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Rally Your Volunteers with a “Voting Is My Superpower” Campaign!

Pam Hughes - 09/25/2018

This summer, Indivisible groups in San Diego County came together for a fun and high-impact voter outreach campaign at Comic-Con, the annual pop culture festival that attracts more than 100,000 people from across the country. Our model can be adapted by other Indivisibles for large public events, such as other comic conventions, Renaissance faires, county fairs, Oktoberfests, sporting events, public concerts, parades, and more. Rather than stay behind a booth or table, our superheroes roamed widely and engaged voters directly. This proved highly effective in engaging people reluctant to approach a “political” station or booth.

Our goals for the campaign were to:

  • Uplift and recharge volunteers under stress from current events
  • Build our team by strengthening old bonds & attracting new people
  • Grow our capacity by experimenting with new voter registration tech
  • Enhance Indivisible’s image through traditional and social media
  • Promote awareness of the November midterms
  • Encourage voting in the November midterms
  • Register voters from across the country

The Value of Partnership

Our campaign operated both inside and outside Comic-Con. Within the event, we partnered with an indie comic book publisher with a booth inside the convention center who allowed our volunteers to check in at the both and access passes to move around the Con. Outside volunteers roved the grounds of the convention, nearby parks, and at an adjacent restaurant district.

Lessons learned: Our volunteers preferred being mobile to staying behind the booth and engaged many more voters that way.

Tip: This model does not require a partner with access to an event if you can buy tickets for your event and/or mobilize volunteers in public spaces outside of it.

A Message That Inspire

We chose “Voting Is My Superpower” as our upbeat and empowering slogan that fit our target audience. A talented graphic designer took our ideas and crafted eye-catching images that helped grab attention and promote our “happy warriors” vibe. This disarming “superpower” theme can be deployed in other non-comic convention venues.

Lessons learned: Our partnership with the publisher of a comic book called “CALEXIT” confused some people who associated it with the real-life secession movement. For future use, we kept the comic book character but removed their branding from the graphic.

Tip: Rather than brand the shirts with INDI2, the lead organizing group, we used a generic INDIVISIBLE brand that was inclusive of many groups who participated.

The Right Tech

To register people from all 50 states, we created a portal through Indivisible’s partnership with TurboVote. This platform allows citizens from 38 states to register directly online with their state registrar. Voters from 12 states without online registration are funneled to a national registration form, which they email to themselves, to complete, print, and mail when they get home. Online registration avoids the burden and errors of paper forms that must be hand-delivered to your local registrar.

Lessons learned: Voters are more comfortable using tablets than a volunteer’s phone for inputting personal information. This required either a data-capable tablet or the ability to hotspot the tablet from a cell phone or available WiFi. Next time, we will try helping voters to use their own phones to register and compare the registration rate to that of volunteers with tablets.

Tip: Have volunteers track how many people they registered. Cross check with the app’s dashboard to be sure all registrations were completed and submitted.

Fun With Costumes

We dressed our volunteers in matching T-shirts, capes, and optional eye masks. Since they were roving, not standing behind a table, this playful presentation disarmed the public about being approached by strangers. It also inspired many people to smile, stop us, take our photos, and thank us for promoting voting!

Lessons learned: Order extra shirts and capes for unexpected volunteers who see the fun on social media and want to join at the last minute.

Tip: Order cheap satin capes here. Crafty volunteers can iron on lettering to spell VOTE on the backs. Capes may be tied at the neck or pinned to shirt shoulders.

Helpful Signage

We printed 2’ x 3’ posters to match the T-shirts. Volunteers experimented with and without the posters, and attracted much more engagement with the signs. People captured at a glance what we were about and responded more quickly to verbal outreach.

Lessons learned: Ask people to pose with your poster and offer to take photos with their cameras, too. Pose with other voter registration activists like Democratic clubs, Organizing for Action (OFA), NextGen America, or NerdsVote and prompt them to share on their own social media.

Tip: We invested in laminated, foam-mounted posters to better withstand a lot of handling. They stood up well for multiple shifts and are in use today at other voter outreach events. Your group can also use handmade signs.

Smart Scheduling

We scheduled more than 80 people for 120 shifts over 5 days! But this model can work for small groups on a single day. We created shifts of 3 hours each, sending people out in pairs or of four or more, which caused a lot of friendly rubber-necking.

Lessons learned: People’s schedules change at the last minute. Designate coordinators to email frequent reminders and call and/or text each volunteer the day before to confirm.

Tip: Have each volunteer sign in, collect a T-shirt, any needed tickets or badges, poster, cape, mask, and tablet, and sign out again upon return at the end of each shift.

Volunteer Training

First and most important step, train each and every volunteer on TurboVote and how to approach strangers. Our campaign was nonpartisan so we advised our superheroes to refrain from sharing political beliefs and to register any voter, regardless of party affiliation. Also, tell registered voters that TurboVote can send them reminders about election dates and polling places.

First and most important step, train each and every volunteer on TurboVote and how to approach strangers.

Lessons learned: Open questions worked best, such as “Are you ready to vote in November?” or “Are you ready to be a voter?” When people are already registered, follow up with “Are you going to vote in November?” Pledging to vote increases their likelihood of voting. And an Affirmative replies merit a second follow up: “Why are you going to vote?” This sparked meaningful conversations, also known to improve voting rates.

Tip: Be sure to equip your volunteers with talking points. These should include that nonpartisan voter registration is allowed in public spaces, in the unlikely event that anyone challenges the activity as “political.” Make volunteers aware of any local regulations, such as not blocking sidewalks or handing out literature.

Success With Media

Our novel and photo-friendly campaign earned us local media coverage and lots of traction on social media. We sent out a media advisory before the campaign and followed up with photos and updates. By tagging the main event, we were seen by many more Comic-Con fans and inspired reporters to tweet about encountering our volunteers. Along with our partner, we even got a shout-out in Rolling Stone!

Lessons learned: Volunteers need simple talking points about the campaign to share with media they meet. They also need tips on how to take photos that work best on social media, especially Twitter.

Tip: Teach volunteers to shoot photos in landscape mode and to jazz up their shots with pumped fists, heroic poses, and big smiles.

The Superpower We Need

In these dark times, we must work even harder to keep hope in our hearts. Our “Voting Is My Superpower” campaign can be adapted for diverse audiences and make your volunteers feel like superheroes. One San Diego volunteer commented, after her shift, “This was by far the best and most fun volunteer experience I’ve ever had.” Members of the public were overwhelmingly positive and our volunteers were tickled to step outside their comfort zones, in satin capes!

Too often, electoral organizing feels like a thankless grind. Rewarding drives like this can renew energy among voters and volunteers alike and show the world we won’t despair or surrender: we will fight for every vote! That spirit, in itself, is a superpower we all need.