Your vote is your voice – don’t give it up!
These are difficult and challenging times for our local communities, our country, and the world. Divisive and heated rhetoric dominate the public dialogue, and the power of money is shutting out the voice of the average voter. More and more people are withdrawing from engagement in the political process out of a growing sense of cynicism and mistrust.
Now, more than ever, your voice and your efforts are needed.
As people of faith, we can play a unique role in this election cycle by encouraging civil, respectful dialogue that builds community and offers a hope-filled vision of the future for all people.
Join the Our Faith, Our Vote campaign and find out how your congregation can participate in the electoral process through faithful, nonpartisan engagement. Check out our resources and sign up for helpful webinars and opportunities to make a difference in this election season.
Post-Election Gratitude for your Work & A Message from our Leaders
After a bitter and bruising election season, we come to this moment. I am so grateful for the many ways that UCC members and churches worked to lift up the voices and concerns of the marginalized – the poor, the unhoused, the vulnerable. You registered, educated, mobilized and prayed with the people of your community. (Read more.)
Lead your Congregation! Become an Our Faith Our Vote Captain!
As a captain you will assist your congregation in activities related to at least one of three areas:
- Voter Registration - Organize a church voter registration team. Make sure your congregation is 100% registered. Register your church-based or community service clients. Provide your college-bound students with information on absentee voting or voting in their campus community.
- Voter Education - Hold issue forums in which church members can talk openly and respectfully about key issues in this election season on the local, state, federal and international levels. Create spaces to encourage people to connect their faith with their hopes for the 2016 election and beyond.
- Voter Empowerment and Mobilization - Organize nonpartisan get-out-the-vote activities for your congregation and community. Empower members of your community with the information they need to exercise their right to vote.
Our Faith Our Vote Tips & Resources
- Get Active in the Elections
- Get Out the Vote
- College Resources
- Youth and Young Adults in Action
- Worship Resources
- Being a Civil Voice in Uncivil Times
- Ballot Initiatives
- Election Protection
- Helpful Links
- Download Toolkit
College campuses are the ideal place for election work. Colleges are natural places to discuss ideas and they bring together a wide variety of people to one central location. Campuses are home to people from a range of backgrounds and faiths. Every member of the campus community can become part of the UCC Our Faith Our Vote campaign.
To be most effective we suggest that you try working with the college presidents, dean of students, student leaders, chaplains, registrar, and employee groups in developing creative and effective ways to both encourage voter registration and increase voter participation. All of the people will have ideas to share and if your energy inspires them to get involved they will be able to help strengthen and broaden your efforts.
There may be other organization on campus registering voters, holding rallies and making phone calls to get out the student vote. If you have a group of UCC students or students of faith, it might be helpful to work as a group within a larger effort - unless of course your group is the only one doing election work or is large enough to run a campus program of your own!
- Voter Registration
- Open a Polling place on your campus
- Absentee Ballots
- Candidate Forums
- Debate Screenings
- Voter Files
- Phone Banking
- Public Announcements
- Voter Transportation
- On Election Day
- Helpful Links
Ideas for Voter Registration
Many college students are newly eligible for vote. Others might be registered at home but not in the state where they attend school. Students live in the area a minimum of nine months out of the year so some may want to register locally. Here are some ideas for voter registration:
- Attach a voter registration form to each course registration form or set up a registration table by the registrar. If your school does online or phone registration, ask to add message encouraging all students to register and informing them of where they can obtain a form. Be sure to coordinate with the registrar!
- Include voter registration information in paychecks, with student loan disbursements, and course catalogs.
- Work with the Dean of Students or head of student life to include presentations to students during orientation. There you can distribute voter registration materials and help new students to complete their forms.
- Mass mail registration forms to all students. Consider including faculty and staff!
- Encourage faculty to discuss and distribute voter registration materials in class. Here's where having the support of the Dean or some Department Chairs will be useful.
- Have a party! Invite a local band to play, sponsor an ultimate Frisbee tournament or get student life or campus ministry to sponsor a cookout. While everyone is gathered get them to register!
- Set up a table outside the cafeteria, sporting events, concerts, plays, etc.
- Go door-to-door in the dorms, or better yet, get Residence Assistants to help you! R.A.'s are typically required to host periodic social events with their residents. Ask them to do an election themed event and register everyone on their floor!
Things to remember:
- It's important that you have both federal and state voter registration forms on hand. Some people may register to vote locally, others may prefer to use their home address.
- Encourage people to register locally - most students live in or around campus for nine months of the year for four years. They can establish residency and often stay close to school after graduation. They can vote where they live!
- Include absentee ballot information with all voter registration material.
- Even if you make registration forms available to everyone on campus, your work isn't done! You need to establish a system to collect all the completed forms. Set up secure drop boxes in high traffic areas or establish a campus mailbox the forms can be sent to.
The big finish: Completed Registration Forms
The most important step of all is to mail in the completed forms within 7-10 days of collecting them. To save time and postage, just bundle up all the cards, put them in an envelope or box, and mail them to the elections office in your state or local jurisdiction. Or better yet, hand-deliver all the cards to the elections office yourself.
Opening a polling place on your campus
If you are interested in opening a polling place on campus, you will have to begin planning well in advance of election day. Here's where having the involvement and the buy in of your college administration will enhance the success of the project.
Contact the local elections official and see what is required to operate a polling place on your campus. College campuses are ideal polling places because they offer ample space, usually have plenty of parking, and are accessible to the handicapped. Plus, opening a polling place will make it easier for people to vote between classes and will increase your voter participation.
Providing absentee ballots will increase your voter participation enormously. Many students and even some professors may be registered to vote at their home address. You can help make it easy for them to vote by providing the address of the local election official so they can contact them to obtain an absentee ballot. You may want to create a form letter for people to use when requesting an application. Each jurisdiction has different laws and regulations for absentee voting, so each person should contact their elections office to get further information on when the applications and ballots are due.
Keep a list of people who have registered to vote at their home address. Then you can contact them about three weeks before the election to be sure they have requested their absentee ballot, and again about one week before the election to be sure they have mailed the ballot back to the appropriate elections office. It might be useful to send out campus wide email reminders or hang signs around so people are reminded to vote absentee. Get state-by-state absentee voter rules from Long Distance Voter.
Organize a Candidate Forum
Candidates for office at all levels love to visit college campuses. It gives them a chance to connect with young voters and be seen in an academic setting. Holding candidate forums helps open up the communication between candidates and their constituents and gets people interested in an election. Here's some ideas to help you get started.
Invite the candidates
Send an invitation letter to the candidates well before the planned event and follow up with a phone call. It may take some time to find a date that will work for the schedules of the candidates in the race. Be flexible.
Plan the format
There are many ways to set up a candidate forum. Here are some of the comment formats. (1) You can allow the candidates to give prepared remarks and have people ask follow-up questions from the audience. (2) You could have prepared questions to ask the candidates on issues important to your community. (3) Pass out index cards to the audience to write questions on and pass them in to be read. (4) Leave enough time at the end for candidates to give closing statements. Give candidates the same amount of time to make their closing remarks. Make sure to have your moderator thank the the candidates for their attendance and to remind people of voting day and encourage them to get out and vote.
Publicize the event
Include brief notices in the newsletters of churches, campus groups, community-based organizations, and other groups related to the ministry of your UCC church or your school. Ask your campus radio station and other media sources to run public service announcements. Ask to be listed in calendars of events in the local newspapers. Display posters in high traffic areas.
Inform the press
Invite the local newspaper, campus media outlets and TV stations to cover your candidate forum or debate. This is a great way to get coverage of the issues to a broader audience. It also gives us a chance to show that your campus and UCC churches are engaged in the political process.
Further Guidelines (These may not apply to your school, but do apply to church sponsored events and non-profit activities)
- Appearing at separate events - You are not required to have all candidates speak on the same date or at the same event. However, you must provide equal access to other candidates in the same race. No campaigning or fundraising should take place.
- Limiting the number of candidates- If the number of candidates for particular office is too large to be practical during a forum or debate, you can limit the number of invitees provided that you adopt and consistently apply the reasonable and objective criteria for deciding between candidates.
- Speaking as a non-candidates - Sometimes candidates who are public figures or are experts in a particular field outside of their candidacy are invited to appear at church-sponsored or school-sponsored functions. They are welcome to come and may be acknowledged just as any visiting dignitary might be, provided that they are not invited to use the occasion as a platform for their candidacy and do not mention the election or their candidacy.
Screening a debate is a simple way to get people interested in the elections. Arrange a place to view the debate (maybe a large gathering in the theater or a small group in your dorm or student center). Promote the event with posters, campus wide emails or a facebook invitation. If you can provide food all the better. Once every one is gathered, watch the debate and leave time at the end for discussion. It may be helpful to invite a moderator to keep things ordered and respectful.
Screenings are great ideas for residence life staff who need to plan social events. They are also a terrific opportunity to get people to sign up to vote.
A voter file is a list of names, addresses, phone numbers, and party registration that is maintained by your local elections office. This is public information and you can purchase it for a nominal fee to use in your Get Out the Vote efforts. If you copy all the voter registration forms before you send them in to the elections office, you may not need to invest in the list.
Phone banking is the easiest and fastest way to contact people and urge them to vote. You will need a list of names, phone numbers, and a bank of phones. Call, remind people to vote and give them clear directions to nearby polling places.
In general, you will want to call people the night before the election and remind them that tomorrow is Election Day. Typically, one person can contact 20-25 people per hour. This can be even easier on a college campus where most forms of communication - campus email, phone systems and typically a campus post office - are easily accessible.
Canvassing is walking through the dorms or the neighboring precincts, and knocking on doors reminding people to vote in the election. Canvassing provides a cheap and effective way to distribute voter education materials.
Using your voting list, start walking through the neighborhoods and dorms knocking on doors of registered voters. When you approach the door, identify yourself and tell them why you are there (to make sure they remember to vote). Leave materials with them - including directions to the polling places and the voting hours.
Remember: Do not endorse a particular candidate or political party. You are not advising people how to vote. If you want to promote a particular candidate, sign up with one of the campaigns to engage in this activity.
In general, canvassing should not be done on Election Day, since you can reach more people faster with a phone call than knocking on doors. Canvassing is good activity for the weekend before the election as a last-minute voter education tool.
Ask your campus radio and TV stations to broadcast public service announcements in the days before the registration deadline and the election, reminding people to vote. Put up table tents in the cafeteria, the library, and the student union urging people to vote. Make sure to list the date of the election, polling locations, and what time the polls open and close.
One of the most useful things you can do is provide voters a ride to the poll. Try to enlist the help of your campus transportation. Does your school have a shuttle? Does your University own buses or vans for transporting sports teams? See if you can get the college to pledge some time, vehicles and drivers. If not, maybe you can get together a crew of students who are willing to car pool. Arrange a meeting place and head to the polls. Make sure to publicize your transportation options.
- Make yourself visible - This could range from standing on the side of the street with signs saying "VOTE," to leafleting the parking lots with fliers reminding people to vote before the polls close. Emails and table drops in the cafeteria can be helpful. Be creative!
- Be a poll watcher. Some states permit representatives of nonpartisan citizen organizations to observe polling places. Contact your local elections officer to find out requirements your organization must meet to serve as poll watchers.
Politics is often taken to be a dirty word, but political processes are simply the way communities organize their common life. For people of faith, public policy is never merely politics. It is a way of living out the commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves.
It is fitting for local congregations and church structures across the country to develop nonpartisan programs to help the faith community reflect upon the political order. The Our Faith Our Vote Campaign is designed to help you discover the ways in which you, as an individual and as a congregation, can get involved in the political process.
Our country is in crisis in many ways. It is time for well minded, engaged and faithful people to speak out and get involved in the political process. Let's go public with our faith! We'll show you how!
Guidelines for Congregations and Clergy on Political Action
Because the political activities of churches are limited due to their IRS Tax exempt Status, it is important to know what your rights are. This guide will help you understand what kind of activities UCC churches can undertake to raise our voices in the elections in ways that are legally protected. Download.
- “IRS Code Prohibitions on Political Campaign Interventions,” Memo from UCC Office of General Council.
- "Consequences of Losing Tax-Exempt Status," Memo from UCC Office of General Council.
- See full IRS Guidelines
The first phase of the Our Faith Our Vote campaign is to launch a voter registration drive at your church. Our goal is to have every eligible voter at your UCC church registered and voting. The publicity that your voter registration effort receives in the church will likely spark a conversation about the importance of expressing our faith through civic participation and getting your church members out to vote. Download.
Observe National Voter Registration Day on September 27th!
- Check out our voter registration tips.
- Register to vote.
While it's true that churches as 501(c)3 organizations cannot support or oppose a candidate for political office, there are many ways to appropriately and faithfully engage in dialog about the issues at stake. For examples, check out our issue briefs on campaign financing, immigration, mountain top removal, etc. Download.
Organize a Candidate Forum
Many people do not vote because they don't feel connected to the candidates or the issues at stake in an election. Holding candidate forums helps open up the communication between candidates and their constituents and gets people interested in an election. Where better than your church to hold an open dialog? Think about the officials running for office in your community. This guide can help you plan an event that makes sense for your church, whether it be a full fledged debate or a coffee hour with the candidates. Download.
An average election in the United States has around 60% of the eligible voting population turning out at the polls. There are a variety of reasons that people don’t get out and vote: their job schedule does not allow it, they are away and didn’t apply for an absentee ballot, disillusionment with the political atmosphere, among others. With the rise in popularity of suppressive voting legislation, we may see an even lower turnout than normal in this election. What can we do to get out the vote?
Colleges are the perfect place to engage people about the elections. By working on a campus you can work with students, professors, and the community at large to develop creative and effective ways both to encourage voter registration and increase voter participation. The campaign can serve as a focal point for common discourse, promote the vital responsibility of citizenship and enhance the role of the campus as a setting where ideas and issues are openly and vigorously debated. No where else will you find more energy and passion than on a college campus. Check out our College page for some ideas. Learn more.
Youth bring a unique perspective and tangible energy to election year activism. Although young people under 18 may not be able to legally cast their votes, their voices can still be heard. There are a number of ways for youth to participate in elections and make an impact on their future. This guide contains some to get you started. Download.
We don't have all the answers! Check out the work of the following organizations. This list gives some of the organizations and websites that staff of the UCC refer to when we receive election-related information requests from our members.
Voter Registration and Get-Out-the-Vote information
- National Campaign for Fair Elections
- Federal Election Commission
- League of Women Voters [resouces in Spanish]
- Project Vote
- Vote 411
- APIA Vote [Information targeted at Asian and Pacific Islander Voters]
Youth and Young Adults
- Rock the Vote
- United States Student Association
- Vote Latino
- Future Majority [Progressive Youth Blogs on Politics]
- The League of Young Voters
Faith-Based Voter Projects
Voting Policy and Reform