CCD On “How Journalism Can Help People Register to Vote”

[Image via boingboing]

My friend Dana Chisnell over at the Center for Civic Design has a new post about an innovative way that newspapers can encourage voter registration – namely, by printing their own forms!

September 25 is National Voter Registration Day. One of the major obstacles to voters voting is that they’re not registered. The more ways we invite people to register, the more likely it is that they will. That makes it more likely that they will show up at the polls in November.

When students returned to school in August, the Ithaca (NY) Times published the New York voter registration form on its front page (the back side of the form is on page 2). 

Imagine if other papers and other media outlets did the same— thousands of people would be invited to civic life who had never been invited before.

It would be pretty simple, if the editorial policy allows it:

1) Contact your state’s board of elections to learn about constraints and legal uses of the state voter registration form. (And to make sure they’ll accept a form on newsprint, or what the constraints might be for putting a link to online voter registration on your website.)

2) If it’s legal, on September 25, publish the voter registration form on your front page (if you’re on paper, put the back of the form on page 2, aligned so a tear-out would look just like the thing the state election department issues). Extra credit for finding the voter registration form by yourself without having to ask for help.

3) Link to your state’s online voter registration website (we can help you find it if you need that), or to vote.gov (which will direct users to the appropriate state’s site) from your website.

That’s it.

We’ll be watching. We plan to track sightings of media-published voter registration forms. We’re hoping your masthead will appear in our list. If you tell us ahead of time that you’re going to do it, we will promote the hell out of it on social media. (Maybe you don’t need that. But we do.)

Kentucky Law’s Josh Douglas has an oped in the Washington Post that spotlights Ithaca as an example to other papers. It concludes:

Of course, the action of a local newspaper in Upstate New York is no silver bullet for our voter registration woes. But there is ample reason to believe something larger could emerge from it. After all, many democratic innovations start at the local level. Democratic progress often begins small, but once it catches fire, it’s hard to stop.

Newspapers across the country should follow the Times and print a voter registration form on their front pages. And what better day for the media to promote democratic participation than on Sept. 25, National Voter Registration Day?

In addition to printing their state voter registration forms on their covers, newspapers should create a page for their websites so that users in states that allow online voter registration are directed to their state online voter registration form. Elsewhere, media sites can direct people to vote.gov, where voters can learn about the process for their state.

Promoting democratic participation is nonpartisan and noncontroversial. It fits well within the media’s mission to keep the public informed, whether about elections themselves or how to register to vote. In a time when voter inclusion is often undermined, the media should, in its role as the Fourth Estate, come out strongly on the side of voter engagement and democratic participation.

I will admit to being curious about how local election offices process these forms – specifically, if the newsprint makes it difficult – but you cannot argue with the idea of promoting voter registration in as many different venues as possible. As Election Day – and in states that have them, registration deadlines – approach, efforts like these could be a tremendous help to voters seeking to add or update their names on the rolls. Kudos to the Ithaca Times for taking the leap on behalf of voters, and thanks to Dana and Josh for highlighting it – stay tuned!

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