How We Addressed Voter Registration and Food Insecurity Challenges During the Pandemic
By Kayla Smith, Northeast Regional Director
It’s clear that the 2020 election cycle was historic for a number of reasons. COVID-19 has affected nearly every facet of our lives, including voting. But in 2020, nearly 100 million Americans voted early and we witnessed record-breaking voter turnout — especially among young people and people of color. When We All Vote’s Civic Cities program helped guide cities to make voting accessible and increase voter participation. This included commitments from a group of 100 bipartisan Mayors that took up our call to make voting more accessible in their city — this including actions such as providing city employees paid leave to serve as poll workers, hosting virtual voter registration and education events to reach residents where they are, and sharing safe voting information with constituents through digital platforms and mailers.
In this historic election, the Civic Cities initiative developed key partnerships with local organizations, mayors, and nonprofits to bring fun, community-oriented events like our Fuel the Vote series to life and connect with voters in their own communities in a safe, accessible way.
Fuel the Vote
When We All Vote’s Civic Cities initiative encourages and supports mayors in taking a leading role in closing the voting race and age gap and fundamentally shifts the culture around voting in every election, from school board races to federal elections. Despite the pandemic, the Civic Cities initiative was poised to utilize existing relationships with mayors, partners, and local organizations to safely engage voters in their communities and address a critical issue faced by millions as a result of the pandemic — food insecurity.
Beginning in late August through early October, When We All Vote hosted 13 drive-thru food distribution and voter registration drives in 13 cities across the country including Raleigh-Durham, Charlotte, Detroit, Atlanta, Augusta, Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, Phoenix, Navajo Nation, Miami, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and Milwaukee. These events not only provided groceries, meals, and other household items such as diapers and books, they also served as opportunities for people to register to vote or check their voter registration status in-person. Trained community volunteers were on-site to register attendees and answer any questions about the voting process. These events also featured live DJs who played music for all to enjoy while attendees waited in line in their vehicles — this helped give these events a fun, festive and community-oriented feel. We were proud to partner with World Central Kitchen, Janelle Monae’s Wondaland, and Live Nation Urban. Ultimately, the Fuel the Vote initiative served approximately 14,000 people, over 831 people were registered to vote, and over 2,389 people committed to vote in the upcoming election.
Early Vote Activations
In late September, When We All Vote announced ‘When We All Vote Together’ — a partnership with Civic Nation’s #VoteTogether, Lebron James’ More Than a Vote, and World Central Kitchen. #VoteTogether, a project of Civic Nation and a national initiative, works to change voting culture and increase voter participation by focusing on bolstering community relationships and engagement through celebration. #VoteTogether collaborates with local organizations, national nonprofits and major companies to host community celebrations near polling locations during the early voting period and on Election Day.
Our When We All Vote Together initiative provided mini-grants to over 60 trusted local partners across our focus states to host COVID-safe voting celebrations at early voting sites. In total, 120 activations were hosted to celebrate and build momentum around early voting with state and local organizations, colleges and universities, local governments, and high schools as mini-grant recipients. Early voting events ranged from mariachi bands at voting locations to trail rides to the polls on horseback. Amid numerous safety precautions and fears of voter suppression, these early voting celebrations proved to be helpful in making the act of voting fun, safe, accessible, and community-focused.
Continuing to engage in EVERY election: The Georgia Runoff
Efforts to engage voters didn’t end on November 3rd. Georgia’s runoff election provided an opportunity for us to continue with lessons learned and engage with Georgia’s voters. The Civic Cities initiative oversaw partnerships with seven national affiliate and grassroots organizations in Georgia to host over 30 early vote and Election Day activations targeting minority voters and young and inconsistent voters.
#VoteTogether microgrants allowed partners to host multiple events during the early vote period and on Election Day in the Atlanta/Fulton County metropolitan areas, and the surrounding counties of Cobb, DeKalb, Clayton, and Gwinnett. More importantly, partners expanded their reach in rural counties throughout Georgia in targeted counties with large African American populations — Bibb, Chatham, Richmond, Muscogee, and Dougherty Counties. Partners hosted a number of creative and culturally defining celebrations, a few of which included:
- The Transformative Justice Coalition’s “John Lewis Good Trouble Marches” — these statewide marches and motorcades were held to commemorate civil rights leader John Lewis.
- The New Georgia Project’s Party at the Polls and Holiday Relief Jam — these activations celebrated early voting and offered Georgia families a little relief during the holiday season.
- The Georgia Alliance for Progress Early Vote Tailgates — these tailgates created awareness in Columbus and Macon to kick off the early voting period with celebrity influencers; and then held similar tailgates in Savannah and Augusta, GA.
- The People’s Uprising Pull Up To The Polls and Georgia Runoff Roll Bounce GOTV Skate Party — these celebrations celebrated early voting with young voters in the Atlanta University Center.
What We Learned
Even during the most unusual of circumstances, we’ve pivoted to new ways of effectively organizing and relationship building, which has allowed us to reach voters in their communities even in the midst of a pandemic. Despite the impact of COVID-19 and continued social distancing norms, it’s clear that there’s still an appetite for in-person, community-oriented civic engagement activities (all conducted safely with COVID precautions in place). Research shows that when voters are encouraged to vote through celebrations, a downstream effect occurs and is habit-forming, and these events were most successful because they were conducted in partnership with local, trusted partners. With vaccines making their way to the public, we hope to see COVID-19 under control in the coming months. But hopefully these fun, diverse, community-serving voting celebrations are here to stay.