Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Maryland City Considers Online Voting

Takoma Park, Maryland is considering allowing voters to cast their ballots online this November.

But before anything is decided, a system test will be conducted on June 9 where voters will be asked to pick their favorite Beatle and their favorite poet. For voters who are stressed about this difficult decision, rest assured that refreshments will be served. Here's how the system would work:

Voters would be mailed an envelope that contained, wait for it…more envelopes!
  1. One (sealed) envelope would contain an absentee paper ballot.
  2. The second unsealed outer envelope would be used to return the ballot to the city and would contain a third unsealed inner envelope.
  3. The third inner envelope would have scratch-off codes that give the voter the option of casting their ballot online.

But if you want to return it by mail, that's okay too. All you have to do is put your "marked ballot in the inner envelope, which…will [be] put in the outer envelope and mail[ed] to the city"--the exact same absentee voting process used in the past.

Leaving aside the many inner and outer envelopes, would you prefer to cast your ballot online, mail it in, or vote in person?

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Thursday, May 26, 2011

The Top 5 State Voter Information Websites

Earlier this week we talked about what states are (or aren't) doing to make voting information more accessible online. To that end, we have reviewed each state's voter information site and picked our favorites based on clarity, accessibility, and comprehensiveness.

The best sites let users register online, check their registration status, look up their polling place, see a sample ballot, and track their absentee ballot--all in one place! While very few have yet to offer all of these capabilities, a number of states have recently ramped up their online accessibility efforts. We're excited to see more states offering voting tools in a single, easy-to-use portal and encourage the rest to follow suit!

And now, without further ado, Nonprofit VOTE is pleased to present our Top 5 State Voter Information Websites:
  1. Utah very recently came out with a fantastic new site (a welcome change from its confusing, limited predecessor). The site now features both personalized voter information and online registration.
  2. Louisiana's site offers a single log-in platform with the ability to look up your registration status, find your polling place, track your absentee ballot, and find local election information. Voters in Louisiana can also register to vote online.
  3. Pennsylvania provides all the basic voter information tools, but also includes an additional tool for people with specific voting needs--like college students and persons with disabilities.
  4. Missouri's well-designed site provides individualized voter information as well as multimedia resources, like instructional videos on how to register to vote.
  5. Texas provides comprehensive voter information, as well as specific information about upcoming elections.
Have you been to your state's site? Let us know what you think and how it compares!

This post was researched and written by Nonprofit VOTE's Spring 2011 intern, Hattie Huston.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Nonprofit VOTE Shares Groundbreaking Research

During the 2010 midterm election, a first of its kind study assessed--and ultimately affirmed--the agency-based approach to increasing voter participation. Conducted with the support of Nonprofit VOTE and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, this new research demonstrates the effectiveness of nonprofit voter engagement efforts.

The study found that:
  1. When a nonprofit talked to clients about voting, their likelihood of voting increased.
  2. The likelihood of a client voting increased proportionally with each additional voting-related contact made by the nonprofit.
  3. A nonprofit's outreach efforts went beyond the individual they engaged--clients contacted about voting were also more likely to encourage their friends and family to vote.
  4. Among the types of voter assistance provided, registering new voters and offering voting reminders made the biggest difference in increasing voter turnout.
To learn more visit our research page and read the study factsheet. You can also watch our webinar "Nonprofits Increase Voter Participation: New Research from the Field," download the PowerPoint Presentation, and read the full report.

We encourage you to share the study factsheet with staff, stakeholders, and other nonprofits in your network to spread the word about what nonprofits can and should do to help increase voter participation rates.

If your nonprofit is already doing voter outreach, we hope this groundbreaking research reaffirms that the work you're doing makes a difference, particularly to your clients. And if you're a nonprofit looking to get started, visit our website for resources and information on how to voterize your nonprofit!

The study, conducted with seven nonprofits in the Detroit area, was led by Dr. Kelly LeRoux, an Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois at Chicago. Dr. LeRoux’s research has been published in more than a dozen public and nonprofit management journals, and she is currently working on a book titled "Nonprofits and Voter Mobilization in the U.S."nonprofit!

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

State Voter Information Pages: The Good, the Bad and the Outdated

We recently took stock of each state's official voter information page in an effort to find out what states are doing to increase voter participation. While every state site offers some information to voters, there are huge disparities in the content and quality of that information. Some sites offer conveniences like online voter registration and the ability to track your absentee ballot, while others have no online tools whatsoever.

Many states have created a voter information site independent of the official state government page. Sites like AlabamaVotes.gov, VoteNaturally.org (Arkansas), VoteKS.org, GeauxVote.com (Louisiana), Vote Missouri, VotesPA.com, SCvotes.org, VoTexas.org, and Vote.Utah.gov provide user-friendly information, including tools to check personal voting information. These dedicated voter information sites help increase accessibility, and allow voters to track important information throughout the voting process. For example, a voter in Utah can register to vote, check their registration, find their polling place, learn about upcoming elections, and request and track their absentee ballot--everything but cast an actual vote--through the state's voter portal.

A growing number of states also offer online voter registration, including Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, and Washington. Having the option to register online is particularly crucial for an increasingly mobile and technology-dependent generation.

Unfortunately a few states are still struggling to integrate recent technology into their websites. For example, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming don't offer a portal for personalized voter information (like a voter registration search or polling place look-up tool). This is problematic because many voters depend on state websites, often because of the challenges they have in contacting their local election official simply to check their registration status or find their polling place. Making this personalized information available online increases transparency and can boost voter turnout. And best of all, voters can avoid unnecessary problems at the polls by finding out if there is an issue with their registration prior to Election Day.

Learn more about registering to vote and stay tuned as we share our Top 5 State Voter Information Websites later this week!

This post was researched and written by Nonprofit VOTE's Spring 2011 intern, Hattie Huston.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Promote Voter Registration at Your Organization

Earlier this week we congratulated Michigan for taking advantage of naturalization ceremonies to register new citizens. It's the perfect example of how to effectively integrate voter registration into ongoing activities. By reaching out to clients while providing services (or during classes or events) nonprofits can register voters with equal success.

Nonprofit VOTE has numerous resources to help your nonprofit get started. Encourage your clients to register now and then to check their registration ahead of November. Visit our voter registration page to see how.

Residents of Arizona, Colorado, Indiana, Kansas, Louisiana, Oregon, Utah, Washington, and Washington D.C. can even register to vote online. Visit your state page to learn how. For more on voter registration:
Good luck, and don't forget to let us know how it goes!

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Mobile Technology and Civic Engagement

A new report from The Hispanic Institute found that Hispanics are the leading users of mobile phones and social media in the U.S.

The study, "Connected Hispanics and Civic Engagement," highlights the three areas Hispanics have used technology to affect change--immigration, education, and voter registration.

Gus West of The Hispanic Institute said, "Latinos depend on mobile technology to engage with their fellow citizens – and the political process."

Almost nine out of every ten Hispanics owns a mobile phone, compared to just eight in ten non-Hispanic whites. 53% of Hispanics use mobile devices to access the internet, while only 33% of non-Hispanic whites do the same.

Technology is transforming the way that individuals connect with their communities and is effectively reducing information barriers for mobile populations. Nevertheless, nonprofits must continue to work with their clients and constituents to close turnout gaps and ensure full participation in elections.

Read the full report.

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Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Michigan Registers New Citizens

On May 11 in Dearborn, Michigan, the U.S. welcomed a new cohort of citizens into the American family. Representatives from the Secretary of State's office staffed an on-site voter registration table, allowing newly naturalized citizens to register following the ceremony.

Michigan Secretary of State Ruth Johnson said "I encourage [Michigan's newest citizens] to take a few moments to register to vote so that they can exercise their right to vote and have their voice be heard at the ballot box."

Nonprofit VOTE and our partners have participated in organization-sponsored efforts to register new citizens following naturalization ceremonies, but it is particularly heartening to see Michigan's top election official proactively registering eligible voters after citizenship ceremonies!

These ceremonies are a natural venue for voter registration outreach because they gather together a group of newly eligible--but unregistered--citizens ripe for the registering. In addition to having volunteers or staff on-site to register voters, organizers should also include a voter registration form in the paperwork packet each new citizen receives so that no eligible voter is overlooked and everyone has the opportunity to participate.

Great job Michigan, we hope other states follow your lead on this!

(The photograph was taken during a September 2010 naturalization ceremony at Fenway Park, home of the Boston Red Sox.)

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Nonprofit Advocacy Impacts Southern States

A new study by the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy found that advocacy by nonprofit organizations in four Southern states brought more than $4.7 billion in benefits to low-wage workers, families, and other underserved populations. The study analyzed the impact of 20 advocacy and community organizing groups in Alabama, Arkansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi between 2005 and 2009.

The study found that for every dollar invested in the policy and civic engagement of the organizations, there was a return of $114 in benefits to local communities. Yes, you read that correctly--$114 for every $1. So in case you were wondering if your hard work on advocacy campaigns and voter engagement outreach was paying off, the answer is a resounding "Yes!"

Congratulations to our state and national partners working in those areas--like the Louisiana Association of Nonprofit Organizations (LANO) and the Mississippi Center for Nonprofits--as well as all the local nonprofits for their contributions to the region!

Read the full study "Strengthening Democracy, Increasing Opportunities: Impacts of Advocacy, Organizing and Civic Engagement in the Gulf/Midsouth Region."

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Monday, May 16, 2011

Access Last Week's Webinar

Many thanks to last week's webinar attendees! We are pleased that so many joined us for Nonprofits Increase Voter Participation: New Research from the Field to hear about the importance of nonprofit voter engagement.

Whether or not you were able to tune in, you can still access the materials online: download the PowerPoint and the audio portion of the presentation in MP3 format. You can also watch the full presentation online.

If you have questions for any of our presenters, you can reach them using the contact information below.

Kelly LeRoux
Assistant Professor, Public Administration, University of Illinois at Chicago
Email: kleroux@uic.edu

Rachid Elabed
Civic Engagement & Field Coordinator, ACCESS
Email: relabed@accesscommunity.org

Lindsey Hodel
Director of Training and Partnerships
Nonprofit VOTE
Phone: (303) 910-5700
Email: lhodel@nonprofitvote.org

We'll be sharing more information about the study shortly, so stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

Share Your Story

Is your nonprofit registering new voters? Gearing up for a municipal election? Designing a candidate questionnaire? Well then let us know! At Nonprofit VOTE we love to hear from nonprofit organizations about the voter participation activities, projects, and events you're working on, as well as why does your nonprofit participates in this work. So no matter how your nonprofit is approaching and promoting voter engagement, we want to celebrate your dedication and achievements. And because it's National Photo Month perhaps you'll oblige us by including a picture documenting the incredible impact of your work. Email us your challenges, successes, lessons learned--anything--just be in touch!

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Rx Democracy! Weighs in on Florida Legislation

Dr. Rishi Manchanda, founder of our partner Rx Democracy! recently responded to proposed legislation in Florida (House Bill 1355--which has been passed--and Senate Bill 2086) and explained why all medical professionals should take note.

In addition to making it more difficult for "college students, military personnel, low-income and minority voters and anyone who might change addresses" to vote, Manchanda believes that the proposed law will also negatively effect health professionals. Like all working Americans, health professionals benefit from the flexibility of early voting options and in Florida about a third of voters cast their ballot before Election Day in 2008.

Proponents of the legislation argue that new measures are needed to prevent voter fraud, but Manchanda points out that between January 2008 and March 2011 there were 31 cases of alleged voter fraud, with only three resulting in arrests. In fact, "it is more likely that a person will be struck by lightning than be impersonated by another voter at the polls."

Rx Democracy! believes that a strong democratic process and high levels of participation, particularly among the most vulnerable, are essential for creating healthy communities. Read the full piece, also available via the Huffington Post.

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Monday, May 9, 2011

Thursday's Webinar Features New Voter Participation Research

Please join us on Thursday for a webinar that will show just how effective nonprofit voter engagement is and why your nonprofit should be doing it.

Nonprofits Increase Voter Participation: New Research from the Field
Thursday, May 12th at 2:00pm Eastern
Learn about exciting new evidence documenting the impact nonprofits have when they talk to their clients and constituents about voting. Professor Kelly LeRoux will discuss a new study that tracked the outcomes of nonprofit service providers that contacted their clients about voting.

Conducted during the 2010 midterm election with assistance from Nonprofit VOTE and the Michigan Nonprofit Association, the study reveals that when nonprofits discussed voting with clients, their likelihood of both voting and talking to their families and friends about the election increased. Professor LeRoux, the principal researcher, will share her findings and discuss the implications for nonprofits and our role in increasing voter participation in 2012 and beyond.

Featured Presenters: Kelly LeRoux is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Administration at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where she teaches courses in nonprofit management. Dr. LeRoux's research has been published in more than a dozen public and nonprofit management journals, including the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, the Public Administration Review, and the Journal of Urban Affairs. She is currently working on a book titled "Nonprofits and Voter Mobilization in the U.S." Rachid Elabed is the Civic Engagement and Field Coordinator with the Arab Community Center for Economic and Social Services (ACCESS)--one of the organizations that participated in the study--and leads their advocacy, field and civic engagement work in Michigan.


Friday, May 6, 2011

UK's Alternative Vote Headed for Defeat

Yesterday voters in the United Kingdom went to the polls to decide whether or not to change the voting system used to elect members of the House of Commons, the lower house of parliament. It was only the second time a national referendum has been held throughout the United Kingdom, and the first since the national referendum in 1975.

Voters were asked, "At present, the UK uses the 'first past the post' system to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the 'alternative vote' system be used instead?" Based on initial reports, the alternative vote electoral system will be soundly defeated, leaving the first-past-the-post system intact.

One of the most notable celebrity endorsements for the alternative vote system came from Colin Firth, who was recently honored for his role in The King's Speech.

The alternative vote electoral system is known more commonly as instant runoff voting (IRV) or ranked choice voting here in the U.S., and is used most notably in cities like San Francisco, Oakland, Minneapolis, several locations in North Carolina, and elsewhere.

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Thursday, May 5, 2011

Lax NVRA Compliance Leaves Void for Nonprofits to Fill

Last month, Project Vote and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a complaint to force Louisiana into compliance with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), and ensure that low-income residents have the opportunity to register to vote. The suit follows in the wake of other successful complaints in both Ohio and Missouri where the number of voters registering at public agencies has ballooned. In Ohio in the first six months of 2010 more than 100,000 low-income residents registered to vote at public assistance offices. That number (17,000 applications per month) is almost a ten-fold increase in the number of registration applications public assistance offices collected before the lawsuit (1,775 per month).

Lawsuits are not always necessary to force compliance, however. Colorado officials worked proactively to bring the state into compliance with the NVRA and as a result, public agency registrations in Colorado increased from just over 3,300 in 2007 to nearly 44,000 in 2010.

While it is critical that public agencies fulfill their obligation to register voters, this alone is not enough. There is still a crucial role for nonprofits to play. Many nonprofit clients receive public assistance and when state agencies do not actively register these potential voters, nonprofits must ensure that their clients nevertheless have an opportunity to register to vote. Even in states that are fully compliant with the NVRA, many eligible voters will still be missed, including individuals served by your organization. Nonprofits can help close this gap by ensuring that your clients have the opportunity to register, participate, and make their voices heard. Get started today!