election, and even then, usually only in presidential election years. If we’re going to dramatically increase turnout, we can’t start from zero every two or four years. 

Second, there’s a lot of knowledge in the voter engagement space, but the one thing we know for sure is that there’s still much to learn. Anyone looking to make a difference can have an effect by doing a few things: starting small, intentionally iterating to find what works, and sharing their experiences with others in this community. In fact, sharing best practices is precisely how we build a broader understanding of what works and what doesn’t — we learn as we go. 

The third takeaway came from Austin Belali of the Youth Engagement Fund, who discussed how every generation has stretched the “We” in “We the People.” Gaining voting rights over time — expanding the right to non-land owners, non-whites, and women — has been a long, hard-fought journey. The TurboVote Challenge is an opportunity to contribute to the growth of the “We” in our time. “We” are making history.

Expanding the “We” via the TurboVote Challenge is no simple feat: one size does not fit all when implementing a project of this depth and breadth. The Challenge members have diverse resources and constraints. In order to succeed in our moonshot goal while respecting the diversity of organizations involved, Democracy Works creates a unifying message with guide rails, while also allowing for a wide range of campaign implementations. Our partners have done a tremendous job of sussing out what works for them and their audiences.

Even with all the adaptation and learning along the way, one thing remains constant and has become a bit of a manifesto in the Challenge: we have to increase engagement in every election, every year. From the very beginning, we have focused on increasing turnout in federal elections, but also in state, local, and municipal elections. Increasing participation across the board is crucial considering we have seen turnout at the local level sink as low as 8 percent. Simply calling the problem a crisis is, arguably, an understatement. 

The real outcomes in 2016 exceeded our expectations by leaps and bounds. Assuming a market rate of ten dollars per voter registration, TurboVote Challenge partners generated $23 million in voter registration value. They accomplished this in a variety of ways, from ad targeting to social media, and from Starbucks cup sleeves to broadcast calls to action. 

Now, on to the next phase. The TurboVote Challenge will refine its approach in 2017 with a goal of increasing voter turnout by 5 percentage points in the 2018 midterms (over the 2014 midterms). If we achieve that goal, we’re well on our way to achieving the moonshot described at the start: 80 percent voter turnout. 

Looking at the data on voter registration withdrawals in Colorado

By Amy Cohen

In nearly every state, some data fields on the voter registration list are public record and available for purchase; typically, this includes name, address, year of birth, vote history, and party identification where applicable. Many voters are only just becoming aware that this is the case thanks to the recent request by the Presidential Advisory Commission on Election Integrity for publicly available voter data from all 50 states and the District of Columbia. The Denver Post reported that, as of July 13, just under 3,400 Colorado voters canceled their voter registrations, a very small fraction of the state’s nearly 3.7 million total registered voters. Other states have not reported an increase in registration cancellations.
 
671 of Colorado’s cancellations came from from the City and County of Denver between July 3 and July 14; in the previous two weeks, just 20 voters canceled their voter registration. The July cancellations still represent just 0.15 percent of Denver’s total active and inactive registered voter population. 62 percent of those canceling their registrations from June 19 to July 14 are registered Democrats, despite only 48 percent Democrat registration in Denver overall. Unaffiliated voters, who make up 36 percent of Denver’s registered voter population, are 32 percent of those who have canceled their registrations. Republicans comprise 14 percent of registered voters and four percent of those who have canceled their registrations.
 
In neighboring Arapahoe County, 544 registered voters have canceled their registrations as of July 19, representing just 0.13 percent of Arapahoe’s registered voters. Similar to Denver, Democrats make up 33 percent of Arapahoe’s registered voter population while they comprise 54 percent of those who have withdrawn their voter registration record. Unaffiliated registrants comprise 38 percent of canceled voter registrations and 37 percent of the registered voter population, and Republicans make up 28 percent of registered voters and just 7 percent of those who have canceled their voter registrations.
 
Arapahoe also provided more detailed demographic data. Those who have canceled their voter registration are somewhat more female than the registered voter population—61 percent vs. 52 percent—as well as slightly older than Arapahoe’s registered voter population overall.
 
Given the challenges of getting voters on the rolls in the first place, seeing voters cancel their registrations is concerning. Fortunately, Colorado’s sweeping Voter Access and Modernized Elections Act of 2013 implemented in-person Election Day registration, among many other reforms, so these voters will still be able to cast a ballot at a Voter Service and Polling Center even if they forget to re-register in advance of their next election.
 
*As of July 21, Denver reports more than 850 cancellations (0.19 percent of total registered voters) and Arapahoe reports 576 cancellations (0.14 percent of total registered voters).

Early thoughts on the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS)

By Amy Cohen

On June 29, the U.S. Election Assistance Commission (EAC) issued its report on the 2016 Election Administration and Voting Survey (EAVS). EAVS, mandated by the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), compiles data on federal elections from every state, ranging from registration and turnout to voting equipment and more. There are challenges to this kind of data collection, both in terms of getting responses to every question from every state—in many states, elections are administered at the county or even town-level—and ensuring that each state reports the same data in response to the same question, ensuring an even comparison. Despite these challenges, the EAVS survey remains the only comprehensive accounting of how the states administer a given federal election and tells us a lot about what happened from the administrative side during the general election.
 
There are thousands of data points to choose from in the 2016 report, but a few really stand out:

  • States report a total of 214,109,360 total registered voters, a 10.6 percent increase from 2012. 2016 marks the first time the U.S. has reported more than 200,000,000 registered voters.  
  • Of the more than 77 million voter registration transactions (new registrations or updates to an existing registration) between 2014 and 2016, 37.3 percent were new, valid registrations. A plurality of the other transactions (39.7 percent) were in-state updates (changes of address, party, or name). 10.3 percent of the applications received were duplicate registrations or otherwise invalid.
  • 2016 saw a record number of citizens using online voter registration. 17.4 percent, or approximately 13.5 million, of voter registration transactions were online, up from 6.5 percent of voter registration transactions in 2014 and 5.3 percent of transactions in 2012.  We saw a slight decrease in voter registration transactions at motor vehicle departments during the same time period, with 32.7 percent of total registration transactions, or approximately 25.3 million voter registration transactions, down from approximately 35 percent in 2012.  
  • 41.3 percent of ballots cast in the November 2016 election were cast before Election Day. Of total turnout of more than 140 million, 17.2 percent of ballots were cast at early in-person voting locations and 23.7 percent were cast via absentee by mail. Seven states—Arizona, Florida, Montana, North Carolina, Nevada, Oregon, and Texas—saw more than 60 percent of their total ballots cast before Election Day. 
  • More than 70 percent of the 2,460,421 provisional ballots cast on Election Day were counted, either in full or in part (state law varies about how many races on a provisional ballot are counted based on where the ballot is cast in relation to where the ballot was supposed to be cast).

The EAC provides election administrators and others in the field with valuable information and the 2016 EAVS is certainly no exception.
 

TurboVote Tech Update

By Magda Kura

Summer is finally here! Instead of taking a break, our team has been busy creating serious feature updates.
 
What’s new?

  • At the beginning of the year, we released a new admin dashboard to give you a snapshot of your voter engagement data. Snapshots provide great insights, but what if you need to filter for a particular date range to quickly measure the success of specific campaigns? You can now narrow down your stats with a handy date filter:
  • Have you ever wanted users to opt into additional communications from your organization, or sign up to volunteer as they register for TurboVote? You can now do that with our customizable check box!
  • Some election clerks ask for very specific formatting on students’ voter registration forms, and students often ask us if they can register using their residence hall address. To bridge this gap, we’ve developed a tool to help. Students who wish to register to vote using an on-campus address are now able to select their housing option from a dropdown menu and the address will populate automatically. This will lead to fewer mistakes, smoother processing at the election clerk’s office, and more successfully-registered student voters! Let us know if your campus would like to take advantage of this tool.

If you're a current TurboVote partner and would like more information about these new features, contact partnerships@turbovote.org.
 
So, what’s next?
More usability testing! With our summer associates available to help, we hope to conduct several new site tests with partners in the New York City area. Please let us know if your organization is interested in holding a usability test! Usability testing is a simple 15-minute walkthrough of our product with users. Typically, during a test, participants will complete the TurboVote signup process while we watch, listen, and take notes.
 
As always, a huge thanks to our engineering and research teams for helping us serve hundreds of thousands of voters with election reminders, advising them of the local elections happening across the country this year. 
 
Have feedback or want to see your suggestion on this list? Send a note to partnerships@turbovote.org.

Georgetown uses TurboVote to meet needs of voters

Students from across the country are attracted to Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. It is challenging to serve the voter engagement needs of Georgetown students given that they are from so many different states. TurboVote is particularly useful, as it helps students register to vote whether they chose to be D.C. voters or vote in their home state.

Undergraduate and graduate students from GU Votes take the lead implementing TurboVote at Georgetown. GU Votes is a student-led initiative that emerged from Georgetown University’s Institute of Politics and Public Service (GU Politics) to expand civic awareness, increase voter registration levels among Georgetown students, and institutionalize civic engagement efforts on campus. In advance of the 2016 election, student leaders initially set a goal to register 1000 Georgetown students to vote with the campaign #1000GUVotes. In September, GU Votes surpassed their goal and set a new goal of #1500GUVotes. Ultimately, nearly 1,600 Georgetown students signed up for TurboVote in 2016!  

GU Votes executed a strategy that involved collaborating with organizations and offices across campus to reach nearly ten percent of the Georgetown student body. To recruit volunteers, GU Votes student leaders attended the GU Politics ice cream social at the beginning of the fall semester to connect with students interested in political engagement. GU Votes utilized the GU Politics newsletter and social media to recruit additional volunteers. Due to their collaborative relationship with GU Politics, GU Votes had the opportunity to post on social media frequently about getting involved with their initiative. The hard work paid off when one week after the ice cream social, over 30 students attended a TurboVote training session. 

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GU Votes tapped into their volunteer base as frequently as possible. They made sure to set up tables with laptops at a number of GU Politics events, including debate watch parties attended by hundreds of students. GU Votes worked with over 20 student organizations and not only made announcements at their meetings but tabled to sign students up for TurboVote at other organizations’ events. 

One of GU Votes’s most successful events was Storm the Dorm. In late September, volunteers tabled at five campus residence halls and the library. According to GU Votes co-founder and Undergraduate Outreach Co-Chair Bethan Saunders, tabling with laptops at residence hall entrances proved to be more successful and efficient than going door-to-door registering voters on paper. GU Votes volunteers had multiple chances to catch students as they would come in and out of buildings. 

Learn more about how to effectively table in the Voter Engagement Toolkit.

Talking to voters

By Magda Kura

TurboVote is busy at work covering local elections nationwide this year. Hundreds of thousands of election messages will go out to TurboVote users so they’re ready to take part. But informing voters about their elections is just the first step to helping them vote; because simply knowing that an election is happening isn’t enough. The voting process can be confusing, complex, and sometimes difficult. That’s why we’re studying exactly what support voters need to register and cast their votes with confidence. First-time voters have different needs from experienced voters, and people live complex lives with changing ZIP codes and names, all of which affect their ability to vote with ease.
 
We set out to interview voters to identify their voting struggles with the goal of gathering the kind of information TurboVote should be providing users in the future. Our methodology? A mix of in-person user studies in California, New York, and Pennsylvania, as well as post-election user surveys in Texas. In total, we interviewed 21 users and received 146 survey responses.
 
How did we do it? We started with a few questions about the last election in which our users voted. We asked them to identify any problems, struggles, or memorable confusion about the process. Here is what we learned:

  • Our friends and family help us get started. Several participants mentioned a family member who helped them navigate the voting process, like parents who helped them register for the first time or siblings who helped them figure out who to vote for.
“I talked to my dad and my sister to get the information I needed to vote for the first time. My dad helped me on the paperwork and my sister helped me figure out who to vote for.” - participant from California study
  • We have complex address stories. Participants reported  they live in one area, have an ID from another area, and prefer to vote in yet another area. Many interviewees were not aware they needed to re-register every time they moved, if they plan to vote in the new location.
“I live on campus, but I prefer to vote from my home district.” - participant from New York study
“I was registered in Orange, not Marin [county]. When I went to the polls, I filled out a provisional ballot but the poll worker called me to tell me that my vote did not count.” - participant from California study
  • Voting by mail is confusing. Most of the interviewees did not understand the absentee voting process. Most believed they had no option but to make it to the polls on Election Day.
“I didn’t vote in the last election because I was busy working. I always miss elections because I am frequently away for business and can’t show up to the polls.” - participant from Pennsylvania study
  • We struggle with the logistical side of voting. Most participants had trouble identifying their options for voting as well as describing registration rules or voter ID laws. They rarely knew their polling locations. Additionally, no participant had a single source of election information; they relied on a number of outlets, including friends and family, Google search, or an institution they trust.
“We should be allowed to vote wherever we happen to be. Having to vote at our precinct makes it difficult for those of us that can't plan ahead.” - participant from Texas survey
  • We want to see the ballot ahead of the big day. Participants who voted in the past were always surprised to see unfamiliar names on the ballot. In the future, they wanted to see the actual ballot ahead of Election Day. 
“Last November, I didn’t know how to vote in the alternate categories - I didn’t even know what the other categories were. I think I voted for senators.” - participant from California study

Next, we asked participants to identify how TurboVote could help eliminate the anxiety and confusion they described in the first part of the interview.

Let’s suppose you have an upcoming election. TurboVote is committed to sending you all of the information you need to make you feel prepared to vote. What kind of information would you need? Select from the list below:

  1. Add election to your personal calendar with one click
  2. Registration deadline
  3. Absentee ballot request form deadline
  4. Sample ballot 
  5. Polling place location and hours
  6. Election results

Participants found all of the proposed notifications to be useful. By far, polling location hours and access to a sample ballot were ranked as the most important information for voters. Voters want to see the actual ballot ahead of Election Day, which suggests a high level of anxiety – voters are intimidated by the ballot itself.
 
When asked to suggest any other reminders that would help them vote, users suggested we offer more information about options to vote early, like adding early voting deadlines with text and email reminders. 
 
What’s next? This is a great start to our research, but we need more data. We plan to continue our user studies throughout the summer, and welcome any organization that would like to collaborate with us on this project. If you are interested in assisting with our user testing, please contact us at info@turbovote.org.


Of course, we had our personal favorite comments among the feedback...

"This is amazing! Thank you all so much!"

Efficiently reaching thousands of students at Lone Star College

With over 85,000 credit students and 6 campuses, LSC is the largest higher education institution in the Houston area. Since the two furthest campuses are approximately one hour apart, TurboVote is a practical solution for engaging students across distant campuses. One in four local Houston area high school students choose to attend LSC, making the institution deeply tied to the community it serves.

Dr. Jay Theis, the Director of the Center for Civic Engagement at Lone Star College, collaborated with campus IT staff to place a banner on LSC’s online campus portal iStar. The portal, which uses Oracle’s PeopleSoft Enterprise Campus Solutions, supports integral student services such as class registration. With such regular high traffic, the call-to-action banner for voter registration resulted in over 1,000 TurboVote signups in the first week of its implementation.   

Lone Star fostered faculty and community involvement in their voter engagement initiatives. Dr. Theis sent an email to faculty to encourage them to let their students know that TurboVote is a resource available to them. With multiple entryways to TurboVote, students are more likely to sign up. Additionally, LSC was one of seven community colleges in The Democracy Commitment that was chosen to host a “Citizenship Under Siege” public forum sponsored by a National Endowment for the Humanities grant. The forum included speakers and a deliberative dialogue. LSC students, faculty, and staff participated, in addition to community members.  

Students were involved in every step of the process. The Engage the Election initiative focused on getting students registered to vote and providing them with opportunities to become informed voters. Dr. Theis worked with civic engagement campus coordinators at each LSC campus to ensure programming, events, and resources were available to all students. Over the course of the 2016 election season, the Center for Civic Engagement sponsored 18 candidate forums. Student volunteers handed out business cards printed with the LSC TurboVote link at each forum. They also attended other campus events to distribute the cards, even if those events were unrelated to the election.

Importantly, LSC brought voter registration and voter education resources together. The Engage the Election webpage included links to TurboVote and explained the services that TurboVote provides. Additionally, links were provided to the Texas Secretary of State’s offices and county clerks for the 4 counties that have LSC campuses. Students could learn more about participating in Volunteer Deputy Voter Registrar trainings held on LSC campuses. Resources such as GovTrack and Politifact were shared on the page in order for students to learn more about elected officials and candidates. Effectively registering student voters is only one component in supporting civic learning and democratic engagement on campus. 

It is important to consider how you can provide resources to students that help them learn about electoral processes and access reliable candidate information, too. Check out our Voter Engagement Toolkit to learn about the many excellent youth civic engagement resources available!
 

The 2017 TurboVote Summer Associates have arrived!

By Sara Clark

Our summer associates are finally here! We’re so glad to have with us five driven students eager to make voting an easy, natural part of young people’s lives. They’ve already been working nonstop on a wide variety of projects to aid TurboVote implementation and development on your campus. Though they come to us from schools across the country, including Duke University, the University of Chicago, Texas State University, Harvard University, and the University of Kansas, their shared passion for civic engagement and innovation has drawn them to the Democracy Works team in Brooklyn. We’ve asked our associates to share more about themselves below, so you can get to know who they are!

The 2017 TurboVote Summer Associates, from left to right: Eloise, Prince, Michelle, Alex, and Brian.

The 2017 TurboVote Summer Associates, from left to right: Eloise, Prince, Michelle, Alex, and Brian.

Eloise Kaehny
Eloise is a rising junior at Harvard University, where she is majoring in social studies with a focus on environmental justice and Spanish language. On campus, she is a member of both a Harvard campaign committee and the Institute of Politics National Campaign civic engagement group (NAC). Eloise's excitement towards useful civic innovation and improved political engagement brought her to Democracy Works. She enjoys watching Cambridge sunsets and finding local concerts in her free time, and is grateful to be back in her native New York for the summer. 
 
Alex Murray
Alex is a rising sophomore at the University of Kansas, where he is majoring in finance with a minor in environmental science. He works at the Dole Institute of Politics, serves on his school’s finance committee, and participates in a sustainability organization he founded in 2016. Alex’s interest in increasing civic engagement and modernizing voting process lead him to Democracy Works and the TurboVote Summer Associate team. When he escapes from the big city, Alex can be found doing photography, making music, or camping - preferably, combining all three. 
 
Brian Park
Brian is a rising junior at Duke University, where he is pursuing a degree in political science and a minor in computer science. He has previously worked on a campaign in North Carolina and is an active brother of the Sigma Alpha Epsilon fraternity. After learning more about the state of American democracy and its fundamental problems, Brian decided to spend his summer at Democracy Works to contribute to a solution. In his free time, Brian enjoys playing soccer (his favorite team is Real Madrid) and watching food documentaries on Netflix. 
 
Michelle Shim
Michelle Shim is currently a rising second year at the University of Chicago, where she is pursuing a double major in economics and political science. At college, Michelle is involved in the Fellows Program at the Institute of Politics, competes on the moot court team, and is a research assistant for the Midwestern Longitudinal Study of Asian American Families. Her passion for socioeconomic issues and public policy research led her to the TurboVote team this summer. She has attended 13 different schools in the U.K., South Korea, New Jersey, California, and Georgia, and is constantly baking, nibbling on supposedly healthy dark chocolate, and reading the works of Jane Austen.
 
Prince Winbush
Prince Winbush is a rising sophomore at Texas State University, where he is pursuing a degree in mass communications with a concentration in public relations and two minors in political communication and music management. Prince recently finished his stint at Lone Star College, where he was president of a Lone Star political club and Vice President of the Gender and Sexuality Alliance. Prince is a native of Cardiff, Wales, but spent his teenage years in Chicago and now calls Texas home. He serves on his local party county committee as well as on the Texas state party board. In his free time, you can find Prince at a concert, searching the web for new artists, or scoping out the latest stories coming out of D.C. or his state capitol, Austin, T.X.

All of us at Democracy Works are looking forward to a full summer with this great group! If you're interested in applying for next year, be sure to check our Careers page ocacassionally for listings.

Faculty spearhead engagement efforts at Rollins College

Longtime TurboVote partner Rollins College has spread the word about TurboVote on campus in numerous ways over the years. With increased resources in a presidential election year, they engaged with faculty in a way they previously were unable to. 

Marissa Corrente, Associate Director of the Center for Leadership & Community Engagement, sent an email to faculty at the beginning of the fall semester to let them know that her team was available to give 10-15 minute presentations on voting to classes. A few faculty members took her up on her offer. 

In hopes of creating more interest, the President of Rollins College sent an email to faculty letting them know that these presentations were available to them. The response was similar; a few more professors were open to presentations on voting in their classes. 

Eventually, a faculty member that invited the team to present in class was so impressed that she sent an email encouraging her peers to do the same.

The result? Over 20 faculty members welcomed in-class presentations on voting! This particular faculty member had social capital on campus that was advantageous for convincing her peers that this was a worthwhile use of class time. Working alongside faculty to find ways to discuss civic engagement in the classroom isn’t simple, but a good start is finding an ally that can speak from experience that discussing voting in the classroom can be both positive and productive. 

JOB: Research Associate, Democracy Works

NOTE: As of July 7, 2017, we are no longer accepting applications for this position.

Location: Brooklyn, NY (though we’ll consider remote-in-the-US arrangements for the perfect candidate)
Target Start Date: August 1, 2017
Salary Range: $48,000 - $53,000 per year (depending on experience)
Benefits: Vision, dental, & medical insurance; 403(b) retirement savings plan; generous vacation policy; paid parental leave; long-term disability; employee assistance program
Level: Entry
 
At Democracy Works, we believe voting should fit the way we live. To that end, we build technology for both voters and election administrators that simplifies the process and ensures that no voter should ever have to miss an election.
 
TurboVote, our first service, helps voters register, stay registered, and cast a ballot in every election, from municipal to national. TurboVote signed up its millionth voter in 2016 by building the largest college and corporate coalition in the country, including 194 campuses, companies like Starbucks, Univision, Facebook, Google, Snapchat, and dozens more.  We also helped (basically) everyone find their polling place through the Voting Information Project. Its data had 123 million impressions in 2016, and over 11 million voters looked up where to vote on GetToThePolls.com. To scale our impact and reach every voter, we’re establishing an Election Technology Cooperative to provide affordable, voter-centered technology to election administrators. And Ballot Scout helps election administrators track absentee ballots through the mail, providing transparency in the vote-by-mail process and making it easier to follow up when things go awry.
 
Streamlining democracy requires quite a bit of knowledge: what form you use to register to vote in Wyoming, to whom you mail your absentee ballot application in Maine, and whether there’s an election taking place in Virginia RIGHT NOW. (There is!) We’re seeking a researcher to help us know as much as possible about elections, and use that knowledge to inform our software design, operations, and customer service for more than 1 million voters across 50 states.
 
You’ll:

  • Learn the ins-and-outs of election rules across 50 states, and apply that big-picture understanding to the smallest details of how we serve individual voters
  • Track when every election is happening, using your wits, charm, and deft Google Alert-wrangling skills (plus the occasional temp staffer)
  • Solve problems, answer questions, and ensure that even our most confused voter gets the information they need
  • Break things, hunt bugs, and help prioritize new features for our developer team 

You are:

  • (Almost frighteningly) inquisitive
  • Exceptionally organized, able to prioritize multiple projects simultaneously, and detail-oriented
  • Empathetic and creative in your pursuit of customer service
  • Capable of breaking down large projects into bite-sized chunks
  • Up for tirelessly pursuing obscure election facts
  • Conversational, preferably fluent, in Spanish 

You have experience:

  • Managing complex projects and keeping track of details
  • Providing customer support or hands-on services
  • Writing clear, detailed reports on complicated (and often technical) topics 
  • Wrangling data or dabbling in Excel formulas/Python/Ruby/R (that left you eager to learn more)

To apply, send a resume and brief, informal introduction to Magda and Katy at work@democracy.works with the subject “Will research for democracy.” From there, we’ll send you a short practical exercise designed to test some of your problem-solving skills, which we’ll anonymize and then evaluate in a blind review. Candidates with strong responses to the practical exercise will go through interview rounds (up to three) with different members of our team who interact closely with this position. We’ll ask for references from our top finalist(s), then make an offer.
 
Democracy Works is committed to diversity and inclusion in everything we do and aspires to have a team that's representative of the voters we serve. When hiring, we practice proactive outreach to top talent that’s underrepresented in our sector (including Latino, Black, AAPI, and Indigenous candidates). We conduct an anonymized skills evaluation, to reduce implicit bias and resume-dependency in our process. We're a woman- and gay-founded startup, and promote an inclusive culture that stands against racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism (to name a few). To be explicit, we strongly encourage applicants of all races, ethnicities, political party associations, religions (or lack thereof), national origins, sexual orientations, genders, sexes, ages, abilities, and branches of military service. Feel free to contact work@democracy.works if you have any questions about our commitment to inclusion or about general hiring practices. Democracy Works posts all current career opportunities at democracy.works/careers.

Democracy Works welcomes Amy Cohen to Government Services team

By Brandon Naylor

Democracy Works has added veteran election expert Amy Cohen to our Government Services team. As the Director of Government Outreach, Amy will work primarily with election officials and administrators to find ways technology can make their jobs easier, including the adoption of new tools or simply finding different ways to use already existing platforms, such as social media.
 
Amy joins us with significant experience in the election space. She spent four years with the Pew Charitable Trusts, where she managed the Voting Information Project (VIP), guided national research projects, and forged relationships throughout the corporate and nonprofit sector. Most recently, she co-founded and served as the Director of Operations for the Center for Election Innovation & Research (CEIR), which works to improve the security of elections and increase efficiencies in election administration for both administrators and voters. 
 
As the Government Services team expands its reach, Amy will also help coordinate the Election Technology Cooperative, build and strengthen relationships with state and local election officials, and encourage adoption of online voter registration APIs. We at Democracy Works are thrilled to have Amy as a part of our team and look forward to seeing where her efforts lead to make voting fit the way we live!
 

Sewanee reaches 30% engagement with creative digital outreach

Sewanee: The University of the South is a private liberal arts university in Sewanee, TN. With approximately 1,800 students, the Sewanee community is close-knit. As a 2015 Sewanee graduate and Coordinator of Student Programs in the newly formed Office of Civic Engagement, Michelle Howell knows this firsthand. 

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Howell oversees TurboVote implementation on campus as part of her role. Her effective approach to voter engagement resulted in nearly 500 TurboVote signups in 2016, approaching 30 percent of the Sewanee student body. Sewanee made three appearances on TurboVote leaderboards and voter engagement success at Sewanee was covered by The Sewanee Purple

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Howell created and shared creative social media content. She shared photos and articles related to the election and voting on Facebook and Instagram. Importantly, she posted often in order to reach more students over time. Her posts on the Office of Civic Engagement social media pages featured students completing the voter registration process with pre-addressed, pre-stamped TurboVote envelopes, self-created infographics on voter registration deadlines in each state, and articles with helpful information about voting in different states.   

Howell found any reason to talk about voting in a number of campus-wide emails. Instead of sticking with a predictable subject line like, “Important Information About Voting,” she made her voter engagement communications fun and creative. Email content included GIFs, graphics, and specific instructions about how to be a voter, ranging from registration to the vote by mail to get out the vote reminders. Here are some examples of email subject lines: 

  • Enjoy National Coffee Day While Sipping a Brew & Registering to Vote
  • Running Out of Time: Voter Registration
  • Do the Hustle: Mail Out Those Ballots
  • Get Your "I Voted" Sticker & No Longer Have FOMO

Howell worked closely with the Sewanee SGA to get students signed up for TurboVote. Together, they identified the campus cafeteria as a high traffic location ideal for tabling. Students involved with SGA tabled in the cafeteria around from around 11:00 a.m. - 1:00 p.m., the window when most students pass through on a given day. Howell publicly thanked the SGA for their efforts, both in social and traditional media. 

The Office of Civic Engagement organized 4 debate watch parties at The Sewanee Inn. These parties, each with a lengthy waiting list, included a plated dinner and 30-minute facilitated discussion after the debate. The Office of Civic Engagement collaborated with the Center for Speaking and Listening, in addition to campus political groups, to host these events. Facilitated discussions were designed to be nonpartisan and encouraged students to be open minded throughout the process. For example, students who identified as Republican were asked to share what they thought Hillary Clinton did well during the debate and vice versa. 

Be an accessible resource for students. As quoted by The Sewanee Purple shortly after Election Day: “If individuals didn’t end up getting their absentee ballots in the mail or didn’t end up voting, and they’re still not sure if they’re registered to vote, please stop by and please follow up,” Howell encouraged. “Overall, what we’re trying to get at is a culture of political engagement.” Up next, Sewanee is looking institutionalize voter engagement even further by bringing TurboVote to new student orientation

Campus-wide effort engages 6,700 University of Minnesota students

William Dammann is a student at the University of Minnesota, Director of Legislative and Government Affairs for the Minnesota Student Association, Legislative Affairs Director for the Association of Big Ten Students, and TurboVote implementer extraordinaire! 

The University of Minnesota began partnering with TurboVote in July of 2016. UMN finished the year with over 6,700 TurboVote sign-ups and engaged more than 15 percent of the student body!

Dammann calls himself a “liaison.” The liaising he did with his Minnesota Student Association team, university administration, and the broader campus community resulted in 8 TurboVote leaderboard appearances and being named overall winner of the fall 2016 TurboVote leaderboard for signup numbers.   

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After establishing a partnership with TurboVote, Dammann and his team decided how they wanted to focus their time and resources. They landed on #EveryVoteCounts for their branding, and also created messaging with the slogan “Vote From Home” to encourage absentee voting for in-state students. Dammann discussed his experiences interacting with legislators and subsequent motivation for encouraging students to vote in their home districts in “Why Students Should Vote,” an op-ed in the Minnesota Daily. 

Dammann identified three key administrative audiences that made sense to bring together to discuss voter engagement: the president’s office, government relations, and student affairs. These offices were able to provide various support, from funding to spreading the word about events to sharing the UMN TurboVote link with their audiences. Collaboration allowed for one centralized campaign across the university. 

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Consider how you can provide multiple touchpoints for voter engagement. Dammann’s advice to others doing this work is to “get it in front of students’ eyes as much as possible.”  That he did. UMN executed two TurboVote IT integrations: links to TurboVote were placed on the front page of MyU, the University of Minnesota’s enterprise portal, and UMN’s Moodle course management system. At least eight emails including a link to TurboVote were sent to the student body from various senders including the student body president and dean of students. The Minnesota Student Association organized Voterpalooza, a day-long civic engagement festival in September featuring elected officials and candidates, hosts of a popular podcast on politics, free pizza, and voter registration. These events and communications, coupled with regular promotion of TurboVote via social media, made it increasingly likely that a student would come across TurboVote. 

Minnesota has online voter registration, no-excuse absentee voting, and same-day voter registration. This allowed the UMN team to vary their messaging throughout the election season to continuously reach voters, even on Election Day. Understand the environment for voting in your state, and use it to your advantage. It’s critical to plan your outreach and communications with the relevant laws and deadlines in mind.
 

WashU combines forces to reach 30% voter engagement

In 2016, the Gephardt Institute for Civic and Community Engagement at Washington University in St. Louis quadrupled its voter registrations compared to their tally in 2012. WashU engaged 30 percent of their student body on TurboVote last year and made 17 appearances on TurboVote leaderboards. The private research university in St. Louis, Missouri has hosted more presidential debates than any other institution in the country. While debates provide incredible learning and participation opportunities for students and the community and excellent exposure for the university, WashU takes political and civic engagement seriously all year. 

This year, WashU established a joint campus initiative called WashU Votes. The committee brought together stakeholders with an interest in civic engagement on campus, including representatives from the Gephardt Institute, the student union, the graduate professional council, the public affairs department, and campus life. 

The Gephardt Institute had a key role in organizing the four WashU Votes teams. These teams included programming, student funding, marketing and communications, and voter engagement. 

Specifically, the voter engagement team was comprised of over 80 faculty, staff, graduate students, and undergraduate students. The Gephardt Institute provided support and oversight, primarily through its Voter Engagement Fellow. In the spring of 2016, the Gephardt Institute hired a graduating senior for this short-term position. The fellow worked part-time during the spring semester and then full-time from May to December. Some of the fellow’s many responsibilities included coordinating with offices across campus, researching best practices in voter engagement, creating voter engagement content, communicating with media, and serving as the point person for all voting-related inquiries. 

The Voter Engagement Team had three subcommittees: the Brain Trust provided input into major initiatives such as Constitution Day and National Voter Registration Day, Community Champions were charged with promoting voter engagement in communities across campus, and the Voter Registration Squad served as the boots on the ground at numerous voter registration drives.

The dedicated students and staff on the Voter Engagement Squad participated in voter registration trainings that included an overview of TurboVote. In total, they tabled at over 25 events. Some of their more successful experiences included setting up in front of the student center on Constitution Day, National Voter Registration Day, during the Community Service Fair, and at the Sophomore Resource Fair. They found less success tabling at events with speakers and talks related to politics, as audience members tended to have up-to-date voter registrations.  

The large coalition of groups and offices involved with WashU Votes were able to leverage  relationships to support their expansive efforts. For example, ten tablets with signature-capturing capabilities were loaned to WashU Votes by Dell. This was critical to support WashU’s tabling across campus. 

In addition to using TurboVote while tabling on campus, WashU integrated TurboVote into their student portal. Organizers chose WebSTAC, an online gateway where students register for classes and update their contact information. Numerous campus-wide emails inviting students to sign up for TurboVote were sent from different senders including the university chancellor. There was also a TurboVote signup competition among Women’s Panhellenic Association organizations. WashU is now exploring a permanent placement for the TurboVote link.

WashU organized a number of events to engage students including post-debate civic dialogues, an absentee party to be inclusive of students voting by mail, an election results watch party, and a collaborative initiative called “November 9th and Beyond,” to encourage continuous political dialogue.  

The Gephardt Institute takes a “Politics 365” approach which includes engaging students in local elections and offering educational programming focused on learning about key political issues and skills needed to engage in the democratic process. “What’s at Stake in the St. Louis City Election,” was a panel discussion of community leaders on economic opportunity, public and neighborhood safety, and public education. They’ve also organized a “Skills for Democracy” series to provide students with practical tools for being engaged and are collaborating with other stakeholders on an academic symposium on American democracy. Because voter registration is not a one-time experience, WashU is working to identify which online bottleneck will make the best permanent home for their TurboVote site.

JOB: Data Associate, Voting Information Project (VIP)

UPDATE: As of June 19, 2017, we are no longer accepting applications for this position. Thank you for your interest!

Location: Preferably Brooklyn, N.Y.; Remote applicants within the U.S. welcome.
Target Start Date: July 10, 2017
Salary Range: $60,000 to $80,000 per year (depending on location and experience)
Benefits: Vision, dental, & medical insurance; 403(b) retirement savings plan; generous vacation policy; long-term disability; employee assistance program

At Democracy Works, we believe voting should fit the way we live. To that end, we build technology for both voters and election administrators that simplifies the process and ensures that no voter should ever have to miss an election.

The Voting Information Project (VIP) coordinates with state election offices to publish nationally-standardized information about where and how to vote—data that powers everything from Google’s polling place search to our own text message and email reminders to TurboVote users. The Data Associate will be a part of the VIP team, assisting with collecting, parsing, and assessing a nation’s worth of election data.

(Our other projects include TurboVote, which tracks a voter’s elections. We provide all the materials and information they need to get registered, stay registered, and cast a ballot in every election, from municipal to national—and we’ll even mail forms with an addressed, stamped envelope for the local election office. Ballot Scout helps local election administrators track absentee ballots as they travel through the mail, providing transparency in the vote-by-mail process and making it easier to follow up when things go awry.)

As the data associate for VIP, you’ll:

  • Contribute to a dataset that has served millions (and hundreds of millions) of voters since 2008
  • Build and maintain parsers, quality assurance checks, and data management scripts
  • Collaborate with the Democracy Works developer team and Google engineers
  • Communicate with county and state election officials about the availability, quality, and status of their data.

You are:

  • Obsessively attentive to detail, having the ability to resolve issues within complex data sets
  • Creative, in a way that recognizes the artistry in a well-wrought script parser
  • Comfortable translating between jargon and vernacular
  • Passionate about civic tech and open data
  • Happiest working with a team
  • Interested in both the macro and micro views of any project

You (hopefully) have experience:

  • Handling large, complex datasets using some combination of data scripting (Python, SQL, R, others)
  • In an agile development environment
  • In politics, government, or non-profits
  • On highly collaborative teams
  • Providing customer support, or working with external partners

Salary is competitive and commensurate with education and experience. Democracy Works also offers a benefits package including health insurance, vacation, and a 403(b) retirement plan. We’re based in Brooklyn, N.Y. with remote employees across the United States, and we hope you’ll want to work from our Brooklyn office, though we’ll consider remote arrangements for the right candidate.

To apply, send a resume and brief, informal introduction to Franklin and Maria at work@democracy.works with the subject “Will data for democracy.”

Democracy Works is committed to diversity and inclusion in everything we do and aspires to have a team which is representative of the voters we serve. When hiring, we practice proactive outreach to top talent that’s underrepresented in our sector (including Latinx, Black, AAPI, and Indigenous candidates), and we offer every candidate an anonymized skills evaluation, to reduce implicit bias and resume-dependency in our process. We're a woman- and gay-founded startup, and promote an inclusive culture that stands against racism, sexism, homophobia, and ableism (to name a few). To be explicit, we strongly encourage applicants of all races, ethnicities, political party associations, religions (or lack thereof), national origins, sexual orientations, genders, sexes, ages, abilities, and branches of military service. Feel free to contact work@democracy.works if you have any questions about our commitment to inclusion or about general hiring practices. Democracy Works posts all current career opportunities at democracy.works/careers.