3 Crucial Ways to Volunteer for the 2020 Election
These three high-impact volunteer opportunities will help you maximize voter turnout, combat voter suppression, and defeat Donald Trump.
by Charlotte Hill and Gabriella Palladino
With just 6 weeks until the presidential election, the stakes could not be higher for electing Biden and defeating Trump. We all need to step up our engagement — our democracy depends on it. This guide offers 3 concrete recommendations for high-impact ways you can volunteer before the election.
No time to read? Here’s the shortlist:
- Call, text, and write to swing-state Democrats to give them the precise information they need to vote early and safely. Sign up with Vote From Home 2020, Indivisible, and Vote Forward.
- Young and healthy? Work at a polling place on Election Day, so at-risk older voters don’t have to. Sign up with All Voting Is Local or with Power the Polls.
- Monitor the polls for voter suppression, identify disinformation, and make sure voters know their rights. Sign up with the Election Protection coalition.
The big three volunteer opportunities in 2020
There are three main ways to volunteer between now and Election Day: 1) get other people in swing states and districts to vote, 2) staff your local polling place, and 3) monitor the election for voter suppression and disinformation.
Below, we outline the need for each, give you a sense of the time commitment, and tell you where to sign up. That said, if you’re healthy and able, we highly recommend that you sign up for all three.
1. Get other people to vote.
This is the main way most people think about volunteering during an election. Voter turnout in the US varies dramatically across groups. Perhaps the most obvious difference is by age: the vast majority of senior citizens vote in presidential elections, compared to less than half of young people. (In the famously high-turnout 2008 election, just 51% of people under 30 voted.)
Because a lot of Americans don’t vote, in the final weeks before an election, political organizations run “get out the vote” programs (commonly called “GOTV”). In typical election years, this looks like knocking on people’s doors and asking them to vote on Election Day. But the Covid-19 pandemic has stopped door-knocking efforts in their tracks (at least, it has for Democrats). Instead, organizations are going all-in on outreach that can be done from home: making phone calls, sending text messages, and writing personal letters.
Nearly every day, someone asks me which of these three options — calls, texts, and letters — is best for boosting turnout. My answer: it depends on your target voters, your speed, and your interest. The most important thing is that you reach out to voters who stand a chance of swinging the election. This means contacting voters who live in “purple” areas — places where the vote could plausibly go for the “blue” candidate (the Democrat) or the “red” candidate (the Republican). You can call as many people as you want in Arkansas, but there’s zero chance you’ll flip the state from red to blue, even if you are effective at getting some left-leaning voters to turn out. It’s simply not flippable — at least, not this year.
Your second task is to choose an outreach method. All else being equal, the data suggests that sending text messages is one of the most “cost-effective” ways to volunteer. That’s because texts can be sent incredibly quickly, using special software developed specifically for political outreach. Phone calls and letters can take a bit longer to complete, so they’re not quite as efficient — though they’re still useful, especially when trying to reach older voters who are less responsive to text messages.
(Side note: I’ve now heard from three separate GOTV organizations that while plenty of volunteers are happy to text voters, there’s a serious shortage of volunteers willing to make phone calls. This highlights the need for volunteers to be flexible. Ask organizations what help they need most, and try to fill that gap!)
Your final task: notice which form of outreach makes you excited. The goal here is to figure out a way to volunteer that you can sustain as long as possible — ideally through Election Day. If you’re really jazzed to write personal notes on postcards to swing-state voters but drag your feet when it comes to making phone calls, just write the letters — doing something is infinitely better than doing nothing.
Where to sign up:
We recommend three organizations for voter outreach. The first is Vote From Home 2020. Volunteers text and call swing-state voters, helping them navigate the vote-by-mail process and return their ballot well in advance of Election Day. (The people on Vote From Home 2020’s contact list live in swing states and face a higher-than-average risk of Covid and/or voter suppression from voting in person.) You’ll be given a thorough training and an easy-to-follow script, while also having some leeway to connect on a personal level with likely Democratic voters in crucially important states like Michigan, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.
Vote From Home 2020 will also be identifying voters who haven’t returned their absentee ballots by mid-October and helping them safely vote another way, like returning their ballot in a secure drop box. Sign up with Vote From Home 2020 here. (Full disclosure: Charlotte is a pro bono advisor to Vote From Home 2020.)
The second organization in Indivisible. When you sign up for their “Windivisible” program, you can choose to call, text, or write to voters who live in critically important geographic areas: battleground states where Trump is neck and neck with Biden, Senate districts where Democratic candidates are challenging vulnerable Republican incumbents, and competitive House districts where progressive candidates stand a real chance of winning. Sign up with Indivisible here.
The third organization is Vote Forward, the largest grassroots letter-writing campaign in the US. Vote Forward is still looking for volunteers to write letters before their Big Send on October 17th. Their original goal was to write 10 million letters, which they did—so they’re now increasing the goal to 15 million. Pretty incredible. What we love about letter-writing is that it’s an easy action to do virtually with friends; you can all open up a Zoom call and catch up while writing your notes to voters.
2. Staff your local polling place.
Other than voting (and encouraging others to vote), serving as a poll worker is one of the most important things you can do during an election — especially in 2020. With this election marked by reduced polling locations, longer lines, and confusing voting rules (not to mention a global pandemic and rampant voter suppression), voters may show up at their polling place feeling seriously confused or overwhelmed. The role of the poll worker is to see that everything moves smoothly, ensuring that no eligible voter is turned away.
In particular, there is a dire need for young, healthy poll workers who have less to fear from Covid than the older people who traditionally staff polling sites. In past elections, around half of all reported poll workers were over 60 years old. Given the pandemic’s disproportionately severe effect on older adults, this will almost certainly not be the case this year. Indeed, we already saw this during the primary election, as many seniors chose not to work the polls. The result? States struggled to staff polling sites, opting to consolidate or shut down polling locations altogether.
It is essential that younger Americans without pre-existing conditions sign up en masse to staff their polling places — ensuring seniors can protect their health, and voters can cast their ballots with confidence.
(Note that while this piece is couched in the language of volunteering, poll workers are typically compensated for their time. Consider it an added bonus!)
Where to sign up:
We recommend two great organizations. To locate polling places near you and start the process of becoming a poll worker, sign up with All Voting Is Local. You can also sign up via Power the Polls, an organization dedicated to recruiting poll workers and protecting safe and fair voting nationwide.
3. Monitor and prevent voter suppression.
It’s not enough to turn out voters and help them navigate their polling places. We also have to make sure people can vote without fear of misinformation, intimidation, or violence. Already, Trump supporters have protested outside early voting sites in an attempt to suppress Democratic (especially Black and Latinx) voters. Volunteers are sorely needed to monitor polling places for attempts at voter suppression — as well as to identify disinformation spreading across social media and educate voters about their rights.
Where to sign up:
The Election Protection coalition is putting volunteers to work — whether that’s safely monitoring polls in person (or from your car!), surveilling social media for misinformation, or reaching out to voters so that they are up to date on their rights. Anyone can sign up to volunteer, even if they don’t live in a swing state. Sign up here to monitor and prevent voter suppression with the Election Protection coalition.
This truly is the most important, highest-stakes election of our lifetimes. If you aren’t volunteering yet, pick an organization and get going. If you’re already doing your part, share this post with someone who needs to see it. We all need to do something. America’s future depends on it.