by Anna Challet/New America Media
In a world where every day is a holiday – there’s National Doughnut Day, Pi Day (honoring the number 3.14 and celebrated by eating pie), and Talk Like a Pirate Day (that one is international) – a group of organizations came together and decided that surely one of these days should be dedicated to voter registration.
They designated a day and proceeded to register over 300,000 voters in their first such effort – on the fourth Tuesday of September in 2012.
“The main idea was to try to do for civic engagement what Earth Day did for the environment, and really create one positive, fun, exciting day where everybody could plug in, in whatever way was easiest for them,” says Jessica Reeves, the vice president of partnerships at Voto Latino, one of the organizations involved in starting National Voter Registration Day (NVRD).
This year NVRD falls on Tuesday, September 23, about a month before the Nov. 4 general elections.
Through on-the-ground efforts by participating organizations, as well as online and media communications, the initiative has registered voters in every state – the highest numbers in California, New York, Illinois, and Texas, the last of which saw nearly 11,000 registrations in the first year alone. Over 235,000 of the registrations took place online (which is available in 22 states), and the rest at field events and through the mail.
It started back in 2011, according to Matt Singer, the executive director of the Bus Federation Civic Fund, which mobilizes a network of grassroots organizations to participate in leadership development and other civic programs like NVRD.
Singer, one of the individuals behind the day’s founding, was alarmed by 2008 U.S. Census data indicating that about 6 million people hadn’t cast a ballot that year because they didn’t know how to register to vote or had missed a registration deadline.
And, he thought, the central importance of voting to democracy was in danger of falling out of the public consciousness.
“The core idea of voting, which is central to what it means to be American, has been caught up in partisan squabbles … rather than a celebration of this right that people have fought and died for,” says Singer. “We wanted to bring back this idea of voting as being centrally American.”
He adds that recent research shows that voter registration drives do lead to a measurable increase in voter turnout.