Voter Registration Guide
COVID-19 is disruptive, upsetting, and creating a lot of uncertainty. We encourage you to prioritize taking care of yourselves, loved ones, and neighbors.
In-person voter registration isn’t possible while we practice physical distancing. However, Swing Left offers effective ways to organize and reach voters virtually. If you’d also like to help transform our government safely from home, check out our Virtual Organizing Hub for more information about how to do so safely.
Before reading this guide, please note: Swing Left does not provide legal advice to organizations or individuals, and none of Swing Left's voter registration materials should be construed as legal advice. If you have legal questions, we recommend seeking advice from outside counsel or the relevant state agencies.
Voter registration is key to helping preserve our democracy by empowering individuals to use their right to vote. We need to ensure that as many Democrats as possible are on the voter rolls, registered at their current address, and equipped with all of the information that they need to turn out on Election Day. This is all the more critical as Republicans in many states are doubling down on efforts to make registering to vote—and voting—harder.
This work is even more important in Super States, where each voter can vote for Democratic candidates in several crucial races such as the Presidency, the Senate, and State Legislative races—all at once. In this guide, you’ll find resources, tips and tricks, and best practices to use when registering voters.
In This Guide
I. How Do We Register Voters?
First and foremost, voter registration can be tricky. Each state has their own set of laws dictating what you can and can’t do and say when registering voters. Make sure you’re familiar with the laws for the state where you’re registering voters before you go—we’ve compiled some helpful voter registration resources
for Swing Left Super States to help you get started.
Whether coordinating with a group, partner organization, or hosting your own Voter Registration drive, please let us know by posting details to Swing Left's Mobilize America. That way, other Swing Left volunteers will see it and can join your event! There’s a chance a group is already registering voters near you—join them here.
When registering voters, there are two different strategies—using an online tool, like Rock the Vote, or using paper registration forms.
Online tools, like Rock the Vote’s online voter registration tool, help individuals register to vote or update their registration with their current addresses. Somes states allow some individuals to complete their voter register online while others require some additional follow-up. More on this below.
How online tools work
In all Super States (except for Maine, Michigan, and Texas), voters can complete the entire registration process online.
- Online voter registration systems work for individuals that have state-issued driver’s licenses or identification cards. A few states provide online access for other potential voters as well.
- In these states, the online tool collects a few basic pieces of information like (contact info) from the individual. After this, the next step will depend on what state you are registering voters in.
- Before you go, try it out to familiarize yourself with the process and answer questions from potential voters!
Online voter registration is not an option for individuals in Maine, Michigan, and Texas, or those without specific forms of ID. For these states, we recommend registering voters using paper forms. If you are still planning on using an online tool in these contexts, it is important for you to:
- Let these individuals know they are not registered to vote.
- Remind individuals of the additional steps they will have to take to complete their registration.
When talking to voters
- Voters can start the registration process on their own phones by texting "SWINGLEFT" to RTVOTE (788-683).
- They can also start the registration process on your phone or tablet at www.swingleft.org/register, but their personal phone may speed up the process by pre-filling personal information into the form.
- Online tools, including Rock the Vote, collect the voter’s contact information and will send follow-up information regarding their voter registration status.
Some people prefer using traditional paper forms when registering voters locally - each state has very specific rules on not only what you can and cannot do or say when registering voters, but also laws when it comes to collecting and turning in voter registration forms. A few things you need to know if you are planning on using paper forms:
- Remember to always familiarize yourself and your group with the laws surrounding registering voters—these links from partners and states may help.
- Be aware that registering voters with paper forms comes with even more legal weight than using an online tool since you are possibly collecting and turning in individual forms.
- Each voter registration form you collect represents someone’s right to vote. Losing or forgetting to turn it in will result in that person not being able to vote and can carry significant legal consequences.
- Whenever registering voters using paper forms, make sure you turn them into the appropriate location immediately after your event.
II. Getting Ready in 6 Steps
1. Pick a date, time, and location.
- Decide what date you will hold your voter registration event. Make sure you are leaving enough time to recruit volunteers and prepare what you will need.
- Things to consider when picking a date, time, and location include: How busy is the location? Is the location likely to draw locals? Based on the environment are people likely to stop and talk to you? Places like laundromats and bus stops can be great places to register voters.
2. Add your voter registration event to Swing Left’s calendar.
- Post your event so it will appear on Swing Left’s calendar. This will help you easily recruit other Swing Left volunteers to your event.
3. Recruit volunteers to join your team
- After creating and posting your event, share it widely! A good place to start would be to send out an email to your networks with information about the event and a link to the calendar event.
- Posting on social media is another great way for potential volunteers to find out about the event and sign-up.
4. Train, train, train!
- Make sure you and your team feel prepared to register voters before you get started. Voter registration is very legally sensitive, and it’s important that everyone who participates is trained properly.
- To make sure you understand how to register voters in your state and can train your volunteers well—make sure to check out resources from other organizations or election officials in state.
- Check out the best practices and sample script below for some best practices when talking to voters generally.
5. Get Supplies
- Gather supplies in advance in order to have a streamlined, fun activity. Here are some things you’ll need:
- Smart phones and/or tablets (just in case a voter can’t sign up on their personal phone)
- If you are using paper voter registration forms, make sure you have enough forms
- Clipboards with volunteer sign-up sheets
- Any materials you need to train volunteers
- Lots of black/blue pens (don’t let someone write on a paper form with pencil or colored pens)
- Posters, banners, and signs that say "Register to Vote Here" and have important voter registration information (if you have a table)
- Snacks for your group! It’s always great to have water bottles and some granola bars on hand to keep everyone in high spirits
6. Confirm your logistics
- Make sure your volunteers have confirmed that they’re coming, know where to meet you, and what they should bring.
- Refresh yourself on the important information needed to register voters properly and prepare any training materials you need.
III. Finding a Good Location
Registering voters is most effective in high-traffic areas or during a door-to-door canvass. In general, it is best to focus on traditionally disenfranchised communities with a history of low turnout and registration. These communities include young people, people of color, frequent movers, and low-income citizens.
When setting up your base in a high traffic area, consider the following:
If using a table: it's your base, not your fortress.
People who need to be registered to vote will rarely self-identify—you need to meet them where they are. If you are using a table, get out from behind it and stay active and energetic. Use a table as a central place to meet, train volunteers, and hold supplies.
So people know you are registering voters and can quickly gather more information:
- Make sure your table has information about how to register to vote, voter registration deadlines, and other key election dates, like the primary and general election.
- It’s a good idea to familiarize yourself with the info above as well so you can give information to voters when registering them.
Steady, Not Crowded
It’s counterintuitive, but very crowded places are not always the best places to register voters. Once someone declines to register to vote in a crowded location, the other onlookers are more likely to ignore you as well. Try to find a location where there is a steady stream of traffic, but not too crowded.
Identify places where the patrons are likely strolling and not marching with a purpose. Think parks, the mall on a college campus, or a local square. If you try to approach students while they’re rushing to class, they are more likely to blow you off. If they are stopping by the cafeteria for dinner they are more likely to have some spare time.
Track, Track, Track
Your rates will generally be 1–2 voter registrations per hour. However, please be diligent about tracking your success rates on a location-by-location basis. Over time this information can help you identify the best locations and will be good feedback to share with other Swing Left volunteers.
IV. Voter Registration Best Practices
- Don’t get discouraged! It’s normal to hear “no” a lot and you should expect a rate of 1-2 voter registrations per hour. This can depend on so many factors—weather, location, time of day—so don’t worry if things feel slow. Keep going and have fun! Everyone you register is important.
- Take nothing personally and don’t argue with people who are rude or don’t want to register. Just shake it off and keep going!
Be the kind of person you'd want to talk to.
- Smile and be friendly. Talk like a regular person. Don't be a robot and read directly from the script.
- If you’re tabling, don’t stand behind the table. Move around, be assertive and confident and let everyone see how much you are enjoying this.
Have a conversation, rather than talking at people.
Ask questions and listen to the answer. Tailor your message to the individual.
- Find your own pitch. Experiment and figure out what works best for you.
- Connect voting to their lives and the issues they care about.
Stress the importance of THEIR action. Tell them why they should vote, and tell them why you vote.
Stay on message.
- You shouldn’t tell them which candidate to vote for, just help them register to vote so they have the opportunity to make their voice heard when the time comes.
- Registering voters is a positive way to celebrate civic engagement.
- Always make the ask: "Are you registered to vote at your current address?" If you can, put the clipboard in their hand while you’re talking to them—you’ll be amazed at how many people start filling it out.
- Be confident and don't backtrack. Once you ask them to register, wait for their response.
- "I’m already registered" is often an excuse. Ask follow up questions:
- "Are you registered at your current address?"
- "Have you moved since last registering?"
- For students: "Are you registered at your school address?"
Ask everyone to register.
- Be proactive. Don’t wait for people to approach you, approach them!
- Talk to everyone you see. The next person could really need to register!
- You are legally required to register anyone who asks, no matter what their political affiliation is.
After you register a voter...
- Review the individual’s voter registration form with them to verify all required sections are filled and the information is correct and legible.
- Thank them for registering to vote and encourage them to vote on election day.
- Turn in paper forms ASAP. Remind the individual that registered to confirm their registration has been processed by calling their local election official.
- If using an online tool, remind them of the next steps if they were not able to complete their registration online.
- Note: it is illegal to take information from a voter registration form and ask someone to volunteer. If you are registering someone that really wants to volunteer with Swing Left, take their information down separately on a volunteer sheet.
V. Messaging Dos and Don'ts
DO stay positive.
There’s enough bad stuff in the news—don’t spend your whole conversation with a voter talking about how the world is coming to an end. This is an opportunity to inspire people to get involved and fight for the changes they want to see in the community. Ask a simple question like, "Do you think we could do better in our country?" in order to engage with them.
DO keep it simple.
Ask each person who walks by, "Hi, are you registered to vote at your current address?" Keep it simple and wait for their response.
DON’T push for or against a candidate.
This is not the time for us to aggressively persuade voters. Remember: Voter registration is all about democracy. This is a chance to help people find their voice—and to hear what they have to say. This part will come later when we are focused on turning out voters, including the ones we helped register!
DON’T pick a policy fight.
In addition to not advocating for a particular candidate, steer clear of heated policy debate. Door knocking and high traffic outreach are opportunities to listen to people and their concerns, not to promote a specific policy agenda. Remember: our end goal is to register voters so they can exercise their right to vote—persuading and turning out voters comes later.
VI. Voter Registration Sample Script
If you are organizing your own voter voter registration event, feel free to use this sample script for talking with voters. If you are working with another organization, they will likely have their own script and training prepared for you.
Hello! How are you doing today?
My name is [YOUR NAME] and I am a volunteer registering voters today. We are here helping register people to vote so as to make sure that everyone has a voice in our country’s future.
Are you a registered voter at your current address?
IF YES: That’s great! Have you moved or changed your name since the last time you voted?
- IF NO: That’s great! Did you vote in the last election? [Use this as an opportunity to start a conversation. Remember: Our goal is to engage and listen to the voter, not persuade him or her to support a particular candidate or policy platform.]
- IF YES (I’VE MOVED/CHANGED NAME): In that case you will need to update your voter registration. I can help you do so right now—it should take less than five minutes.
- IF USING PAPER FORMS: [Hand them the form.] Filling out this form is the first step in getting registered to vote.
- IF USING ONLINE TOOL: Start by texting "SWINGLEFT" to RTVOTE (788-683). This non-profit online tool will walk you through the necessary steps to get you registered to vote.
IF NO: Oh, well it’s quick and easy and I can help answer any questions you have.
CLOSING: Thanks so much for being a voter! Remember to vote in the next election on [UPCOMING ELECTION DATE].
And remember—verify your registration status within the next few weeks with your state or local election official to make sure that you are on the voter rolls!