Serving the Underserved
Midterm elections have a direct impact on fundamental issues related to the quality of life for communities nationwide and nonprofits’ ability to pursue our charitable missions. These issues encompass everything from economic mobility to the availability of funding for community supported programs, to investments in civic infrastructure, and the staffing of public agencies. As Election Day nears, nonprofits should prepare to respond to barriers that may impede access to participation for voters in underserved communities.
Voter disenfranchisement impacts constituents in various ways, including variation in impact within groups. As a result, access and participation gaps along the lines of race, age, income, ability, and education level distort our democracy and the policy debates that flow from it. There is a compilation of evidence that illustrates the myriad ways in which certain voting policies make participation disproportionately difficult for voters in underserved communities.
Constituents trust nonprofits to assist them in navigating complex systems to access essential services such as public benefits, healthcare enrollment, legal issues, food assistance, housing, and more. Nonprofit voter engagement is no different. Your nonprofit can leverage this trust to educate prospective voters about newly enacted policy changes and procedures and overcome pre-existing barriers that impede access to the ballot box.
Engaging voters in underserved communities is a first and requisite step toward advancing long-term civic participation. Not only does nonprofit voter engagement establish a viable pathway for constituents to educate decision makers, but it also helps to ensure policy solutions are immersed in and derive from the perspectives of communities who will be impacted. These democratic principles cannot be fully realized without high-impact practices that ensure equal access and participation for all eligible voters. In order to bring underrepresented voices to the table, nonprofits must first develop inclusive voter engagement strategies to meet the unique needs and challenges of their stakeholders.
Use the following resources to ensure that your organization’s voter engagement strategy helps to build a more equitable electorate:
Step 1: Disaggregate and Analyze Voting Age Population Data
Experiences of marginalization are not monolithic and vary according to population, demographic, and geography. In fact, many voters are not disadvantaged by a single or independent factor, but rather, multiple, and interconnected sources of inequity that compound historical patterns of exclusion.
Disaggregated data that focuses on a single or limited number of demographic variables does not effectively capture critical intersections of identity. Failure to rectify this common oversight results in missed opportunities to address the unique experiences and needs of individuals who identify with one or more marginalized groups. The U.S. Census Bureau’s data profiles break down data by county, zip code, and tribal area. The data profiles also provide insightful information about each respective population, including race and ethnicity, age, education level, income, employment rate, language spoken at home, and other variables.
Nonprofits can use the “Tools for All Program” to help inform and acquire recommendations on how best to mobilize voters in underserved communities. This resource is designed to make canvassing and community outreach easier for the broader 501(c)(3) civic engagement community. Through information sharing, nonprofits can retrieve additional data about the voting-age population in their respective service areas to help identify electoral barriers and challenges. Nonprofit organizations can leverage this resource to gain access to online information management systems that promote collaboration and activism.
Step 2: Use an Intersectional Lens to Identify Which Constituents Face the Greatest Risk of Disenfranchisement
Because the nonprofit sector employs our nation’s most diverse workforce and serves multicultural communities, we share the collective responsibility of placing equity at the center of nonpartisan voter engagement. Acknowledging that voter disenfranchisement extends beyond race, nonprofits must analyze voting age population data with an intersectional lens to identify participation gaps in the communities we serve and address the unique needs and challenges of those who are most impacted by a specific voting policy.
Social identities, such as race, gender identity, sexual orientation, class, marital status, religion, ability, age, citizenship, and other characteristics interconnect in dynamic ways. Intentional analysis of how these variables intersect requires tailored strategies that encompass disparate impacts across a broad range of populations. To sufficiently address the various ways that individuals are disenfranchised, consider these intersections of identity during the development stage of your nonprofit’s voter engagement plan.
Step 3: Develop an Inclusive Voter Engagement Strategy to Address Barriers to Access and Participation
Before developing an inclusive voter outreach strategy, use the data collected in the previous steps to identify the root causes of participation gaps and support constituents who face the greatest risk of voter disenfranchisement. The root cause is the core issue—the highest-level cause—that sets in motion the entire cause-and-effect reaction that ultimately leads to the problem(s). For example, a root cause for low voter participation among individuals with disabilities is a lack of accessible voting options, such as vote-by-mail.
When working to identify root causes, consider the following questions to better understand why existing disparities persist and how they impact specific demographics:
- What are the burdens faced by constituents, disaggregated across the demographics you collected in Step One?
- What are the historical contexts of those burdens? For example, just 32 years ago, the Americans with Disabilities Act required that all polling places must be accessible or offer accessible alternatives, such as curbside voting.
Upon identifying root causes, review this National Voting Guide to learn which voting options are available in your state. Research commissioned by Nonprofit VOTE concluded that voters engaged by nonprofits are more likely to be communities historically underrepresented in our democracy, including people of color, low income earners, and young voters than registered voters in the same states. Use the enclosed data and this national ranking to explore voting policies that your organization can leverage to improve voter turnout rates and mitigate barriers to participation.
Bonus Step: Optimize the Untapped Potential of Voters in Underserved Communities
Nonpartisan voter engagement conducted by nonprofits during the 2020 election cycle yielded unprecedented levels of voter turnout that reduced participation disparities nationwide. Together, nonprofits can build upon this success by developing inclusive outreach strategies for the midterm elections.
Integrate the following resources into your nonprofit’s voter engagement plan to help optimize the untapped potential of marginalized voters:
Voter Identification Tools and Resources
It is a well-documented fact that strict voter ID laws disproportionately impact voters of color and migrant communities. In addition to naturalized and returning citizens, there are an estimated 8.3 million young voters who are now eligible for the 2022 midterm elections. While every state has different voter identification policies, first-time voters must obtain and present an ID to register and/or vote in federal elections.
With each election, tens of millions of voters find that obtaining an ID that fulfills voting requirements is costly and confusing. Without robust voter education, this confusion can and will result in disenfranchisement for many constituents. Nonprofits’ natural engagement assets, coupled with our deep community roots, make our institutions well-suited to provide voter ID education and assistance to every eligible voter in need.
Use the following resources to help your constituents and stakeholders overcome voter identification barriers:
Voter ID Information Cards: VoteRiders’ Voter ID Information Cards are pocket-sized guides that outline acceptable forms of voter identification in each state. Complete this form to order cards for your organization today! VoteRiders will print and ship physical cards to 501(c)(3) and other nonpartisan nonprofit organizations free of charge. Cards are available in English and Spanish for all 50 states and DC. Not sure how to incorporate Voter ID Information Cards into your existing services? Not to worry — Independent Sector, VoteRiders, and The Arc Dane County developed a case study to illustrate how other nonprofits have leveraged identification cards to advance their mission.
#TransPeopleVote Resource: 30 percent of transgender voters report verbal harassment as a result of an ID with a name or gender marker that does not match their gender presentation. One in five American Gen Z adults identifies as LGTBQ+. However, many transgender and nonbinary people face barriers accessing the ID they need to register and vote safely. For transgender and nonbinary people whose IDs don’t match their name and gender, voter ID laws can make the experience of casting a ballot invalidating and intimidating. Use the enclosed resources, developed by VoteRiders and HeadCount, to ensure your nonprofit’s LGBTQ constituents and stakeholders can vote safely and confidently.
Election Accessibility Tools and Resources
People with disabilities crosscut every American demographic, and voters with disabilities are a part of every voting bloc in society. To date, over 35 million Americans who are eligible to vote have conditions that are recognized disabilities as under federal law. Yet, constituents with disabilities have historically been restricted from the ballot box and continue to face significant barriers when attempting to participate in elections. A voting system cannot be deemed accessible if it does not allow voters with disabilities to vote privately and independently.
Use the following resources to support and mobilize the disability vote in the communities you serve:
Election Accessibility Toolkit: This Election Accessibility Toolkit is a resource to assist disability advocacy organizations and individual advocates when working with voters and election officials. It also includes information on troubleshooting problems encountered on Election Day, reporting barriers, and additional resources.
Voting Methods & Equipment Guide: Every state uses some form of electronic voting, but they differ in the type that they offer. This voting equipment resource shows the breakdown of states that use optical voting machines, states that use direct recording electronic voting machines, and states that use both.
10 Tips for Voters with Disabilities: The U.S. Election Assistance Commission created this tip sheet to help voters with disabilities vote privately and independently.
Polling Place Accessibility Recommendations: In this report, The National Disability Rights Network (NDRN) provides recommendations and suggestions on ending the misuse of the ADA to close polling places.
Achieving Accessibility for Election Websites and Sample Ballots: This toolkit is designed to help local advocates not only understand the access barriers on election websites and sample ballots, but also help them form a strategy and approach local election officials to remove these barriers and make voter information accessible to voters with disabilities. The toolkit provides information and resources that help both advocates and election officials understand the user experience from the perspective of users with a range of disabilities, including vision, mobility, and cognitive disabilities. It also includes strategies to help local advocates engage election officials in efficient and effective discussion. Nonprofit advocates can use this guide to begin building a relationship with election officials, not only to address website access barriers, but to also address other access barriers in the voting process to make the fundamental right to vote accessible to all American citizens.
Voting Tools and Resources for Returning Citizens
While many states have some restrictions on felon voting rights, most states restore the right to vote to citizens after they complete their sentences. In fact, up to 18 million Americans with past convictions are currently eligible to vote but are unaware of their restoration status due to confusing felony disenfranchisement laws in each state.
Use the following toolkit to support returning citizens in your nonprofit’s service area:
Restore Your Vote Toolkit: With the help of this resource, returning citizens will no longer have to wonder whether they have the right to vote nor have to ask, “Can I restore my right to vote?” Use the enclosed tools to determine whether returning citizens in your nonprofit’s service area are currently eligible to vote or eligible to go through the process to restore their right to vote. The Spanish version of this resource can be accessed here.
Tools and Resources for Voters Experiencing Homelessness
Amid the current economic and health crisis, more than half-million people experience homelessness daily. Persons experiencing homelessness have been disempowered in many ways, including at the ballot box. As a result, low-income voters, and particularly persons experiencing homelessness, are consistently one of the most poorly represented populations when it comes to voter turnout, historically having faced numerous barriers across the country that have limited their participation in the election process.
Use the following resources to educate homeless and low-income voters in the communities your nonprofit serves:
Eviction Voting Guide: Due to the looming economic and eviction crisis, many landlords may attempt to circumvent the legal process to evict tenants who cannot afford to pay rent. Other voters, such as students, may face unexpected school closures due to COVID-19 and may not know if or when they will return to the address associated with their registration. This resource guide provides a list of each state’s rules as it concerns registered voters who move after voter registration deadlines.
Step-by-Step Election Guide for Homeless Service Providers: This resource equips nonprofit advocates with a checklist to support voters without a permanent address.
You Don’t Need A Home To Vote Manual: The “You Don’t Need a Home to Vote” campaign seeks to promote voting access for low income and homeless persons to ensure that those who are economically disadvantaged maintain a voice in shaping their future. This manual provides outreach strategies for individuals and organizations interested in helping people experiencing homelessness to overcome the obstacles that have traditionally prevented them from becoming registered, active voters.
Voting Resources to Support Migrant Communities and Communities of Color
Many nonprofits employ staff with similar backgrounds to the community the organization serves. As the nation’s third-largest employer, nonprofits interface with the nation’s most diverse communities, thereby making our organizations an impartial and reliable source for stakeholders and voters. In fact, a recent report commissioned by Nonprofit VOTE, concluded that nonpartisan voter engagement conducted by nonprofits has its biggest turnout impact among these target groups, contributing to a more representative electorate. If your nonprofit has employees and volunteers who are culturally competent, can communicate with voters in their preferred language, and meet them at their ability level, your organization can break through to the voters most marginalized by the election system.
Use the following resources to ensure that your nonprofit is unequivocally equipped to address essential needs for migrant communities and communities:
Community Leaders’ Guide to Providing Language Access in Elections: In the United States, more than 62 million persons speak a language other than English at home. Of this population, over 40 percent are limited-English proficient; that is, have some difficulties with the English language, and almost 15 percent of voting-age citizens speak a language other than English at home — and of those, almost a third are limited-English proficient. Nonprofit advocates can use this language access guide to help ensure that the growing population of voters who speak a language other than English at home are getting the assistance they need to effectively participate in our country’s political process.
Expanding the Ballot: This resource seeks to provide on-site, Election Day language assistance to voters who are not proficient in English through the use of multilingual poll workers (MPWs) so that voters may easily cast their ballots. MPWs should be placed at designated polling locations that serve high concentrations of voters from specific language groups. Target languages are first determined by the population of a local jurisdiction. Census data is then utilized to determine where these language communities reside and to demonstrate the need for assistance at various polling places. MPWs are recruited by community organizations and the Board of Elections (BOE) and are compensated at the same rate as all other poll workers.
Native Vote Toolkit: Despite only comprising two percent of the United States population, the power of the Native vote has been significant in state, local, and national elections. Nonprofit advocates can use the enclosed resources to support community leaders’ efforts to establish strong and permanent infrastructure for election training that highlights voter registration, election protection policies, and voter and candidate education for American Indian and Alaska Native constituents.
Language Access Fact Sheets: Voting can be a complicated process for anyone. For citizens whose first language is not English, the process is even more difficult to navigate. Nearly one-third of Asian Americans have some difficulty communicating in English, making voting that much more intimidating. Voters have rights to assistance in voting if they have difficulty communicating in English. Nonprofits can use the enclosed resources to help Asian American voters access their right to language assistance when casting their ballot. Featured languages include Bengali, Chinese Traditional, Chinese Simplified, Hindi, Khmer, Vietnamese, Thai, Tagalog, Korean, and Japanese.
Voter Purge State Score Cards: Voter purges are an often-flawed process of cleaning up voter rolls by deleting names from registration lists. While updating registration lists as voters die, move, or otherwise become ineligible is necessary and important, when done irresponsibly — with bad data or when two voters are confused for the same person — the process can knock eligible voters off the roll en masse, and often without adequate notice to correct the error before election day. A single purge of the voter rolls disproportionately impacts hundreds of thousands of constituents each election cycle, including people of color, students, the elderly, and people with disabilities. The Voter Purge Project monitors states for disenfranchised voters. Nonprofit advocates can use the Score Card to evaluate their state’s cost, transparency, access to data and human resources, and recorded history of purging its voter rolls.
Tools and Resources to Support Young Voters
While residency requirements, strict voter ID laws, and inaccessible polling places affect voters of all ages, these barriers particularly impede access and participation for youth voters. Voter registration is a critical first step in the electoral process, and historically the lower registration rates of young people have been largely responsible for their lower voter turnout compared to older groups.
Use the following resources to help foster equitable youth engagement in 2022 and beyond:
Youth Voting and Civic Engagement in America Database: CIRCLE’s exclusive data tool offers a unique way to explore the relationships between voting and other forms of civic participation, and some of the conditions that shape such engagement. The tool features more than 40 unique indicators, and it includes data at the national, state, congressional district, and county levels.
My Vote Everywhere Portal: This digital resource is a one-stop shop where students can find relevant election information. They can register to vote, check their voter registration status, learn about the candidates, find their polling site, learn about voter ID and other requirements, and sign up to receive text message reminders with information tailored to their campus.
MSI Vote: Because Minority Serving Institutions (MSIs) educate 20 percent of all students and 40 percent of students of color, the report argues that MSIs have a responsibility to promote civic engagement and offers key recommendations. This report provides insight on issues affecting young and minority voters, as well as policies that impose barriers to access and participation.
Tools and Resources to Support Voters in Rural Communities
Significant limitations on in-person activities imposed by the coronavirus pandemic resulted in increased reliance on digital get-out the-vote efforts, online voter registration and mobilization tools, and digital voter resources and information. The emphasis on digital voter outreach has exacerbated longstanding digital inequities throughout civic deserts as internet connectivity and civic engagement opportunities can be difficult to access.
Use the following resource to support voters in remote communities:
Rural Communications Hub: The hurdles for voters in rural jurisdictions are many as rural communities not only have unique policy challenges, but also unique social characteristics and ways of educating voters. Use the enclosed research and messaging tools to maximize the effectiveness of your nonprofit’s outreach in remote communities.
The Nonprofit Voter Empowerment Project is a nonpartisan pledge campaign that was developed by Independent Sector in partnership with Nonprofit VOTE to support nonprofits as they work to increase voter participation among their staff, grantees, volunteers, and constituents in 2022 and beyond.