CalNonprofits Articles

How California nonprofits are voting with their missions

The primary election on June 5th is fast approaching, and registering voters, educating voters, and getting out the vote are powerful ways for nonprofits to stand up for their communities and ensure their voices are heard.

As a reminder, if you missed the voter registration deadline, you can still conditionally register at your county elections office, and if you’re in one of the five VCA pilot counties, you can still register up to, and on election day. This upcoming primary election is a great reason to talk to your colleagues, volunteers, and community about the importance of voting.

We've got resources to get you started, including:
• Cost-effective strategies to engage your community online and in person
• Frequently Asked Legal Questions for nonprofits engaging in voter work
• Helpful resources like Voter’s Edge that provides information on ballot measures, candidate positions, and your polling location. Need some inspiration? Check out our interview below to learn how Napa nonprofits are successfully engaging their community as part of the Voter Choice Act pilot in Napa County.

Nonprofits take up the flag

We recently interviewed three nonprofit leaders about the voter engagement work their organizations are doing to get the word out about the new Voter Choice Act (VCA) pilot in Napa County. While their campaign is focused on the VCA pilot, their strategies and insights are helpful for any nonprofits engaging in voter work. The four groups are UpValley Family Centers, Cope Family Center, On the Move, and Community Health Initiative, they are part of a larger group known as the Napa’s Community Leaders Coalition (CLC). We spoke with Jenny Ocón, Executive Director at UpValley Family Centers, Michele Grupe, Executive Director at Cope Family Center, and Alissa Abdo, Executive Director at On the Move.

CalNonprofits: Nonprofits have a lot on their plates-- why did you take this on, and why did you choose to do this as a collaborative?

CLC: There has been a lot of concern locally about cuts and policy changes that are being proposed at the national level. A group of about 20 community leaders came together to talk about issues of concern we could address jointly that would have the greatest impact. We call it Napa’s Community Leaders Coalition, and we meet once a month in Napa and once in Up Valley (northern area of Napa County). When we heard about the Voter’s Choice Act (VCA) pilot in Napa County, we made the decision for our nonprofits to work together as a collaborative on this. Three of the four members of our coalition are family resource centers, and one of our core services and best practices is civic engagement, so working on the VCA pilot fit perfectly.

Through this campaign, we’ve worked with the Napa County Registrar to provide community input as he developed the Elections Administration Plan (EAP), we’re coordinating voter registration trainings, and we are working with the League of Women Voters, school districts, and local colleges to host voter education sessions before the June and November elections.

Estela Ortega, Alma Arroyo, and Marycruz Garcia, are pomotoras who presented at a Voter’s Choice workshop held for older Spanish-speaking adults earlier this month at Rianda House Senior Activity Center in Helena

CalNonprofits: We heard about your highly successful kick-off events. What made them great?

CLC:We held our events at Napa Valley College- both the upper valley and Napa campuses, and we recruited participants through local nonprofits, churches, and schools and colleges, with outreach in English, Spanish, and Filipino/Tagalog.

We started the event by talking about the history of voting in the U.S., and about how different groups haven’t always had the right to vote. This was really motivating to everybody in the room, it felt like it was something we need to do and not take for granted. As we do more outreach, we’re really reinforcing that message: we can't take voting for granted.

At the events, we talked with nonprofit staff and volunteers about how to register voters for the upcoming elections, how the voting process would change under the VCA, and key messages to share with Napa residents. The Registrar shared materials to recruit election workers, the League of Women voters shared their informational materials and we gave out materials about the VCA that had been translated, and also made the materials available on this website. An interesting question at the event was how people could know if their mail in ballot was actually counted in an election (since the Registrar’s office needs to match signatures). The answer? There’s a website people can use to check.

VCA Kickoff event in Napa Voter Choice Act kick-off event in Napa

CalNonprofits: There’s a lot of distrust in government right now which can translate into a lack of motivation to vote. What strategies have been effective in overcoming it?

CLC: We are seeing some level of distrust, but we’ve also seen that since the last election, more people in our communities are interested in becoming citizens so they can vote. People are interested in taking on more of a role, especially as it relates to elections. And, this isn’t just on the individual level. Since we started this work, and more people learned about it, more nonprofits are also asking how they can get involved, have their voices heard, and be part of this process.

CalNonprofits:  A new national report found that people contacted by nonprofits about voting and elections were not only younger and more diverse, but they also had higher turnout on election day. Who was your target audience with this campaign?

CLC: The findings from the study don’t surprise us- we’ve seen first-hand the level of trust that community members have in the organization and in our staff members. Our target audiences are people whose primary language isn’t English, young adults, disabled, seniors, and veterans. We’re all very interested to see how the expanded voting options under the VCA pilot- like registering on the same day as the election- will work in our communities.

Here’s a few of the ways we’re reaching out to these groups -- ways that don't require extra expense, extra time, and that are completely aligned with our mission:

• Through our mentoring group at local high schools we’re talking to students about voting and even pre-registering 16 and 17-year-olds too.

• Promotoras who are already giving presentations when they’re out in the community are incorporating information on voting.

• Through our senior program, we’re talking with seniors in Napa so they know what to expect with the changes in voting under VCA.

• Through On the Move’s Leadership Academy at Napa High School we talked with 16, 17, and 18 year-olds and their parents about the changes under the VCA. Learning and talking about the history of voting, and that people had to fight for this right to have a voice in the democratic process was very moving for participants. Through our Voices program we also worked with young adults who are aging out of the foster system to engage them in these conversations.

• The League of Women Voters has also been heavily involved in getting the word out- including through presentations at high schools up and down the valley, and at a special event with Secretary of State Padilla at American Canyon High School.

CalNonprofits: What suggestions would you have for other nonprofits that are considering taking on voter engagement work? Were there resources that were especially helpful in your work?

CLC: Some of this you’ll learn on the fly, though we’d also suggest doing a little homework too- there may already be efforts in your area that you can tap into instead of reinventing the wheel. Your local county Registrar is one place you could start with. Funding for the work is always important too. We’ re grateful to the Napa Valley Vintners who supported this effort through Auction Napa Valley. We also secured a grant from the Future of California Elections, and have several proposals in with local funders.

Some of the resources we’ve found helpful are:

Voter’s Choice California has been a big help and resource to us locally, including with technical assistance, and outreach materials.

Asian Law Caucus has excellent information and materials in multiple languages.

Vote with Your Mission helped spark our interest in nonprofit voter engagement

• Our local Registrar

League of Women Voters and if you haven’t yet, check out Voter’s Edge

Secretary of State’s office

CalNonprofits: Can you talk about how you worked with the Napa County Registrar? Any suggestions for other nonprofits on working with their local registrar or election staff?

CLC: This was a new relationship for us- we hadn’t worked with the Registrar in this way in the past, and there has to be some give and take in the relationship. They have their systems and processes, which we need to understand, but at the same time our priority is engaging with our community to do outreach about these changes. It was a little challenging at the beginning to figure out how to coordinate messaging and outreach, but ultimately we’ve been successful. The same can be said for the Registrar- he didn’t necessarily have a relationship with us before, but he knew he wanted partnerships to help get the word out about the VCA pilot. We found it was important to have a collaborative structure, with regular meetings where we could talk and coordinate efforts. As we got involved in the Elections Administration Plan (EAP), we spoke up about what our community wanted and needed- in terms of things like where to locate drop boxes. We shared direct feedback form our communities with the registrar, and if you compare the first version of the EAP to subsequent versions, you can see where that feedback was used to improve it.

CalNonprofits: What's something you're really proud of in this work?

CLC: When we started, we had four “core” organizations working on this. We now have ten organizations- and that means we have a much broader reach across Napa County to get the voting message out- from American Canyon to Calistoga to Angwin and into outlying areas.

CalNonprofits: Thank you for your time and insights!

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