August 31, 2016

Creating an Engaged Local Electorate: Your Faith Community Has a Role

Lacy Broemel’s post, Church Participation in the Political Process, outlined the guidelines for engaging the electoral process in a nonpartisan way. Now it’s time to start thinking about the opportunities you have for local engagement ahead of the November 8 election. Here are some ideas:

Register Voters

Host a nonpartisan voter registration drive at your church. It can be as simple as setting up a table during coffee hour or a stand-alone event to which you invite the wider community. An ideal date to hold this event is Sunday, September 25, which is the Sunday just before National Voter Registration Day, Tuesday, September 27. To prepare, you will need voter registration forms or, if your state allows it, a computer for people to register online. Rock The Vote has a step-by-step guide to assist you in your voter registration drive. You will also want to check the voter registration deadline for your state. In many states, voter registration closes up to 30 days before the election.

Host a Nonpartisan Candidate Forum

Sponsor a candidate forum to provide an opportunity for the community to interact with candidates directly and get a deeper understanding of each candidate’s platform. You might want to partner with other faith communities or local organizations to host the forum.

Here are some general guidelines for hosting a nonpartisan candidate forum:

  • You must invite all candidates in the race to participate, and most of those invited must agree to participate.
  • If there are two candidates in the race, and one declines to debate, you should not hold the event.
  • You may not ask slanted questions that benefit one candidate or allow one candidate to always have the final word.

For more information on how to host a candidate forum, visit the Resources section on the Nonprofit Vote website and click on Hosting a Candidate Forum for PDFs in English or Spanish.

Get Out the Vote (GOTV)

As the election nears, encourage members of your congregation to get to the polls. This is known as a “Get Out the Vote” campaign and these efforts are extremely effective in promoting voter turnout. Here are a few suggestions for GOTV efforts:

  • If your church has a changeable message sign, use it to remind people to vote.
  • Include information in your weekly bulletin insert or newsletter about the election, such as links for people to find their polling place, hours the polls will be open, and information about early voting.
  • Urge members of your congregation to take the Episcopal Pledge to Vote.
  • On Election Day, provide refreshments for people standing in line to vote. Again, this activity must be nonpartisan.

The Episcopal Public Policy Network offers an Election Engagement Toolkit with specific ideas and resources for planning an election engagement event. It also includes additional resources and suggestions for engagement in voting rights advocacy, issue education, and practicing civil discourse.

I’ll see you at the polls on November 8.

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