Introduction to Integrated Voter Engagement

What is Integrated Voter Engagement? Well, let's unpack the term.

Integrated (in′ti grāt′tid), adj.

  1. combining or coordinating separate elements so as to provide a harmonious, interrelated whole
  2. organized or structured so that constituent units function cooperatively
  3. having, including, or serving members of different racial, religious, and ethnic groups as equals
  4. of or pertaining to a group or society whose members interact on the basis of commonly held norms or values

Voter (vō′ter), n.

  1. a person who votes
  2. a person who has the right to vote

Engagement (en gājd′ ment), adj.: to engage (en gājd), n.

  1. to occupy the attention or efforts of a person or persons
  2. to occupy oneself, become involved

Random House Unabridged Dictionary, Second Edition

Having the right vs. exercising the right

Notice that a voter is not just someone who votes but someone who has the right to do so. They may rarely make it to the polls but to election organizers they are “voters” – and part of the task is to convince them to see themselves this way as well, to understand, in effect, what it means to have the right to vote, and to encourage them to exercise that right at every opportunity.

How does a “sometimes” voter become an “always” voter? They participate in the “culture and practice of voting.” These are the folks who vote for school board because they recognize that it can mean the difference between the library at their children’s school having 1,000 books and five times as many. These are the folks who want to see change in their community and who read up on the candidates’ positions to see if they’ll address the important issues. These are the folks who put signs on their lawns and who volunteer to canvass their neighborhoods over get-out-the-vote weekend. These are the folks who may be running for school board in a few years. Simply stated, these are voters who are engaged in the electoral process.

Degrees of engagement

At the fundamental level, a canvasser engages a voter in conversation at their door, talking, neighbor-to-neighbor, about issues that impact their community. Some projects host a candidate forum and invite voters to directly engage the candidates about what they would do once in office. A voter may become engaged in the project by volunteering to make canvassing phone calls to other voters; precinct captains, already engaged in the electoral process, may take it a step further and become public policy and accountability advocates after the election. Community members must become the leaders of civic participation projects in order for them to be sustained over the long term, as Henry Serrano, the senior organizer of Community Voices Heard’s voter engagement program in New York City, explains in the video.

Putting it all together

“Integrated” means that the different work you do to engage voters is integrated; that there is a seamless transition from voter registration to data management to turnout to base-building. It also means that the electoral project is integrated in the work of your organization as a whole; that it supports public policy and community organizing goals while building membership and capacity. The most successful civic participation movements are integrated economically and ethnically; they unite people from different walks of life to advocate for shared values.

Building a movement of people who care about issues that are crucial to the wellbeing of their communities, who are willing to speak out about these issues and who – the critical element – will vote in every election and will keep voting and speaking out and caring until their communities are safe, equitable and prosperous places – this is what integrated voter engagement is about. Put it all together and you get something like what Bineshi Albert describes in this video: integrated voter engagement is equally a tool for community, leadership, and your organization’s development as it is for voter turnout.

Click to hear from an organizer

Bineshi Albert talks the sustained nature of NAVA's electoral work Bineshi Albert: building a politically active community

Anthony Thigpenn says that SCOPE considers alliances part of long-term movement-building plan Anthony Thigpenn: voter participation work is a fundamental part of policy and base-building

Henry Serrano explains that leadership development is the key to a successful and longerm electoral project.

Henry Serrano: training community leaders sustains a long term project