National Voter Registration Day is Sept. 24, 2019. Every year, on the fourth Tuesday in September, volunteers blanket their communities to encourage voter registration. During the 2018 event, more than 800,000 voters registered nationwide.
While National Voter Registration Day has been successful since it started in 2012, companies, colleges, activities and individuals across the country are doing their part to get more people to the polls. Read on to see some of the most creative ways that have gotten people to vote.
Leveraging the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Craze
People went crazy trying to find the elusive new Popeyes chicken sandwich when it was released in August 2019. So an enterprising teenager in Charlotte, North Carolina, thought it was a perfect opportunity to promote voting.
David Ledbetter, 17, hung out at a local Popeyes, where people waited to score a tasty sandwich. There, he distributed voter registration cards and sample ballots and encouraged people to show up at the polls.
Targeting Theatergoers at a Play About an Election
The Broadway show “The Great Society” covers President Lyndon B. Johnson’s initial election and his painful decision not to run again. People attending performances in New York City starting on Sept. 6 have been able to take part in a mock vote for the 2020 presidential nominees for the Republican and Democratic parties in “The Great Society Primary.” At select performances, volunteers were stationed in the lobby to help theatergoers register to vote for real.
Pictured: The Great Society cast and creative team
Dazzling Would-Be Voters With a Flash Mob
Flash mobs can be one way to get younger voters to the polls. In Memphis, Tennessee, 100 teenagers were trained in the fine art of breaking into dance routines in public in order to draw attention to a program called “#Turn Up the Vote: 901 Flash Mob and Civic Engagement Training.”
Once they hooked their audience, they moved to a pro-voting song and dance act. In addition to encouraging voters, the program aimed to teach young people about civic engagement.
Pictured: Flash mob of dancers and singers
Inspiring Women Voters With 'Twelve Angry Men' Performed by Women
Despite its title, the play “Twelve Angry Men” is being used to inspire women voters with performances read by an all-female cast. Twelve Broadway actresses joined together in New York City in September 2018 to perform readings of the play and encourage voter registration, which could be done right at the theater.
In April 2019, women in dozens of communities across the U.S. staged readings of the play. The women involved shared information on how to increase local voter registration and how to encourage people to get out and vote.
Pictured: At the 12,000 Voices Kickoff on Sept. 16, 2018: 11 of the 12 jurors cast their initial “guilty” votes. From left to right: Chilina Kennedy (“Beautiful”), Ana Villafañe (“On Your Feet”), Dale Soules (“Orange is the New Black”), Ariana DeBose (Steven Spielberg’s “Westside Story”), Jill Paice (“An American in Paris”), Caitlin Kinnunen (“The Prom”), Ann Harada (“Avenue Q”), Amber Iman (“Hamilton” National Tour), Lynn Cohen (“The Hunger Games”), Kathleen Chalfant (“Angels in America”), Jenn Gambatese (“School of Rock”) and Jenn Colella (“Come From Away”)
Registering Voters at Music Festivals and Concerts
The Bonnaroo Music & Arts Festival has been one outlet that encourages its audience to register to vote. And it had its highest turnout yet in 2019, with 1,390 voter registrations.
The effort was led by HeadCount, a nonprofit organization that works with musicians to promote voter registration. It started in 2004 and has registered more than 600,000 voters at more than 5,000 music festivals and concerts. It’s working to add at least 200,000 more registered voters for the 2020 presidential election.
Pop-Up Artist Performances
One voter registration event in Austin, Texas, offered free performances by local artists to encourage the creative community to work toward positive change. The event also offered opportunities to work on phone banks, do block walks and send out mailings to help voters get more involved in the political process. Potential voters could also meet some of the candidates.
Pictured: Concert in Austin, Texas
Registering Voters at Pride Events
June is National Pride Month, and youth voter registration campaigner NextGen America rode on the event’s rainbow coattails to sign up more voters at Pride celebrations in 10 states. NextGen, which signed up 257,000 voters for the last midterm election, grew out of modest efforts, getting patrons in gay bars registered to vote. Now its campaign reaches the strategic states of Arizona, Florida, Iowa, Michigan, New Hampshire, Nevada, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Promoting the Vote on Ariana Grande’s 'Sweetener' Tour
Ariana Grande kicked off her “Sweetener” World Tour in March 2019, and it’s racking up more than just impressive ticket sales. The singer partnered with HeadCount to help register young voters, and the registrations started rolling in.
Grande makes it especially easy for her fans to register. If they’re unable to attend a concert to register, they can simply text Ariana to 40649 to automate the process wherever they are.
Pictured: Ariana Grande performing at Billboard’s 13th Annual Women in Music Show
Offering Competition to the Popeyes Chicken Sandwich Along With Voter Registration
Nomad Deli in Richmond, Virginia, can’t compete directly with the massive Popeyes chicken sandwich campaign, but it still tossed down the gauntlet with its Big Fried Chick sandwich.
The shop invited locals to come in and try their fried chicken sandwich, garnished with onions, grilled peppers, jalapenos and provolone cheese, cradled between two slices of garlic toast. Patrons were also encouraged to take care of their voter registration right at the restaurant.
Pictured: Nomad Deli Big Fried Chick sandwich
Letting Voters Register at Wine and Spirits Stores
Most of the voter registration sites in Delaware County, Pennsylvania, are run of the mill, like the Delaware County Government Center and the local libraries and municipal buildings. But you can also buy your favorite alcoholic beverage and register to vote at the state wine and spirit stores.
Peer pressure gets kids in trouble, but when they reach voting age, it’s useful to get them out to the polls. Social norms are a strong motivator. A 2012 study published by Nature Research used an “I Voted” button on Facebook that enticed 340,000 people to vote. When potential voters saw the button on Facebook posts disclosing which of their friends had voted, they were more likely to follow suit.
Getting Would-Be Voters To Commit
If you can get someone to commit to voting, research shows that they’re likely to follow through. This strategy was used in the 2012 presidential election when individuals were given cards that asked for their pledge to vote on Election Day. This tactic doesn’t even require a card to work. A study published in Psychological Science that was conducted during the 2008 presidential election revealed that simply helping people makes plans to vote boosted voter turnout by 4.1%.
Pictured: Citizens registering to vote in Miami, Florida
Exhibiting Political Cartoons
Political cartoons are a staple of social critique, and when they’re focused on hot-button issues, they can also help get out the vote. Artist Steve Brodner has exhibited political cartoons at a New York gallery to bring awareness to President Donald Trump’s policies and to social movements like #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. By showcasing the work of 53 artists, he hoped to show people why it’s so important to bring about change through voting.
Pictured: Political cartoon of Donald Trump
Making a Political Statement With Handbags
Hot-button issues help inspire people to vote, and artist Michele Pred creates fashionable handbags to bring awareness to feminist topics and the gun violence debate. The handbags are marked with political statements, and while they can be carried at any time, she’s used them to inspire voters by having them worn in protest marches held around election times.
Hooking Them While They’re Young
Kids learn all kinds of skills in school that will help them in adulthood, so why not add voting to the curriculum? The state of Kansas did just that, using the Kids Voting USA civics education model.
Not only did teaching youngsters how to vote make them more likely to follow through when they reached age 18, but it also affected their parents. Voter participation was over 2% higher among 18-year-olds who went through the program, as well as among their mothers and fathers.
Meeting Voters Where They Live
If you make voting as convenient as possible, it logically follows that more people will vote. Colorado uses this strategy by allowing people to cast their votes without ever leaving home. This program boosted overall voter participation by up to 5%. It worked especially well with younger voters, increasing their participation by 9%, according to the Center for American Progress.
Letting Voters Register on Election Day
We live in an on-demand society where we increasingly expect immediate gratification. Allowing same-day voter registration taps into the demographic that’s used to streaming television shows on-demand and ordering merchandise that’s delivered within two hours. In the many states now trying this approach, voter participation typically rises by an average of 5%, according to the Center for American Progress.
When someone’s friends ask them, “Hey, did you vote today?” they can run out and do it rather than waiting for the next election and possibly forgetting to register in the meantime. This system is especially effective for historically underrepresented groups. In the 2012 election, 41% of voters in North Carolina who took advantage of same-day registration were African American.
Using Sex To 'Sell' the Vote
“Sex sells” is an old advertising maxim that applies to almost everything, even voter registration. Although many voter registration strategies are aimed at younger voters, Equality Illinois Education Project addressed baby boomers with a seductive ad.
The campaign was a follow-up to a series of ads known as “Vote Naked Illinois” that seduced the state’s voters a few years earlier. That tongue-in-cheek campaign emphasized that, with absentee ballots, you don’t even need to wear pants to vote.
Pictured: Voters mark their paper ballots near a row of pool tables at Pressure Billiards and Cafe in Chicago
Sending the Oval Office on College Tours
Obviously 7-Eleven is known for its brain freeze-inducing Slurpees, but the convenience store chain also has a unique way of motivating college-age adults to vote. It has a special tour bus that contains a replica of the Oval Office and visits college campuses. In the past, the chain also held its own informal election polls by printing candidates’ faces on coffee cups and tracking customer preference by sales of each cup design.
Offering a Bounce House for Registered Voters Only
Who doesn’t love a bounce house? They’re a staple at children’s parties, and the University of Minnesota gambled that their appeal could still hold sway over adults.
The school held a Voterpalooza event to encourage voter registration, offering an array of salty and sweet treats like popcorn and cotton candy. The pièce de résistance: Only people who registered could enter the giant inflatable house, where they could also meet the Minneapolis mayor.
Holding a Poster Contest
The American Institute of Graphic Arts enlists graphic arts students to help them encourage voter registration. The trade association sponsors a “Get Out the Vote” poster competition every four years. Students channel their creativity into nonpartisan pleas to vote using drawings and photography.
Pictured: Michelle Obama, Al Franken, and Mark Dayton attend a “Get Out The Vote” rally
Making Voting Fashionable
The State University of New York at Oswego holds events to encourage its students to register to vote. That includes open mic nights, film screenings and debates, but one of the most creative is a fashion show. The events continue through election night, culminating in a major party as students wait to see the winners.
Providing Free Rides to the Polls
Thanks to ride-shares, Lyft and Uber helped ensure voters had a ride to the polls. In the past, Lyft partnered with voter activation groups to offer free or discounted rides to the polls. Competitor Uber provided free ride codes to voter groups and let people find their nearest polling location right within the app.
Giving Voters Free Food
Various local and national restaurants and chains like Krispy Kreme and Chuck E. Cheese offer free food to people who vote on Election Day. Technically it’s illegal to bribe voters with freebies, even when you’re not trying to influence their choice of candidate, but companies have found a loophole. While they might advertise that you need an “I Voted” sticker, they stay in the clear by giving the free stuff to anyone who asks.
Partnering With Popular Brands
Partnering with brands that potential voters trust can help build a positive association. The TurboVote Challenge forged links with companies like Target, Starbucks, Airbnb, MTV and Lyft to draw young people to its website. There, they learn about the voter registration process and how to help the site reach its goal of 80% voter turnout by 2024. TurboVote also used sites like Snapchat and Instagram to get voter registration links in front of social media fans.
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About the Author
Barb Nefer has been writing professionally for nearly 30 years, cutting her teeth as a news writer for the Daily Southtown in Chicago. She’s a doctor of psychology, and her eclectic expertise includes personal finance, psychology, travel and the pet industry. Her work reflects that diversity, with pieces appearing in places like About.com, CBS Local, Yahoo.com, WebPsychology, and Animal Wellness magazine.