Going back to UCC Office of Commuication Inc.'s founding, we have focused on holding broadcasters accountable to the communities they serve. We made more progress this June when the Federal Communications Commission ruled that information about political advertisements, including those placed by the new Super PACs, must be made available online. These records, which are currently public but housed in filing cabinets at TV broadcast stations, should start to become available in time for the 2012 fall election season. In April, leaders of OC Inc. and the UCC's Our Faith, Our Vote initiative celebrated this important victory. In addition, UCC OC Inc. is collaborating with the Sunlight Foundation and Free Press with a pilot project in Wisconsin to ensure this information is available to everyone. The Rev. Andrew Warner of Plymouth Church UCC in Milwaukee preached a sermon asking Wisconsin residents to come together across partisan divides to support campaign advertising disclosure and seeking volunteers to help with this endeavor.
A few months ago I heard Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, former Speaker of the House, address a crowd. Speaking of the fall Presidential election she said, “This is the most important election in our lifetime,” and then in a moment of honesty she added, “Of course we politicians always say the next election is the most important; and in fact I may be back here saying the same thing again before another election.”
Tuesday, whether the candidate we personally supported won or lost, was but one election; there will be more, and with each one we may tell ourselves, “this is the most important election.” Each election does matter; and a loss in one election can have decades long effects. I still grieve the 2006 election, which wrote a prohibition against marriage equality into our state constitution. An election victory or an election loss can shape our state and nation significantly.
But there shall be more elections. And so while I have an opinion about the outcome of this last election, I am more reflective about the landscape of our state and our nation after the series of elections past and those coming in the future. How shall we move forward?
In looking across the landscape of our country, I’m struck by the ways our society is changing. My observations are not unique. Three trends catch my eye. First, the gap between the rich and poor grew every year since 1980, so that the wealthiest Americans now control a quarter of the wealth in our country, the same as in 1929. Second, increasing numbers of Americans opt out of religious communities and instead identify with no religious community; a trend especially apparent among young adults. Lastly, a broad political consensus that existed between political parties eroded as liberals became more liberal and conservatives became more conservative.
After this election I am particularly mindful of the way the third trend - partisan polarization - affects us all. On Wednesday the Pew Research Center released its study on American values. Pew surveyed American values, as it has since the 1980’s, on a variety of questions. It found political differences now divide Americans more than race, income, religion, education, or sex.
Think about that finding: in a country which enslaved people on the basis of race for 200 years, then denied basic rights for another 100, and even now practices an unspoken segregation, we are more divided by politics than by race. At one time you could predict how someone would feel about welfare programs or immigration or birth control if you knew their religion, or their economic class, or their race. But now the best way to predict their views comes down to one question: who do you support for president. Pew found that divisions according to race and class and religion are now superseded by partisan divisions.
With the recall and of these trends in mind, we turn to our reading from 1 Samuel 8. The Prophet Samuel spoke against the request of the elders of Israel for a king. Our tradition often focuses on Samuel’s critique of the accumulation of power in the hands of a king, but the debate between Samuel and the elders is what can best inform our understanding of our political situation today.
As you may recall, the Prophet Samuel lived through the tumultuous transition of the people of Israel from an collection of loosely organized tribes led by occasional charismatic leaders into a nation state governed by a monarchy. Samuel began as an apprentice to the Prophet Eli. Eli had several sons he hoped would follow him as prophets to the people of Israel; but God saw the corruption of Eli’s sons, so Samuel took over from Eli. Now the situation appeared ready to repeat itself: aged Samuel’s sons based their judgments on the bribes they received.
The elders of Israel came to Samuel upset with the situation. They said to Samuel, “You are old and your sons do not follow in your ways; appoint for us, then, a king to govern us, like other nations.” The elders wanted justice: the sons of Samuel were corrupt, abused their power, mocked the idea of the impartial judge. “We want a king to judge us instead of your corrupt sons,” they pleaded.
If Samuel remembered the corruption of Eli’s sons, he didn’t let on to it. Instead, Samuel complained to God and the elders about the request for king. At the heart of Samuel’s critique was the charge, spoken by God, that the request for a king displaced God. Samuel presented himself as someone aggrieved by the elders’ suggestion, as someone whose only interest was in protecting God’s authority. But Samuel continually overlooked the concern of the elders about the corruption of his sons. He spoke for God’s dignity but ignored justice.
God told Samuel to listen to what the people said. Instead, Samuel tried to dissuade them by cataloguing all the ways a king would abuse them, suggesting in this way that his own corrupt sons would be better than a king. The king would conscript their sons into battles, redistribute wealth, and tax the people. His words reverberated with the word take. “The king,” Samuel warned, “will take and take and take and take until you are all slaves.”
Samuel’s strong warning fell on deaf ears. The elders remained adamant, “we want a king to fight our battles.” And perhaps the people were so insistent because of the corruption of first Eli’s sons and then Samuel’s sons. The people already knew what it was like to have their property taken and taken; that was what it was like to live with the prophets’ sons.
It strikes me that Samuel and the elders were locked into a partisan battle. Samuel claimed to speak for God and tradition, but ignored his own sons’ corrupt ways. The elders denounced corruption but were blind to the dangers of their own solution. Both seemed to talk past each other.
Samuel and the elders do not line up with our political parties today. But there debate feels familiar. We’re increasingly locked in partisan debates in our country; but do we miss some truth in what the other is saying just as Samuel and the elders missed what was true because of the intensity of their argument?
Lost in their debate was the real question of justice. Who would protect the poor from corrupt judges? Who would protect people from the seizure of their property? Who would protect workers from mistreatment? Who would keep the sons and daughters from conscription in foreign wars?
Our tradition commonly takes the point of view of Samuel - kings are bad - but I wonder if we ought to pay more attention to the odd role God plays in the story. God seemed to share Samuel’s analysis of kings - “they have rejected me” - but doesn’t seem perturbed by it - “listen to the people.” Perhaps God saw what Samuel didn’t - the corruption of the prophets’ sons, the corruptions of the kings. What mattered to God was not who would rule but who would speak for justice.
This concern for justice reminded me of a favorite line in one of James Madison’s Federalist Papers. “If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary.” And by that Madison meant to remind us that neither people nor governments were angels.
Madison devised several solutions. Most famously, Madison drafted the Bill of Rights in order to protect people from the abuse of power. But he also remained focused on justice. In the Federalist papers he wrote, “Justice is the [purpose] of government. It is the [purpose] of civil society. It ever has been and ever will be pursued until it be obtained, or until liberty be lost in the pursuit.” One of Madison’s clearest measures of a just government was the extent to which a minority was guarded against oppression by the majority. I think James Madison might have a definition of justice we could agree on regardless of party.
Every election matters. It mattered for the people of Israel that the elders convinced Samuel to appoint Saul king. It matters who wins. But regardless of who rules, we need people who will speak up for justice.
Over the last few decades our Christian movement, the United Church of Christ, raised its voice for justice regardless of who ruled. Many of the ways we’ve done so remain unknown even in our movement. One of those stories concerns the Office of Communication. The Office of Communication was formed during the civil rights era to deal with discrimination against African-Americans in the news media. At that time southern television stations would drop the national news feed whenever it turned to the civil rights movement. One would see the briefest clip of Martin Luther King speaking and then a sign would appear, “Sorry, Cable Trouble.”
The situation was particularly bad in Jackson, Mississippi, where the local television station maintained a KKK bookstore on its property. Needless to say, their only stories about African- Americans involved crime.
The Office of Communication trained monitors to record exactly what happened on the television station, documenting all of its coverage to prove discrimination. The study became the heart of a landmark legal challenge in which the United Church of Christ sued to take away the television licence of the station. And we won. The shock of this victory altered the media landscape because no other stations wanted to lose their licence.
The Office of Communication continues to speak up for justice today. This April it achieved another victory. As we’ve all seen in the recall election, millions of dollars poured into our state, flooding our airwaves with advertisements from unknown super pacs like “Wisconsin Citizens for a Better Tomorrow” and “A Better Tomorrow for Wisconsin” and a hundred other previously unknown groups of mysterious origin. The FCC only required television stations to make information on advertizers available in file cabinets at the station. The Office of Communication successfully changed the rule. The FCC will require stations to make the information available electronically, which will allow us to begin to gain transparency to the advertising.
But the FCC plans to delay the implementation of this rule. So now the Office of Communication needs volunteers to help monitor, much as it needed them decades ago. In this case it involves taking a couple of hours to visit a television station, photocopy their files, and turn them in to the UCC. Its a small, practical way to raise a voice for justice, transparency, and fairness.
We’re often divided along partisan lines - could we come together around issues of transparency and fair debate? Could we find a common voice for justice? There will be another election; may ours always be a voice for justice. Because what will move our state forward, regardless of who rules, is people united in raising a voice for justice. Alleluia and Amen.
Contact Cheryl Leanza of OC Inc. if you live in Wisconsin and want to help with this effort.
Straight talk about key issues in the midterm election season
Recorded October 22, 2014: https://pbucc.webex.com/pbucc/ldr.php?RCID=1ec6cd99f73e6749c4ce60f79d7e564c
Tired of campaign ads that don’t actually address the real issues at stake in the upcoming elections? Looking for something more than superficial soundbites about the issues that matter to you and your community? The latest in our series of Our Faith Our Vote webinars is for you! Join us on October 22 at 3 pm for a discussion about key issues facing our nation and world as we head into the midterm elections. Our speakers will highlight issues related to the economy, health care and international peace and security from a faith perspective. Join the dialogue and share your questions and concerns. (Stream recording)
Voter Registration – Make every voice heard! (Recorded)
September 23 marks National Voter Registration Day, a good reminder that there is still time to ensure that members of your congregation and community are registered to vote.
Wondering how to make voter registration opportunities available to your community? Concerned about the guidelines for nonprofit religious organizations engaging in voter registration and education? This webinar is for you!
Sign up to participate in the UCC Our Faith Our Vote webinar on voter registration, Friday, September 19 at 3 pm EST. If you are not able to join the webinar in live time, you can access an archived version through the UCC Our Faith Our Vote website.
In this pivotal midterm election year, with so many challenges ahead for our nation and the world, much is at stake in choosing our policy decision makers. You can help make sure that the voices of your community are heard.
(Recorded September 19, 2014 |http://bit.ly/1r73Ohw)
Our Faith Our Vote 2014 (Recorded)
The first Just Practice webinar focused on how members and congregations can be engaged in electoral politics. Together we explored a number of questions, including:
- Why we are involved in electoral politics and what is our unique voice as communities of faith?
- Our Faith Our Vote, a UCC campaign to assist congregations and members to be faithfully engaged in the electoral process.
- Election rules as they apply to congregations – what we can and can’t do.
- What is the Voting Rights Amendment Act? Why is it important for our right to vote and how can we support it.
- Role of “big” money in campaigns - Why this is an important issue and what we can do about it.
- Your questions and concerns
(Recorded June 5, 2014)
- Webinar Recording
- Just Practices: Our Faith Our Vote presentation (PowerPoint)
- Moving Forward on Voting Rights - Presntation by Ellen Buchman (PowerPoint)
- Government for Sale: The Crisis of Money in Politics - Presentation by Aquene Freechild (PowerPoint)
Congregations Engaging in the Elections (Recorded)
This webinar will focuses on “best practices” from the 2012 Our Faith Our Vote campaign- a time to share stories and ideas about how UCC members and congregations can and are engaging in voter registration, education, and get-out-the-vote. We also explores ways you can incorporate the Our Faith Our Vote campaign into your congregation’s fall programming. Our speakers are UCC justice advocates from congregations around the country who have been actively engaged in the electoral process. (Recorded August 29th, 2012)
When Religion and Politics Meet: A Conversation About the Role of Religion in the Electoral Process (Recorded)
Although we have heard it said that religion and politics shouldn’t mix, people of faith can and do play an important role in the public square and the political life of our nation. But what might that role look like, and how can people of faith and houses of worship engage in the electoral process in a healing, respectful and responsible way? What are some of the legal guidelines for participation by people of faith? What are some of the uses and misuses of religion in political campaigns, and how can people of faith promote civil, thoughtful dialogue across differences on critical issues of the day.
Join us for a conversation with Rev. Welton Gaddy, President of the Interfaith Alliance, and K. Hollyn Hollman, general counsel, Baptist Joint Committee for Religious Liberty to learn about ways that you and your congregation can become involved! (Recorded: May 15, 2012)
Our Faith Our Vote Civility Pledge
I believe our communities, our country and our world are stronger and safer and when we treat each other with respect. I believe that my voice is important, and I believe that listening to the voices of others is important for a healthy, vibrant democratic process. I believe that insulting, attacking or demonizing people with whom we disagree is unproductive and unacceptable. As individuals and as community, we can and should do better.
As a person of faith, I pledge to participate responsibly and faithfully in the electoral process. I recognize my responsibility for supporting a free, fair and respectful democratic process, and I pledge to do my part. I commit to honoring my own voice and the voice of others. I commit to educating myself and others about the issues at stake in these elections. I commit to expressing myself responsibly, to seek to learn from different perspectives, to always offer respect to others, and to challenge hurtful, disrespectful behavior when I can.
“Indeed, the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot would say, ‘Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear would say, ‘Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,’ that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would the hearing be? If the whole body were hearing, where would the sense of smell be? …As it is, there are many members, yet one body. The eye cannot say to the hand, “I have no need of you,’ nor again the head to the feet, “I have no need of you.’ … If one member suffers, all suffer together with it; if one member is honored, all rejoice together with it.” [I Corinthians 12: 14-26]
“Let no evil talk come out of your mouths, but only what is useful for building up, as there is need, so that your words may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with which you were marked with a seal for the day of your redemption. Put away from you all bitterness and wrath and anger and wrangling and slander, together with malice, and be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another as Christ has forgiven you. [Ephesians 4: 29-32]
While public discussion of political issues has the potential to bring out the best in us - by surfacing creative new ideas or developing effective problem-solving strategies - more often than not in our public dialogue the opposite seems to be happening. From the national dialogue about health care to the passionate discussion of immigration reform this year, it is all too easy for anger and frustration to get the best of us. Whether around the office water cooler or the extended family dinner table, reasoned conversation is taking a back seat to personal attacks and replayed sound bites. Because we avoid these conversations, we miss out on deeper understanding of the issues.
As people of faith participating in the public square, we are called to a higher standard of engagement and interaction with our neighbors, even those with whom we may disagree on an issue. Our faith provides us with spiritual resources to take the conversation to a different level. We can choose respect and hope over animosity and bitterness. We can choose to listen and learn rather than attack and insult. We can choose to have civic discussions in civil tones.
We do not have to avoid the hard issues. We can prepare ourselves for a better conversation by using some of the following ideas to shape your conversation on the difficult and emotion-filled issues of the day:
Show Respect: Rather than trying to “win” a debate with your arguments, judge your success by how well you demonstrate respect for other people and for what insights or interesting challenges arise for you. Stay away from insults and personal attacks, and keep trying to return to the substance of the issue. The more respect you show for someone else’s opinions, the more reason they have to respect yours.
Listen: One of the best ways to show respect is to listen. Focus on what the other person is saying, rather than focusing on what you are going to say next. Ask yourself, “What are they trying to express?” “What is important to them?” “Where do we agree?
Seek Understanding: Try to understand the context from which other people are speaking – ask yourself why they see things the way they do. Ask open-ended questions that invite others to say more about why they believe what they believe.
Share Your Own Views Well: Put thought and energy into articulating your own views clearly and concisely. What do you believe and why? Statistics can be helpful, but often sharing your personal stories is most effective. Claim your own opinions by using “I” statements, such as “I believe…” and “In my experience…” Try to avoid exaggeration or the use of sound bites or slogans – use your own words.
Keep Your Head: Talking about public policy issues often taps into strong emotions and passions. Remember to pause, take a deep breath from time to time, and give yourself time to respond. Few people benefit or learn anything from a shouting match. You can help set the tone of the conversation by continuing to act with civility even when others are not. If someone is not showing respect – for instance, by interrupting or not listening to your comments – calmly ask that they do so. “You just shared your opinion and I listened without interrupting, could you please listen to mine?”
- Realize that the Holy Spirit is present and active in the conversation and has given each participant a part of the truth you are seeking to discern.
- Follow the Golden Rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you” – even when you disagree with them.
- Listen respectfully and carefully to others.
- State what you think you heard someone say and ask for clarification before responding, in an effort to make sure to understand each other.
- Speak honestly about your thoughts and feelings. Share personal experiences to help others more fully understand your concerns and perspectives on the issues. Conversations can be passionate and still be respectful, civil and constructive.
- Speak for yourself, rather than as a member of a group. Use “I” statements rather than “You” statements.
- Focus on ideas and suggestions instead of questioning people’s motives, intelligence or integrity.
- Look for and lift up points of agreement as well as disagreement.
- Create space for everyone’s concerns to be spoken, even when they disagree.
- Seek to stay in community with each other even though the discussion may be vigorous and perhaps tense.
- Keep an open mind and heart. You may not hear if you judge too quickly.
- Pray for God’s grace to listen attentively, to speak clearly and to remain open to the vision God holds for all of us.
[Adapted from “Ground Rules for Conversation” (Evangelical Lutheran Church Department for Communication) and “Seeking to be Faithful Together” (adopted by the 204th General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church, USA)
Links to Additional Resources an Civility
- Reclaiming Civility in the Public Square: Ten Rules That Work
- Radio interview with Diana Butler Bass: On Civility and Graciousness
- Dialogue vs. Debate: A Guide
- UCC General Synod Resource
We welcome visitors to the Washington Office. Please feel free to contact us with any questions about our work.
United Church of Christ Washington Office
To email specific individuals please visit our staff page.
The Staff of the Washington office work to promote just public policy. Their portfolios cover a range of domestic and international issues.
Sandy Sorensen - (Bio)
Director of the Washington Office
Rev. Michael Neuroth
Policy Advocate for International Issues
Policy Advocate for Domestic Issues
Online Communications Specialist
Justice and Peace Policy Fellow
With so much at stake in November it is deeply troubling that such a fundamental part of the democratic process, the right to cast one’s vote and to have that vote counted, is increasingly in question. But we can make a difference and take action to strengthen our democratic process. Now more than ever, it is critical for justice advocates to help work for fair elections and insure that the rights of all voters are protected at the polls.
By participating in the nonpartisan Election Protection campaign in the days leading up to the elections and on Election Day, you can help to make it possible for the voices of the voters to be heard and counted. How? By volunteering to staff the election protection legal hotline, acting as poll monitors, volunteering to staff your local polls, and making sure everyone in your community knows who to call for help if they are prevented from casting their vote.
Visit the Election Protection website for tools and resources to help insure fair elections.
The national, nonpartisan Election Protection coalition of which the United Church of Christ is a member, was formed to ensure that all voters have an equal opportunity to participate in the political process. Made up of more than 100 local, state and national partners, Election Protection works year-round to advance and defend the right to vote.
Election Protection provides Americans from coast to coast with comprehensive voting information on how they can make sure their vote is counted through a number of resources including:
- 866-OUR-VOTE (English - administered by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law)
- 888-Ve-Y-Vota (Spanish/English - administered by the NALEO Educational Fund),
- 888-API-VOTE (Asian Languages/English - administered by APIAVote & Asian Americans Advancing Justice-AAJC);
- 844-YALLA-US (Arabic/English - administered by the Arab American Institute)
- Voter protection field programs across the country
- Digital tools including 866ourvote.org, @866ourVote, and facebook.com/866OurVote
Throughout the election, our volunteers collect information to paint a picture of election irregularities. Election Protection focuses on the voter - not on the political horse race - and provides guidance, information and help to any American, regardless of who that voter is casting a ballot for.
Spread the word:
Want to help?
Concerned about voter intimidation in this election? Passionate about ensuring that every vote counts? Sign up to be an Election Protection volunteer! Help support the EP call center or volunteer in the field on Election Day to help voters navigate the our voting system.
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.