Thursday, January 27, 2011

Constituents Matter!

The Congressional Management Foundation released a new report based on the results of 260 congressional staff who were surveyed on their opinions about practices related to constituent communications.

Here are some takeaways from "Communicating with Congress":
  • 57% of staff felt email and the Internet have made Senators and Representatives more accountable to their constituents.
  • 90% said postal mail (and 88% said email) from a constituent would influence an undecided Member of Congress.
  • Most of the staff surveyed said constituent visits to the Washington office (97%) and to the district or state office (94%) have "some" or "a lot" of influence on an undecided Member.
  • Staff also said questions at town hall meetings (87%) and letters to the editor (80%) have "some" or "a lot" of influence.
Constituents still have competition--81% of staff said that lobbyists have some influence in the decision making process--although visits from constituents were said to be more influential. While the results of the study are based on self-reporting, and must be analyzed as such, they still reveal important information on how members of Congress view their constituents.

No matter your method of communication, "personal stories really are what make a difference for members...because they know it's far easier to send a form campaign to Capitol Hill."

The moral of the story? Put on your walking shoes and get on over to city hall, the state house, or Capitol Hill and tell your elected officials what you think. Too much snow? Then write an email from your couch, or put a letter in the mail. It'll go a long way.

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Tuesday, January 25, 2011

State of the Union Tonight

Tonight is President Obama's State of the Union address, and the White House Blog recently posted a piece on "The State of the Union and You."

So in case you were wondering how to participate in the annual address, here are two foolproof steps:

Step One: Watch the address at 9pm Eastern. If you don't have a TV, you can watch it online at Want company? Organize a viewing party with friends or coworkers! Note that tonight will be the first time in recent memory that some members of Congress will sit next to a colleague from a different party.

Step Two: Now that you've watched the address, decide how you want to engage. No need to rush your choice though, because there will be opportunities all week: right after the address, Senior White House officials will answer questions; on Wednesday before his briefing, Press Secretary Robert Gibbs will take questions via Twitter, and; on Thursday President Obama will answer questions live during a YouTube interview. See the blog for details and a list of ways to participate.

And if you want something less official? The League of Young Voters Education Fund is broadcasting a live panel discussion immediately following the address. You can follow updates on Twitter via #BarackTalk or watch it online.

Almost forgot Step Three: Enjoy!

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Monday, January 24, 2011

Tweet No More

This just in: Twitter has been banned from office computers in the Massachusetts Legislature! The Legislative Information Services department said the decision to block Twitter is due to the site’s vulnerability to viruses. However, the ban only applies to computers in legislative offices, so members of the legislature can still tweet from smart phones. Interestingly, the governor and his staff are not prohibited from accessing Twitter on their office computers.

Elected officials across the country are using twitter to create their own content and communicate directly with constituents. Sarah Scalese, spokeswoman for the Massachusetts House Minority Leader pointed out that, "Republicans [in Massachusetts] don't always get face time on TV...We need to utilize every available resource possible."

The debate over whether or not to tweet goes far beyond Massachusetts. Many on Capitol Hill have embraced the new social media tool, and TweetCongress allows you to search for the Twitter handles of your Congressional representatives. In addition to supplying information on who is and isn't tweeting, TweetCongress encourages more members of Congress to use Twitter to better communicate with the people they represent.

If your representatives were on Twitter, would you follow them?

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Friday, January 21, 2011

Iowa Limits Felon Voting Rights (Again)

This week, Iowa Governor Terry Branstad issued executive order 70, rescinding former Governor Tom Vilsack's 2005 order that automatically restored voting rights to felons who had served their jail time. Since Governor Vilsack's executive order was enacted, an estimated 100,000 Iowa ex-felons have had their voting rights restored.

However, under Governor Branstad, felons will once again be required to petition the governor individually to have their voting rights restored. He said, "That means not only serving the time, but paying the fine, the court costs and the restitution to the victim."

The Iowa chapter of the NAACP responded, stating that the requirement was "reminiscent of Jim Crow-era laws that discourage blacks from voting," and likened it to a poll tax. In Iowa, African-Americans make up only 2.8% of the state's population, but account for almost 25% of its prison population.

The Sentencing Project has found that in the last 13 years, 23 states have given convicted felons increased voting rights, adding 800,000 former felons to voter rolls. And in 2010 the New York Times editorialized that "Their Debt is Paid." Regrettably, this move by Iowa’s new governor is a step in the wrong direction.

What are the voting rights of felons in your state? Find out on our website and check out our fact sheet, available in English and Spanish.

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Thursday, January 20, 2011

Transparency at the Local Level

Good news if you live in California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas, or Wisconsin! Yesterday the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation launched OpenGovernment, a tool designed to make local government more accessible and accountable.

OpenGovernment is modeled off of a similar project, OpenCongress, which lets users track bills, votes, and members of Congress.

In blogging about the debut of OpenGovernment, the Sunlight Foundation quoted the executive director of the Participatory Politics Foundation who hopes that this will be a tool to fight "systemic corruption" while also creating "user-friendly interfaces for this baffling and arcane world of legislative data."

Tracking local government is of the utmost importance to all nonprofits. Local government controls money that your organization does or doesn't get in addition to prioritizing your community's issues. By keeping tabs on your state legislature and city government, you can find out who cares about your nonprofit's work and what's (not) being done. This kind of information gives your organization a platform from which to reach out, build relationships, and act.

OpenGovernment plans to expand to other states, but in the meantime take a look!

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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

2010 State Turnout Rankings

State turnout rankings are here! The 2010 rankings are based on the total ballots cast by the voting eligible population from data compiled by the U.S. Elections Project. Without further ado:

The Top Five
1. Minnesota – 55.9%
2. Maine – 55.5%
3. Washington – 54.3%
4. South Dakota – 53.9%
5. Oregon – 53.5%

The Bottom Five
46. Arkansas – 37.5%
47. New York – 35.6%
48. Utah – 35.4%
49. Tennessee – 35.0%
50. Texas – 32.9%

Things to Consider:
  • Minnesota had the highest turnout for the third straight midterm, although its lead has diminished.
  • The 11 states with Election Day registration or same-day registration (such as Wisconsin, Maine, and Iowa) on average boast higher turnout rates.
  • Oregon and Washington—who deliver ballots to all registered voters and allow them to be mailed or returned at drop off locations—are both in the top five.
  • Two of the nation's largest states—Texas and New York—continue to rank low in turnout percent. Will this change as Texas adds four new Congressional districts?
  • Turnout in California (45%), the other largest state, grew, maintaining a trend in the last several elections.
Wonder where your state ranks? See the full list.

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Friday, January 14, 2011

2011 Webinar Series Preview

A New Year, new elections, and new data can only mean one thing—the return of Nonprofit VOTE's webinar series! Our 2011 webinar topics will include:

* Nonprofits and the 2010 Census

* Redistricting

* Conducting Candidate Forums

* Nonprofits and Ballot Measures

* A Primer on Nonpartisan Voter Participation

* Election reform and more!

Our first webinar on the Census will be held in early April. By then, each state will have detailed and localized Census data which will frame our conversation. We look forward to continuing to share valuable resources and information with you during our webinars this year—and best of all, they're free for 501(c)(3) nonprofit organizations! We'll keep you posted with sign up information as March approaches and remember that you can access past webinars on our website.


Wednesday, January 12, 2011

EAC Launches New Blog

Hoping to strengthen their role as a national clearinghouse for elections and election administration information hub, the EAC has launched a new blog to top off its new streamlined website.

The blog is intended to be "for voters", and encourages visitors to send their questions on anything from voting machines to absentee voting to get their queries answered. Although the blog doesn't provide a comment ability yet, they do offer a web contact form to facilitate dialogue between the EAC and voters on important election assistance questions.

A neat feature is a sidebar that links visitors to a page listing every social media page for election officials in all 50 states, along with links to EAC's YouTube channel.


FILVOTE Aims High in 2011

Although we're only in the second week of 2011, some nonprofits have made their voter engagement goals clear. FILVOTE--the voter engagement project of the Filipino-American Service Group, Inc. (FASGI)--hopes to register 15,000 new voters in Los Angeles county by October of this year. To do so, FILVOTE plans to hold voter registration drives in various cities across the county where concentrated populations of Filipino Americans live.

FILVOTE recently kicked off their 2011 campaign with a voter registration drive during a community gathering to mark the 114th death anniversary and 150th birth anniversary of Philippine National Hero Dr. Jose Rizal.

FILVOTE hopes that the voter engagement work they do this year will set the stage for broad participation in the 2012 election. Since its creation in 1996, FILVOTE has registered over 25,000 Filipino American voters in LA County and has hosted numerous candidate forums.

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Monday, January 10, 2011

How to Voterize Your MLK Day Event

With Martin Luther King, Jr. Day widely accepted as "a day on, not a day off" most nonprofits have taken the opportunity to promote special projects and events.

To help, the HandsOn Network hosted a series of webinars for nonprofits on how to get the most out of their MLK Day of service and other volunteerism organizations are proffering tips and ideas.

Here's another: your nonprofit can get more out of your MLK Day event by incorporating a voter engagement piece. Committing your nonprofit to voter engagement is a wonderful way to honor the work that Martin Luther King, Jr. (and others) did for the civil rights movement and the fight to ensure full voting rights for all.

One nonprofit in Abbeville, Louisiana has a great plan: Herod Village is sponsoring a mock election to kick-off its MLK Day celebration. A spokesman for Herod Village said that the purpose of the mock election is to "raise voter awareness, increase voter participation, to allow voters to examine and understand the voting machines, to register unregistered voters, and to prepare the youth voter for the 2012 election." Voters will elect a student mayor of Herod Village in addition to voting on two propositions.

While you might not be able to organize a mock election by next week, there's still plenty your nonprofit can do: If your event has a sign-in table, put out voter registration cards. When a volunteer or client arrives, ask if they would like to register to vote. If you have someone speaking at your event, have them talk briefly about the importance of registering to vote and voting on Election Day. You can also distribute our list of the Top 10 Reasons to Register and Vote and put up a sign to let attendees know that they can register on-site.

Whatever your MLK Day event is, chances are you can easily incorporate at least one voter engagement activity and help carry on the work of Martin Luther King, Jr. Be sure to let us know how your event goes next Monday!

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Friday, January 7, 2011

It's National Letter-Writing Week!

In a world of email, text messages, Twitter, Facebook, and everything in between, sometimes the hand-written letter can get lost. But not this week, because tomorrow kicks off National Letter-Writing Week (January 8-14)!

If you don't have a pen pal, consider writing to one of your state legislators or your congressional representatives about an issue that matters to you. A letter is a great way to start (or build) a relationship and make sure your representatives know that you're paying attention.

Remember that you don't have to write about something that upset you. You can thank your representative for their support on an issue, or compliment them on a job well done; everyone occasionally needs some words of encouragement, and elected officials are people too. Either way, remember to be courteous, even if you disagree with something or someone.

Want to get others involved? Organize a letter writing party!

Write to other public servants. Write to other nonprofits. Write a letter to the editor—those count too. Just make sure you write!

Your recipient(s) will thank you. And our trusty postal workers--who often deliver ballots as well--will too.

Leave a comment and let us know who you plan on writing to this week.

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Thursday, January 6, 2011

NASS Members Elect New President

Nonprofit VOTE would like to congratulate Minnesota Secretary of State Mark Ritchie on being elected President of the National Association of Secretaries of State (NASS). NASS was founded in 1904 and is the oldest nonpartisan association of government officials. Ritchie succeeds Maine Secretary of State Matthew Dunlap in the position, and was sworn in on January 1. He will serve as NASS president until July of this year.

Nonprofit VOTE is an official voter participation partner of NASS, collaborating on their "Can I Vote?" initiative.

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Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Turning Up Turnout

The midterm election was over two months ago and the new 112th Congress--with the representatives we just elected--meets for the first time today. So why are we still talking about 2010 turnout?

Good question. The U.S. Elections Project publishes detailed state-by-state turnout data, and they calculate voter turnout by dividing the number of votes cast for highest office by the voting-eligible population. In 2008, national turnout was 61.6%.

In the 2010 midterm election that number was 40.8%--a drop of over 20%, which translates to almost 42 million voters.

It's true that historically, turnout for a midterm election is lower than for a presidential election. But a difference of 42 million voters demonstrates that the need for nonprofit involvement in voter engagement work has never been more apparent.

On Monday we urged nonprofits to consider including civic engagement in their 2011 work plans. A big part of that is voter engagement work. Your nonprofit can use the connections it has with clients, constituents, volunteers, and community members to increase the number of registered voters, as well as the number of voters who turn out on election day. It benefits your nonprofit and your community at large to have active, involved citizens participating at high rates.

So take the first step today. Order one our free toolkits, watch an online training presentation, listen to a webinar, or browse our other resources.

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Monday, January 3, 2011

A Nonprofit New Year's Resolution

The Times Square Ball has dropped and most of us are back at work this week with a fresh list of resolutions. As your nonprofit puts together its 2011 work plan, don’t forget to include civic engagement!

Nonprofits are uniquely positioned within communities to advocate for the underrepresented and underserved—things you do everyday! By functioning in this capacity, nonprofits are poised to conduct voter engagement work as well.

If your nonprofit uses volunteers, then you are already connected with folks who care about the civic health of your community! Now take it a step further: Include a voter registration form with the paperwork every new volunteer must sign, and encourage them to fill it out. Your human resources department can do the same thing with new employees by including a voter registration form in their new hire packet. It's an easy and effective way to increase the number of registered voters who care about the same issues as your organization.

If your organization already has a volunteer program in place, it is relatively simple to build a plan that utilizes volunteers to conduct voter registration, either year-round or seasonally. Volunteers can also help your organization with get-out-the-vote activities. Although most states don’t have a major race in 2011, many communities will still be electing local officials who have the final say in thing such as schools, local taxes, municipal services, and more.

Pledging to incorporate voter engagement into your nonprofit's work is one New Year's resolution that will be easy to keep. Small changes can go a long way, and that’s just the tip of the iceberg! Visit our website for more information and resources to voterize your nonprofit!

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