Elections 101

Voter Registration: How Do I Register Voters in My Community?


After you’ve updated your own registration and shared the tool with friends, it’s time to get out in your community to start registering other folks to vote. There’s nothing like the feeling of registering a first time voter!

Methods to Register Voters

There are a variety of methods to register voters. Even as organizers are gaining more and more digital tools, the most effective and impactful way to engage with a constituent continues to be face-to-face. This chapter will focus primarily on high traffic canvassing (also known as site-based registration), but your group’s voter registration plan can and should consider additional ways to register voters in your community.

  1. High traffic canvass: High traffic canvassing means going to areas where there is high foot traffic and having conversations with passersby. This is an efficient way to have a lot of conversations in a short amount of time.
  2. Door to door (targeted or blind knocking): Going door to door and asking folks at their door to register to vote. Targeted knocking refers to a specific list of people, while blind knocking means you are going to every door without a specified list.
  3. Community outreach: Registering voters through existing groups and organizations within your community (e.g. other progressive groups, churches, schools, etc.). You should also share TurboVote with friends and family!

Some Generally Applicable Voter Registration Rules

Before jumping into voter registration, it’s important to know that there are some legal restrictions and regulations to be aware of.

You should practice non-discrimination when registering voters. You have to register everybody even if they are supporting the opposite candidate or issue.

  • You cannot encourage a registrant to register as a particular party.
  • You must register everyone who wants to register (and is eligible to register) regardless of their political beliefs.

There are registration requirements. Generally, you can register to vote if you are a U.S. citizen, are at least 18 years old on or before election day, and are a current resident of the United States. However, there are some more specific requirements that vary by state:

  • States have a variety of laws surrounding voting rights for individuals who were convicted of a felony. While some are very restrictive, others allow folks to register once they’ve had their rights restored and in a few states they are event permitted to vote from prison.
  • There are often state residency requirements as well -- meaning that you need to have lived in that state for a certain period of time before being eligible to register.

Registration restrictions vary widely by state. Restrictions vary from state to state and you should be aware of the particular laws in your state when doing voter registration. You can find more information at your state’s Board of Elections or at www.vote.org/voter-registration-rules.

Identifying Spots to High Traffic Canvass

High traffic canvassing means going to areas where there is high foot traffic and having conversations with passersby. This is a great way to have a lot of conversations and register voters.

A great high traffic canvass location should always be in an area where there are a lot of people who are passing by, standing in line, or hanging around. The location of the high traffic canvass can make or break your day, so it’s important to know as much about the location as possible before going. Here are a few tips for finding the best locations:

  • Create a calendar of events and best times. Whether it’s the bus stop that is really crowded at 4:30pm on Thursday or the mall parking lot that is packed on Saturday mornings, put it in an online calendar such as Google Calendar, which is really easy to share and collaborate on with other team members.
  • Read your local newspapers and visit community websites. Most cities and communities big or small have newspapers, free magazines, or an online presence that has community events listed. Anything from the Sunday paper to the local independent magazine is going to give you dates and times for great places to register voters.
  • Talk to folks in the community where you want to do registration. Local community leaders, organizers and influencers will have great ideas. Follow their guidance and defer to them on whether they think your presence will be helpful (see note below).
  • Think about transient locations. Study things like bus routes, where people go during rush hour, where the most effective door at the mall is to stand by, etc. Every little detail needs to be considered in order to be effective. Timing is very important. A map on the wall in your home or office with voter registration hotspots is a huge asset. Write on the map where people should be, and at what day and time.

Note: Doing registration work in communities other than your own can be fraught territory, as local organizations may feel you’re a Johnny come lately, and may not take your intentions at face value. Reaching out and asking is the most important first step when trying to do voter registration in a community that is not your own.

You can high traffic canvass at events, on busy corners, outside businesses and more. Consider the following opportunities to do voter registration in your community:

  • Community events: farmer’s markets, festivals, garden shows, parades, etc.
  • Busy locations: outside of grocery stores, busy strip malls, parks and more.
  • Progressive events: progressive candidate rallies, pride events, pro-DREAM events, civil rights or police reform events, pollution clean up events and more are great because these people are already civically engaged.
  • Young/transient neighborhoods: these are going be the areas where you will most likely find somebody that need to register to vote with their new address.

How to High Traffic Canvass

Follow the below steps to have a successful high traffic canvass:

Come prepared. Bring a computer, smartphone or tablet to register voters with (if you’ll be in an area without WiFi, consider bringing a portable WiFi connection). You’ll also want a clipboard with a sign-up sheet for folks who are interested in joining your group. You should definitely bring water and snacks because you’ll be outside for a few hours. If you can bring a little card table to set up some flyers on (with a paperweight), great. But don’t sit behind it, stand in front of it; you’ll talk to way more people!

Put on a smile. It may sound silly, but having the right mindset and positive energy will make a big difference in your conversations and will make passersby more likely to stop to talk with you.

Ask everyone. You should attempt to engage with every person that walks by, and assume that they’re going to stop (even though you know lots of people won’t). If you’re in a really busy area, you may want to have a partner so that you don’t miss anyone. Try to make eye contact and start with a friendly wave and a greeting from 10-15 feet away.

Practice your hook. Chances are most of the folks you want to talk to are on their way somewhere, so you’re going to need to give them a reason to stop. Get right to the point: “Hey! Are you registered to vote?” or “Hi! Are you registered to vote at your current address?” is a good places to start!

It’s OK to get a lot of no’s. If you’re getting a lot of no's, that means you’re doing the right thing! You’re going to be talking to a lot of people, so you’ll find some who you’ll have a great conversation with, but plenty who don't want to stop. Don’t be discouraged! Keep your smile and keep talking to people.

Approach groups and stragglers. If the foot traffic dies down, you should approach folks who are lingering in the area. Folks who are in line are great for this, they’re just standing around. Though it may be slightly intimidating to go up to a group for the first time, these may be some of your best conversations because you’re hitting multiple people at once and they’re not on the way anywhere so they’ll have more time to talk.

Debrief. Debrief with your group. What went well? What was difficult? How was the location?

Follow up. Call and email the folks who signed up to come to the next meeting as quickly as possible, within the next couple days. Follow-up within 48 hours greatly increases the chances that that person will remember the interaction and come to your meeting!
Do & Don’ts

Do
Have fun!
Ask everyone who walks by
Be persistent and assume passersby want to register to vote
Try out different hooks and share best practices with your group

Don’t
Assume people don’t want to talk to you
Wait for passersby to approach you
Keep talking to people who only want to argue
Neglect to approach large groups

Planning a Registration Event

Pulling together a successful registration event takes some forward planning and set up, but a well thought through event will yield the best results.

TIMELINE

14 days out: Pick a date and time that would work well for your group members and would be convenient for new members to get involved. Once you have the date, you can plan benchmarks for the rest of your planning process. Upcoming community events are a great idea to schedule voter registration events around. Check state and local registration rules before going any further.

13 days out: Start identifying and testing locations to do voter registration. If you haven’t been to any of the sites you’re planning to send volunteers to, it’s best if you test them out in advance.

12 days out: Begin recruiting! Publicize the event. Update your group and get commitments. Use this activity as an opportunity to bring in new folks too. Make calls to your neighbors, put up flyers in town, post in various Facebook groups, ask every group member to bring a friend.

7 days out: If you are planning to have other volunteers take on leadership roles in the training, start preparing them and training them at least a week before the event.

3 days out: Start confirmation calls, texts, emails, Facebook messages, etc. to volunteers who said they’d come out to register voters. Be sure to do multiple rounds of these confirmations over the next few days leading up to the event.

2 days out: Finish preparing all materials - clipboards, pens, group sign up sheets, computers, phones, chargers, etc.

1 day out: All materials ready and volunteers confirmed!

RUNNING THE EVENT

High traffic canvassing is really fun and an important organizing activity. However, a quality training is key to making sure canvassers have a positive experience and get a good result. This training is designed to take about 25 minutes and can be done with one canvasser or with a large group.

Volunteers Arrive

  1. Welcome everyone as they arrive and thank them for coming.
  2. Have each volunteer sign in.
  3. Provide volunteers with materials and the link for the voter registration tool.
  4. Direct volunteers to the training area while you wait for a critical mass to arrive. Introduce them to one another and encourage them to get to know each other while they wait.

Welcome (2 minutes)

  1. Gather everyone together. Introduce yourself and thank everyone for coming!
  2. If it’s a small enough group, have all the volunteer introduce themselves as well.
  3. Provide an overview of the training and the day.
  4. Giv ontex bou h ctivit.

Context: Why are We Doing This? (3 minutes)

  1. Explain the importance of High Traffic Canvassing and registering voters.
  2. We want to register new voters and get folks engaged in our group.
  3. Set a goal: people can average registering usually 3-5 voters per person per 3 hour shift. Multiply by the number of volunteers you have and the amount of time you’ll be there.

How To (10 minutes)

  1. Review the High Traffic Canvassing Overview and the High Traffic Canvassing script.
  2. Demonstrate with a volunteer what a good high traffic conversation looks like.

Role Play (15 minutes)

  1. Have folks as a group walk around in a big (50 foot) circle. First the trainer should demonstrate good greetings (wave, smile, and ask to stop and talk about voter registration, Indivisible, etc), and then have each person practice greeting people as they walk by. No-one should stop, but no-one should be rude; the point is for that person to get practice waving and smiling at folks from a little distance away, getting out a short greeting. Keep having the person greeting switch out, and the last person joins the folks walking around.
  2. Have volunteers pair up and practice their asks.
  3. Debrief.

Q&A (5 minutes)

  1. Leave a few minutes at the end for volunteers to ask their questions.
  2. Make sure everyone feels comfortable, while also being mindful of time and getting everyone out the door.

Before volunteers leave make sure they are ready to go and have the following:

  1. Your contact information and their partner’s contact information
  2. A location to start at and a few backup locations
  3. Directions to their location
  4. Clear expectations and an understanding of the task

Next Steps

  1. While your volunteers are out, consider checking in on them with an encouraging phone call, text or even an in person visit.
  2. When volunteers arrive back greet them with enthusiasm and thank them again for their great work. Check in on how many people they registered and whether they hit their goal. Celebrate or troubleshoot with them as appropriate.
  3. Before the volunteers leave, have them sign up for their next shift.
  4. A few days after the event, call volunteers to thank them for their time and celebrate success, letting them know how many voters your team registered overall through the event.

Conclusion

Now you’re ready to begin the critical work of registering voters in your community! Here are a few next steps after finishing this guide:

  1. Update your own voter registration if you’ve moved or changed your name since you last voted!

  2. Share the voter registration tool with your friends and family via email, Facebook, Twitter, text message and more.

  3. Send the voter registration tool to your group members and ask them to share it with their networks.

  4. Identify someone in your group to serve as the Voter Registration Captain who can determine your voter registration strategy and plan future events.

  5. Start planning voter registration events in your community!

If you have any questions, great stories of your experience registering voters, or best practice -- don’t hesitate to reach out to our Organizing team by emailing field@indivisible.org. Your efforts are going to make a tremendous difference in upcoming elections!