Brightest's How-To FAQ for Registering Voters
Updated: September 2018
We like to think of America as a democracy - and it mostly is. But it's not (yet) the type of fair, inclusive democracy it can be. That's why it's so important for us to create the electoral change and equal voting participation that makes this country fair and great for everyone.
This step-by-step guide will help you register your friends, co-workers, and neighbors (or even strangers) to vote in your free time. If you still do have any questions (or suggested changes), please give us a shout. We've done non-partisan voter registration and organizing before and want to help you out and make your grassroots efforts successful.
Ok let's dive in.
Voter Registration: Step-by-Step
Step 0 - Start Online
If you want to help people online, just share our online voter registration link with them and they'll be able to register from Brightest in 2 minutes or less. If you want to embed a voter registration call-to-action on your own website or blog, feel free to use the embed code on this page.
Step 1 - Hit the Streets
When you're ready to move beyond digital and social activism and head out into the streets, we got you covered there too. First, pick a place, date, and time for your registration efforts. You know your community. Where and when are the young people most likely to show up, wait in lines, hang out, or simply walk by? Be creative.
Some suggestions: Find the scene and be the scene. Your target audience may well be your friends and people like you. Where are they during the day? Where do they hang out at night? Be there. Where is there a “captive audience?” People are most likely to register when they're killing time or leisurely walking around. Some good spots might be a sporting event, farmer's market, festival, or concert. High schools and college campuses can also be great places to register voters, but if you're not a student or faculty make sure you check with the school and get permission to be there first.
Step 2 - Get the Help, Contacts & Supplies You Need
Like a lot of things in life, there can be red tape, hassles, and obstacles you need to overcome. It’s not anything to worry about, just make sure you’re covering your bases. If you are registering people to vote at an event, contact them (the event venue owners or organizers) to get permission first - most people will believe in what you're doing, support you and want you to be there. Generally, you don't need any permit or approval to canvass in public out on the street, as long as you're not blocking pedestrians, traffic, or causing any problems.
As far as supplies, the only things you really need are the registration forms, a clipboard, and a pen (and a phone to look things up). It can also be good to have a sticker, pin, shirt, banner or other signage indicating you're registering voters to get people to take you seriously.
And again, if you're feeling stuck and want to ask us for advice, send us a message and we'll try and help you out.
Step 3 - Recruit Your Team
If you feel comfortable and safe, you can register voters all by yourself. But often it's better (not to mention more effective) ask your friends, explain why it's important to you (and all of us), and get a group together. The more volunteers you have at your table, working an event, canvassing a street, or talking to their friends the more new voters you'll be able to register. Plus it can be fun to keep track of your score and how many people you registered.
And, if you're hosting a big event, talk to us (or tweet) and we're happy to host it on Brightest. We can promote your event and help you recruit more volunteers. In the (near) future, you'll be able to post and manage your own events here too - we're a lot more kind and responsible with your data than Facebook.
Step 4 - Get Voter Registration Forms
You can get paper voter registration forms lots of places. You can sometimes download state voter registration forms from the Secretary of State or local board of elections websites (or request they mail one to you), but if you're doing voter registration and need multiple it's best to go to a physical polling place or board of elections office and pick them up in person. Check your state's website (here's California, New York, and Texas, for example) for where those offices are you don't know them already. Google can help too.
Step 5 - Go Canvass, Campaign and Register Voters
When you're out in the streets volunteering, we recommend greeting people with the question Hi, are you registered to vote at your current address?"Be assertive yet friendly. That way, it makes it clear to people you're not asking them for money. Second, often people will think they're registered, but they registered a long time ago, have moved since, and their registration isn't up to date. Having a copy of a voter registration guide, your state's laws, and a voter lookup tool on your phone can also help you check their status and leave you prepared to answer any questions you get.
Some other helpful voter registration tips:
- Double check all the forms you collect before you turn them in! The most common errors are someone forgetting to sign the form and putting today's date in the signature date line.
- If anyone asks you who sent you, just tell them you're an active citizen who believes in voting rights and helping people participate in Democracy. don't say you're part of a political party or campaign, and make sure you don't tell people what party to register as. Voter registration is about universal, equal participation - even if you might disagree with someone's party affiliation.
- If someone is 17 years old, but will be 18 by election day, they can and should register to vote.
- If someone doesn't have a permanent address, they can still register to vote at an address they receive mail at, which can include a family-member's house, campus address, or even a shelter.
- Generally, someone can only vote in a primary if they register for that party (for example, you can only vote in the Democratic primary if you're a registered Democrat). Any registered voter with any party affiliatoin can vote for any party in the general election (midterm elections, presidential elections, etc.)
- Don’t waste your time convincing the unconvincible or unmotivated. If you get the feeling someone isn't going to register, thank them for their time and move on.
- Celebrate your wins. What you're doing is awesome.
- When in doubt, check your state's laws and rules. Voter registration laws and requirements vary state to state.
When you finish registering someone to vote, congratulate them. You should also tell them they should expect to get a voter card in the mail from their Secretary of State in 4-6 weeks. If they don't, have any questions, or want to follow up, they should call their election board directly.
Step 6 - Make Sure Your Completed Voter Registration Forms Get to Your State's Board of Elections
The safest thing you can do is take them to your local board of elections or country registrar in person and hand them in. Your other option is to mail them in. Make sure you mail them the day you collect them: There are often state laws about how quickly completed forms must be turned in.
Step 7 - Measuring Your Impact and Counting How Many Registrations
It's hard to estimate exactly how many voters you'll register. In high foot-traffic areas sometimes you'll be able to register 3-5 new voters an hour. At schools and student voter registration drives it can be closer to 20 an hour. However, we've also gone out and registered one or even no voters. Don't get discouraged - the key is consistency and increasing your surface area for success. If you don't get the results you want, think about ways to improve the next time you go out (different greeting, different location, different volunteers, different tactics). But again, make sure you celebrate your success and make sure each of your friends and fellow volunteers understand that they're doing the right thing, making an impact, and the sum of their contributions can add up to big change.
If you still don't feel prepared enough or have questions, talk to us.