Promoting a culture of voting and civic engagement within our nonprofit organizations - Generocity Philly

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Oct. 26, 2020 2:10 pm

Promoting a culture of voting and civic engagement within our nonprofit organizations

Guest columnist Lauren Cristella outlines five steps nonprofits can take to make the upcoming election a successful one.

(Photo by Jennifer Griffin on Unsplash)

This guest column was written by Lauren Cristella, chief advancement officer for the Committee of Seventy.
Roughly 36 percent of eligible Philadelphia voters didn’t vote in the 2016 election.

We cannot underestimate the important role nonprofits can play in driving voter turnout. Nonprofit employees are the very people who understand most why local, state, and national elections are key to delivering on their social missions for our most vulnerable communities. We’ve been thrilled to see so many nonprofit leaders step up and  do what they can to promote a culture of voting within their organizations, and across the communities they serve through our WeVote initiative and other efforts.

That’s because our region’s nonprofits understand better than most the needs of our communities. More than paying lip service to it, you know the structural change that needs to happen; and thus, you are primely positioned to carry the civic engagement message. Doing so sends a powerful message about your organization’s values, and is a reflection of the organization’s role within our society. Note that helping people vote is a safe, nonpartisan activity as long as you’re not telling or suggesting to someone whom to vote for or against.

So with just a week until November 3, what can nonprofits do to make this election a successful one?

To start, nonprofits should encourage them to trust the process. New voting systems and increased pathways to voting have resulted in a year with unprecedented access to the ballot, but also some confusion and anxiety about the process. No matter how you vote, trust that your vote will be counted and your voice will help determine who will represent your community in the Senate, in the House, and at the levels of state Attorney General, Auditor General, and Pennsylvania Treasurer.

Institutions across Pennsylvania have been pressuring elected officials for months to make sure that every single vote counts, and starting on the morning of November 3, these organizations will fight to make sure every valid vote is counted. Understanding the process increases trust, and that knowledge can and should be shared with your colleagues and the communities you serve.

Also, don’t call it Election Day.

Pennsylvanians have been voting for weeks and, with many mail-in ballots to count, we will likely not have “winners” by the time we go to bed on November 3, or in the wee hours of November 4. Help manage expectations and refer to it is Election Week, and do the following:

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  1. Educate voters on the voting process. Demystify the voting process by helping voters determine where, when, and how to vote. This is especially important with the expansion of mail-in voting, a new and unfamiliar process to many.
  2. Encourage your team and your community to complete and return their ballot now. Don’t wait. Carefully follow the simple instructions on your ballot, including remembering to put your ballot in the smaller secrecy envelope and seal it, then the larger return envelope, and then sign, date and sealing it before either mailing it, taking it to an election office, or taking it to a dropbox.
  3. Promote early voting opportunities. Registered Philadelphia voters can go to any of the 17 satellite election offices to complete their mail-in ballots. All locations are now full-service, allowing voters to apply for a mail-in ballot in person (until 5 p.m. on October 27), receive their ballot, complete their ballot, and return it, all in one visit. Voters can also deliver their ballots to a dropbox. The Philadelphia City Commissioners have installed three dropbox locations where voters from any part of the city can return their own voted ballot. These dropboxes are accessible 24/7, and they are located at:
    1. City Hall (South Broad Apron), 1400 John F. Kennedy Blvd, 19107
    2. Riverview Place (Columbus Boulevard side of the building), 520 N. Columbus Blvd, 19123
    3. The Eastern State Penitentiary, 2027 Fairmount Ave, 19130
  4. Help your community make a plan to vote. If you are voting in person, visit vote.pa/polls to find your polling place. If this is your first time voting at this location, bring a government ID and your voter registration card. Pick a time of day to vote. Polls are open from 7 a.m. until 8 p.m. on November 3. And plan your trip to the polls. Confirm a reliable way to get there.Rideshare apps are offering reduced or free fare for voting trips; and local organizations are planning free rides as well.
  5. Tie the nonprofit’s mission to the election. Help employees and your community understand the connection between voting and the services that a nonprofit provides. Without getting partisan, nonprofits can advance core values and give the people who care about essential charitable missions a reason to go to the polls.

Nonprofits are the backbone of every community, which is why your leadership is so critical to our democracy. Whatever path your community chooses, help them get there. Help them make sure their vote is counted and their voices are heard in this election season.

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