DO’s and DON’Ts of Voter Education
- DO educate your community on the issues that matter to your organization
- DO educate all the candidates on issues that matter to the people you serve
- Do advocate and educate on Ballot Measures – you can take a position Click here for more information on Ballot Measure Advocacy
- DON’T tell voters which candidate is best on your issue or who to vote for
- DO distribute sample ballots showing all local races
- DO co-sponsor a candidate forum or do a candidate questionnaire (Click here for “A Nonprofit’s Guide to Hosting a Candidate Forum”)
- DO give people nonpartisan voter guides, lists of websites of all candidates, etc.
- DON’T rate candidate’s positions on issues at election time
Voter Education Principles
Knowledge About the Voting Process
Many registered voters still lack the confidence and knowledge to take the time to vote in an election. Nonprofits are trusted messengers that can help voters with the when, where and how of voting.
- A person who votes will often to spread that knowledge to families, friends or neighbors.
Confidence about Casting a Ballot
One reason why people don’t vote is fear of failure. No one wants to feel unsure of what is on the ballot or where or how to vote. After voting once, it is easier to become a repeat voter.
- Voters have more confidence when they know the candidates or issues in at least one key race on the ballot.
- For polling place information, click here (if you are located in L.A. click here)
Urgency and Importance
Above all, voters benefit from a reason to vote. Research demonstrates that voters are much more likely to vote when they sense something is at stake – to gain or to lose. These voters not only believe that their vote will make a difference; they believe that the votes of their peers or community will have an impact as well.
- The urgency and importance your nonprofit communicates will make a difference in how your staff and constituents view voting.
What New Voters Want
The California organization Easy Voter researched why people do or don’t vote. For those that don’t, they found it wasn’t as much lack of time as lack of knowledge about their choices or unsure about the voting process.
New voters, in particularly, wanted more-
- Reasons why to vote from a peer perspective
- Help with or training about how to vote
- Basic information on what’s on the ballot, choosing a party or what the offices up for election are all about.
Voter Education on the Voting Process
Use your in-person contacts and communications to promote the when, where and how of voting. Some examples include:
- Election date
- Deadline to vote by mail or vote early (click here for vote by mail information) (click here if you are located in L.A.)
- Polling hours
- Polling places (click here to locate polling place) (if you are located in L.A. click here)
- Early voting locations
- How to vote absentee or early in-person (click here for vote by mail information)
- Where to get help voting
- ID needed, especially for first time voters or states with stricter requirements
Include Lessons About Voting
Does your nonprofit have classes and trainings? As a trusted source for new information, your group activities are a great vehicle for promoting knowledge on the voting process – especially for younger voters and new citizens
Sample classroom activities
- Hold a mock election at your nonprofit or in a neighborhood school (click here for mock student election information)
- Teach voting vocabulary words
- Discuss the principles of a fair democracy or fair election
- Pass out voter registration forms or sample ballots
- Cover specifics for your area – what races are on the ballot, how to vote, polling place locations, ballot initiatives
Do Special Education Activities
- Depending on who you serve, there are many approaches to voter education
- Hold a special event about the election for one of your programs. Serve food.
- Discuss the election with those who are not citizens and ways they can participate as a volunteer
- Find out how to improve voting access for low income and homeless persons: National Coalition for the Homeless’ You Don’t Need A Home to Vote Manual
- Currently or Formerly Incarcerated Californians can vote if they:
- Are in a local jail as a result of a misdemeanor conviction;
- Are awaiting trial or are currently on trial and have not yet been convicted of a crime;
- Have completed parole a felony conviction; or
- Are on probation
- For more information on the rights of those people who are incarcerated, please see the Secretary of State’s Voting Guide for Inmates.
Voter Education on Candidates and Ballot Measures
A sample ballot helps voters feel more comfortable with the process of voting, which gives them more confidence when casting their ballot. Print out copies of sample ballots and post them in your lobby, or have a stack of them available in waiting rooms and intake areas.
Check these links to find sample ballots
- Your State Election website
- The Los Angeles County Election website
- Your Local League of Women Voters
- Your Local Newspapers
Candidate questionnaires give your community members the opportunity to hear from the candidates on the key issues that matter to your organization. Additionally, candidate questionnaires are a great way to engage the candidates and let them know that your organization is interested and attentive to their positions.
Here are some basic to-do’s to be nonpartisan. For more on candidate questionnaires, go here.
- Cover a broad range of issues in your questions
- Make sure the questions are clear and unbiased
- Distribute the questionnaire to each candidate
- Give candidates a reasonable time period in which to respond, and try to make sure that each major candidate has responded
- If a candidate does not respond, write “Did Not Respond” under their name. Do not leave them out of the printed responses, or fill in their issue positions from external sources
- Make time to promote their answers to your all constituents and partners
Distribute Nonpartisan Voter Guides to Your Community Members
Nonpartisan candidate guides can be great documents to have on hand in a lobby or service area of a nonprofit organization. Not only do they provide an important, unbiased overview of what your community will be voting on come Election Day, they can be taken home by clients and shared and circulated among family and friends.
Where to find candidate guides
- Some State Election websites have official guides
- Nonpartisan organizations like the League of Women Voters or Smart Voter
- Issue coalitions in your area that produce candidate guides for their members
- Close to major elections, the California Participation Project website posts instructions on where to find candidate guides
Distribute Guides to Ballot Measures
(see section on ballot measures below)
Ballot measures are about laws or constitutional amendments, not candidate elections. You may advocate for or against a ballot measure as a lobbying activity. You may also choose to distribute nonpartisan information on ballot measures as a nonpartisan voter education activity.
Take a position
- Sign onto a coalition or a public statement advocating a “yes” or “no” vote
- Pass out materials educating your constituents on why to vote “yes” or “no” on a ballot measure
- Report advocacy expenditures, if any, as a lobbying activity subject to normal limits on lobbying.
- If your nonprofit lobbies, you should file the 501(h) election with the IRS to standardize lobbying reporting on your 990, including a clear guideline for lobbying spending.
Distribute a neutral voter guide on the ballot measures, i.e. guides that explain the ballot measures but don’t take a position for or against
- Get a neutral guide to questions on the ballot – covering issues of interest to your audience. (Find nonpartisan ballot measure guides from the same sources as candidate guides noted above)
- Remember! Nonpartisan voter guides are education, not lobbying. There are no limits to spending money or time on nonpartisan education for voters about ballot measures
Want to create your own candidate or ballot measure guide?
Check out these resources on creating a nonpartisan guide to the candidates.
- Election Year Advocacy: Candidate Questionnaires and Voter Guides (Alliance for Justice)
- Easy Voter (www.easyvoter.org) has good examples. It has created nonpartisan voter guides for California voters in multiple languages since 1994.
Sponsor or Promote a Candidate Forum
Sponsoring and promoting candidate forums or debates makes your nonprofit a player. It connects you to candidates, increasing your status as a policy expert and helps you gain access to elected officials after the election. Additionally, it is a great opportunity to allow your community members to hear directly from candidates on the issues that matter to them.
Some options include :
- Co-sponsoring a candidate forum with other nonprofits
- Advertising a forum sponsored by others
- Holding a debate watching party
More information on hosting a candidate forum
Voter Education Resources
2010 Voter Information Guide for LA County-This short Voter Information Guide from the Los Angeles County Registrar-Recorder/County Clerk’s office includes information on how to register to vote, find your polling place, volunteer as a pollworker, important dates for the 2010 election cycle, your rights as a voter, and more. Download it here.
- Smart Voter: An online resource to provide voters with comprehensive nonpartisan information about the contests on their ballot in an easy-to-use presentation.
- Easy Voter Guide: A nonpartisan quick guide to statewide elections. Read it online or order free copies for your nonprofit.
- Easy Voter Guide Fast Facts: To help Californians better understand their government and elections. The Fast Facts are not election specific and can be used year round for voter education.
- Ballot Measures
- The State Budget (spanish version)
California Secretary of State: Includes information on ballot measures, candidates and elections, voting systems, voter registration and participation, voter information, additional election information and their Guide to Voting in California.
- Video Voter: Provides candidates and ballot measure committees with opportunities to communicate their views to voters in video and video-on-demand formats. Click here for voter minutes for June 8 ballot.
- Health Vote: A non-partisan resource that voters and the media can use to track and evaluate health care-related ballot measures in California
National Coalition for the Homeless’ You Don’t Need A Home to Vote Manual: How to improve voting access for low income and homeless persons.
Voter Education for Nonprofits
Description: The final month before an election is a good time to focus on educating your constituents about the what, when, where and how of voting. The webinar will review best practices for conducting voter education at your agency or in your community.
Voter Education and GOTV for Nonprofits
Description: In the final weeks before the election, you will want to focus on both education and getting out the vote. This webinar will review best practices for doing both – at your agency or in your community.