Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Celebrating the Americans with Disabilities Act

Yesterday was the 21st anniversary of the signing of the Americans with Disabilities Act, guaranteeing equal opportunity for people with disabilities in public accommodations, commercial facilities, employment, transportation, state and local government services and telecommunications.

According to the Census Bureau, 36 million Americans have a disability, 12% of the civilian noninstitutionalized population.

Because of the particular challenges people with disabilities face, the American Association of People with Disabilities recognized the need to organize the disability community--and its supporters--to advocate for disability rights at the polls and in the election process. Therefore they launched the Disability Vote Project, a nonpartisan initiative that works to eliminate the barriers to voting and to increase political participation for people with disability interests.

Today, there are Disability Vote Coalitions in 13 states, and almost 70% of the nation's polling places have accessible voting machines. While this is substantial progress, work must continue to ensure that all ballots and polling locations are accessible to individuals with disabilities.

Everyday, countless nonprofit organizations serve individuals with disabilities, and one of the best ways to guarantee that equal opportunities exist is to make sure that eligible individuals 1) register to vote, and 2) cast their ballot! Many already incorporate voter participation outreach into their ongoing work, and your nonprofit can too--learn more about how you can help get out the disability vote!

(Image Source

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Thursday's Webinar: Nonprofits and Ballot Measures

Laws on the Ballot: How Nonprofits Can Take a Stand on Ballot Questions 
Thursday, July 28th at 2:00pm Eastern
Many states put laws and constitutional amendments on the ballot, asking voters to make critical public policy decisions at the polls. Often, nonprofits have a vested interest in the outcome of these questions because they directly affect our organizations and communities. Learn how your nonprofit can take action and benefit from engaging the public around ballot measures. We will address why your work on ballot measures is considered "lobbying," rather than "electioneering" and what nonprofits can do in their advocacy efforts for or against ballot measures.

Featured Presenters: Abby Levine is the Legal Director for Advocacy Programs at the Alliance for Justice. Prior to joining the Alliance, she was a Public Policy Analyst at the National Council of Nonprofit Associations where she monitored and analyzed issues affecting the nonprofit sector--such as challenges to nonprofit tax exemptions and advocacy, state budget cuts, streamlining government grants, and corporate governance. Ben Dudley is the Executive Director of Engage Maine where he oversees the collaborative work of their partner organizations.  He has also represented part of the City of Portland for four terms in the Maine House of Representatives and has held positions with several Maine nonprofit organizations and political campaigns.


Friday, July 22, 2011

Connecticut Seeks to Improve Elections

Great news: Connecticut is looking for ways to improve and update their election systems! Earlier this week, Secretary of State Denise Merrill convened an Election Performance Task Force to review Connecticut's election system and recommend improvements. Members of the task force include Secretary Merrill and her deputy, town clerks, representatives from Common Cause, Demos and the Connecticut League of Women Voters, voter registrars, a member of the state elections enforcement commission, and others (see the full Task Force).

The group's goal is to make voting more convenient for voters, while also incorporating innovative technology that will make conducting elections easier for local officials. Additionally, the task force will look at turnout gaps and examine any registration or voting barriers. Possible reforms could include the adoption of online voter registration or Election Day registration, as well as reforms to the absentee ballot process, and changes that would create greater consistency from town to town. Task force meetings are open to the public and information about the task force will be posted on the Secretary of State's website.

The force's formation comes after an announcement last month that the state was awarded a federal grant of $1,184,441 from the U.S. Election Assistance Commission that can be used to enhance voting technology--such as maintaining or enhancing optical scan voting machines, testing or investing in new voting systems for disabled voters, and making improvements to the state Centralized Voter Registration database.

Congrats to Secretary Merrill and her staff for their forward thinking, hard work, and leadership in improving elections in Connecticut!

(Image Source)

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Homeless Registrations Rise in Kentucky

Recently, Kentucky has seen a rise in the number of voter registration forms submitted by homeless individuals. As a result, State Board of Elections Executive Director Sarah Ball Johnson wrote a memo to the state's county clerks, instructing them to approve all voter registration applications from people who are homeless--even if clerks can't verify the address on the form.

Although the policy has been in place since 1998, Johnson felt it necessary to clarify the rules for the many newly elected county clerks, some of whom had expressed concern about possible voter fraud. The current policy accepts "homeless" or "place to place" in the address field, however, Republican Secretary of State candidate Bill Johnson said he will either file an ethics complaint or motion in court to require that voters provide an identifiable location.

Despite being homeless, "Those people still have the right and also the responsibility in our country to vote," said David Hammers, who runs a mission in Covington. Moreover, local homeless advocates point out that the homeless are no more likely to commit voter fraud than any other person.

While asking individuals to list an intersection, park, or the address of a shelter is unlikely to be overly burdensome, it is nevertheless important to ensure that policies do not create registration barriers. Being homeless is challenging enough, and registering to vote shouldn't be another hardship. As with other marginalized groups, voting is an important act that can foster a sense of belonging within the community and allow individuals facing hardship to make a difference. The Veteran's Party of America has a chart that breaks down the state-by-state policies on homeless registration.

Although no one can say exactly how many homeless registrations have been received, it is possible that someone--perhaps a nonprofit organization--is communicating with the homeless community about the importance of registering to vote. Want to incorporate conversations about voting and elections into your nonprofit's work? Visit our website for information and materials to help get started!

(Image Source)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Vote vs. Voter

Question: What's the difference between the importance of voting and the importance of being a voter?
Answer: A 14% difference in turnout.

A new study by Stanford social psychologist Christopher Bryan suggests that voter turnout can be improved simply by calling someone a voter, rather than asking them to vote.

The study shows that subtle linguistic cues can increase voting behavior. As part of the study, surveys were sent to 133 registered voters in California the day before the 2008 election. Half were asked if it was important to vote, while the other half were asked if it was important to be a voter. The phrasing of the survey was varied to frame voting either as the enactment of a personal identity ("being a voter") or as simply a behavior ("voting").

Following the election, public voting records were used to determine that 82% of those who got the "vote" question actually voted, while 96% of the "voter" group did, a 14% difference. Surveys were also sent to 214 older registered voters from New Jersey prior to their gubernatorial election, and returned similar results--90% of the "voter" group turned out, compared to 79% of the "vote" group, an 11% difference. The results demonstrate how assuming or affirming valued personal identities can be channeled to motivate important socially relevant behavior.

Bryan has hypothesized that the increase in voter turnout among the "voters" is due to how people view themselves or would like to be seen. The survey's wording allowed a person to see themselves as a voter, something most consider a positive trait. On the other hand, asking people to vote is just like asking them to do anything else (like take out the garbage), and doesn't necessarily bring to mind any positive affiliations.

This has important implications for all kinds of groups interested in increasing turnout, particularly nonprofit organizations. The next time you talk to a client about voting, think about how you can phrase the conversation to frame them as a voter, rather than just asking them to vote. But remember, simply talking to your clients about voting makes them more likely to vote, and more likely to encourage their friends and family to vote.

(Image Source)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nonprofits Take Action on Budget Challenges

As state and federal budgets are tightened, nonprofits are being asked to shoulder a disproportionate share of cuts, while still being expected to maintain quality services. In response, many have stepped forward to advocate and lobby for their clients, their causes, and their funding. In addition to working with legislators, many nonprofits are recognizing the importance of mobilizing voters, and are ramping up their voter engagement activities. These voter engagement efforts translate into expanded advocacy, particularly when there are questions on the ballot.

This is readily apparent in Colorado, where the state constitution requires voters to approve any tax policy change at the polls. To solve the state's budget challenges--which have forced some municipalities to ask residents for donations in order to keep street lights on--Colorado has two choices: increase revenue or drastically cut services. With looming cuts, as well as the possibility that a proposed tax increase will go before voters in November, Colorado's nonprofit sector is preparing to mobilize around this important debate.

The Colorado Nonprofit Association's Fiscal Education Network (FEN)--a project that engages the nonprofit sector in fiscal education efforts--has reached more than 750 organizations through its webinar series and in-person forums, exceeding their original goal of 500 organizations. In partnership with the Colorado Participation Project, FEN also instructs nonprofits on voter engagement strategies as part of a holistic approach to nonprofit advocacy.

Mark Turner, the Manager of Public Policy at the Colorado Nonprofit Association found that it was a natural fit: "Colorado voters make the key decisions on state fiscal policy. The partnership of FEN with the Colorado Partnership Project helps us empower voters not only to decide who should represent them at the legislature, but also how state resources should be used to serve Colorado."

Colorado nonprofits are not along in recognizing the importance of broadening public policy debates. After a long, hard-fought legislative session, the North Carolina Center for Nonprofits is making sure that nonprofits know how to engage candidates, and will feature a workshop on hosting candidate forums at their annual conference.

The California Participation Project (CPP) works with nonprofits and human service agencies across the state, many of which have mobilized around the state budget debate. The ongoing budget crisis has helped demonstrate the relevance and importance of nonprofit voter engagement work by linking it directly with critical public policy decisions. CPP believes that by strengthening and involving a larger electorate, nonprofits can complement their ongoing advocacy efforts to address community needs and hold officials accountable.

Many nonprofits are engaging the budget process at the local level as well. Earlier this week, the New Orleans Coalition for Open Governance hosted a free training on "The Budget Breakdown" to help encourage greater community participation in the New Orleans budgeting process. LatiNola encouraged their constituents to attend, reminding them that Spanish interpretation at municipal courts was one of 22 unfunded priorities in public safety and was almost cut from the budget last year. By helping the community better understand the budget process, these groups are facilitating community-wide discussion and giving citizens the ability to influence how their tax dollars are spent on public safety, children and families, economic development, sustainable communities, open and effective government, and innovation.

Across the country nonprofits of all shapes and sizes are grappling with the impact of further cuts, and are using their nonpartisan status to mobilize supporters and engage the public around voting, elections, and public policy. These efforts have not gone unnoticed and nonprofit voter engagement will continue to be a critical tool in current and future budget battles.

Is your nonprofit engaged in budget debates at the local, state, or national level? Tell us about it!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Coalition Pushes to Restore EDR in Maine

In June, we reported that Maine repealed its long tradition of allowing voters to register and cast their ballot on Election Day.

Luckily, the story doesn't end there: a people's veto campaign is underway to restore Election Day Registration (EDR) to Maine. The movement is spearheaded by a collation of nonprofits, including the Maine Women's Lobby, Engage Maine, the Disability Rights Center, Maine Education Association, the Maine League of Young Voters, and others.

Last week, the Maine secretary of state approved the wording for the referendum question that could potentially appear on the ballot: "Do you want to reject the section of Chapter 399 of the Public Laws of 2011 that requires new voters to register to vote at least two business days prior to an election?"

Signature gathering kick-off events were held on Friday, and volunteers began their work over the weekend. They have less than a month to collect more than 57,000 signatures in order to put the issue on the November ballot. If they are unable to meet that deadline, they would still have the opportunity to put the question before voters in June 2012.

EDR has been popular in Maine, with close to 60,000 voters using it in November 2008, along with 18,000 voters in last year's midterm. By making voting more convenient, EDR helps to boost turnout--states with EDR have turnout rates that are 10-12% higher than states without it.

While many states are restricting access to the ballot with new voter ID laws and shortened early voting periods, it's exciting to see a well-organized, nonprofit-led movement taking a stand for voting rights.

Read our factsheet to learn more about what 501(c)(3) nonprofits can (and can't) do on ballot measures and join us later this month for a webinar on ballot questions.

Want to help? Maine voters can help preserve EDR by volunteering to collect signatures.

(Image Source)

Monday, July 11, 2011

July Webinar: How Nonprofits Can Work on Ballot Questions

In the spirit of American independence, join us for our July webinar on direct democracy.

Laws on the Ballot: How Nonprofits Can Take a Stand on Ballot Questions
Thursday July 28th, 2:00-3:00pm Eastern
Many states put laws and constitutional amendments on the ballot, asking voters to make critical public policy decisions at the polls. Often, nonprofits have a vested interest in the outcome because many ballot questions directly affect our organizations and communities. Learn how your nonprofit can take action and benefit from engaging the public around ballot measures. We will address why this is considered "lobbying," rather than "electioneering" and what nonprofits can do in their advocacy efforts for or against ballot measures.

Featured Presenters: Abby Levine is the Legal Director for Advocacy Programs at the Alliance for Justice. Prior to joining the Alliance, she was a Public Policy Analyst at the National Council of Nonprofit Associations (NCNA) where she monitored and analyzed issues affecting the nonprofit sector--such as challenges to nonprofit tax exemptions and advocacy, state budget cuts, streamlining government grants, and corporate governance. Stephanie Tama-Sweet co-chairs the Human Services Coalition of Oregon (HSCO), which advocates for the health and dignity of all Oregonians and has been involved with numerous ballot measures. She is also the Director of Government Relations for the American Heart Association in Oregon and previously served as a Public Policy Advocate at the Oregon Food Bank.

Friday, July 8, 2011

South Sudan to Become World's Newest Nation

Tomorrow, South Sudan will officially become an independent nation, a day that also marks the expiration of the 2005 north-south peace deal.

The UN is expected to convene next week to vote on (and most likely approve) South Sudan's membership in the UN, making it the 193rd member country.

Back in January, almost 99% of Sudanese voters cast their ballots for independence. Almost 4 million people voted, putting turnout at 97.58 percent. 14,588 ballots were either blank or declared invalid (about 0.37% of the votes cast). The election came six years after the end of a civil war that lasted two decades, left millions dead, and traumatized millions more.

While the election itself was successfully administered, South Sudan must now face the challenge of delivering services to over 8 million people and building nationwide infrastructure in "one of the most underdeveloped countries on the planet," where only 15% of the population can read. There is also the prospect of renewed violent conflict, both with the north as well as internally. Although applauding the election, President Obama noted that, "there must be an end to attacks on civilians in Darfur and a definitive end to that conflict."

(Image Source)

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Project Vote Files NVRA Suit in Georgia

One of the reasons we encourage nonprofits to register their clients and constituents to vote is because many states are not fully compliant with the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which requires public agencies to register voters.

Recently, successful lawsuits in both Ohio and Missouri forced compliance and caused the number of voters registering at public agencies to balloon. 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 collected at public assistance offices before the lawsuit (1,775 per month). In Colorado, officials brought the state into compliance without a lawsuit, and as a result public agency registrations increased from just over 3,300 in 2007 to nearly 44,000 in 2010.

However, last month Project Vote and other groups filed a lawsuit in Georgia to require the state to properly implement the NVRA. The Georgia secretary of state has acknowledged that they "did not have consistent NVRA policies," because when the law first took effect, they received more than 100,000 voter registration applications, but in 2010, the number of was just 4,430. Earlier this year Project Vote and the NAACP Legal Defense Fund filed a similar suit in Louisiana.

While many states are taking care to ensure that public agencies are reaching eligible voters (or being forced to), it is still not enough. Many of the individuals who use public assistance are underrepresented and underserved, and are less likely to participate in the political process. Nonprofits can help close this gap: in addition to voter registration, your organization can also educate voters, engage candidates, and conduct get-out-the-vote activities in an effort to cultivate a robust civil society. Learn more about how your nonprofit can ensure that your community is engaged and represented!

(Image Source)