Advocacy tips for primary elections


I know it may seem as though the presidential race has dragged on forever already, but really, things are just starting to heat up. There is still over 42% of all Republican National Convention delegates and 46% of all Democratic National Convention delegates to be distributed among the remaining candidates. If you’re a political junkie like me, you’re probably pretty excited about that. You may also be wondering how you and your fellow parents can encourage participation in the primaries. In the post below, I’m going to talk about some of the ways that you can help the people in your community to turn out and vote—in the primaries and in the general election.

Let’s begin by talking for a moment about some of the legal issues involved. Most PTAs are 501(c)(3) nonprofits, meaning that, like other 501(c)(3)s, they are prohibited from engaging in partisan political activities. In practical terms, that means a PTA may not:

  • Endorse a candidate for political office, or in any way support or oppose a candidate or party
  • Make a donation to a candidate or party, or to any organization supporting a candidate or party, whether in cash or in kind
  • Rate or rank candidates on their positions

If that’s at all confusing, I encourage you to take a look at Nonprofit VOTE’s online guide to permissible, nonpartisan voter engagement for 501(c)(3) nonprofits: Nonprofits, Voting and Elections.

What 501(c)(3)s can do is a wide range of unbiased activities, including voter registration, voter education and Get Out The Vote (GOTV).

Voter registration is an excellent way to encourage voter turnout. You may be surprised to hear this, but many people are unaware that you have to update your voter registration when you move (though this isn’t true for voters living in Oregon and California, both of which recently passed Automatic Voter Registration laws). Other people simply miss their state’s voter registration deadline. Both of these issues disproportionately impact young people and low-income earners who rent and move frequently. Missing the registration deadline is so common that, in one 2015 study, researchers estimated that keeping registration open through Election Day in 2012 would have allowed an additional three to four million Americans to register and vote.

When it comes to the nuts and bolts of planning and running a voter registration, Nonprofit VOTE has a number of resources that can help. Start with our Voter Registration Toolkit, and then peruse our factsheets and other materials.

Voter education and GOTV are also great ways to boost turnout. Not only can 501(c)(3) nonprofits educate voters about the process of voting (the date of the election, the time the polls open and close, how to check your voter registration status, find your polling place, see a sample ballot, etc.), but they can also educate voters on the candidates and issues—as long as they do so in a neutral fashion. Recommended activities include creating or distributing a nonpartisan voter guide or candidate questionnaire, hosting a candidate forum, inviting candidates to attend your events or creating a plain language guide to ballot measures. Nonprofit VOTE has factsheets and other materials dealing with each of these activities.

As Election Day approaches, you’ll want to shift your focus from education to mobilization. Consider calling through your phone lists the day before the election and asking people if they need assistance getting to their polling place or simply finding it. Organize rides to the polls. If you have an active group of volunteers, you may want to think about going door to door in your neighborhoods on Election Day. Just remember, when your volunteers are representing your PTA, they must remain strictly nonpartisan.

These are just a few of the way your PTA can make a difference in the upcoming primaries and on November 8. If you’d like to learn more about nonpartisan voter outreach, I encourage you to visit our website or consider attending one of our monthly, free webinars.

Julian Johannesen is Director of Research and Training at Nonprofit VOTE.

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