First-Timers Succeed Even When They Fall Short


Voter engagement work isn’t easy.

From asking strangers if they are registered to vote, to organizing your first voter registration drive, there are lots of things that make this work confusing and challenging.

Luckily, many of us also know that it gets better and more fun every time you do it.

That’s also why Nonprofit VOTE wants to know when and how groups get started with voter engagement work. What keeps them coming back, or not?

One way thousands of groups start is by becoming a National Voter Registration Day (Sep 25) partner, which was a huge event this year. In conjunction with Facebook, Google, Twitter, and other media companies they registered over 800,000 people in one day!

On that day, groups who have never done any kind of voter registration (“first timers”), were working alongside groups who do this work year-round and/or in the past.


Together these community groups registered or updated over 200,000 people all across the US.

A map of the US of reported National Voter Registration Day events, colored by experience (yellow: year-round, blue: past experience, purple: first-time), and sized by number of reported registrations


There were about equal numbers of groups who registers voters year-round, have held drives in the past, and were “first-timers”. However, we were sure that they wouldn’t be registering equal amounts of people.


And it turns out, only 13% of the total came from first-timers.


So first-timers, despite their enthusiasm and numbers, were falling short of their projected goals much more than the other groups.


But even experienced groups fall short of their goals and there are lots of very valid reasons for this.

For example, tabling in areas where most people are already registered or where most people are ineligible (non-citizen, underage, etc) can affect success.


To decrease the representation gap of people registered to vote, we need all groups, especially those without experience to come on board.

But if “first-timers” are missing their goals by such a huge amount, they might not come back. Not only will there be less people registered, but we will have high-potential groups discouraged and no longer interested.


We need to be helping “first-timers” make smaller goals by being clearer and more informed about resources, time, and the people they could register.

And we also need to be helping them be more effective at registering people for the first-time.


Yet, that didn’t stop these “first-timers” from having awesome and successful drives, like during National Voter Registration Day.


They got to connect with new groups in their area.

“This was our first time organizing a voter registration event at each of our three campus library locations, and we definitely want to do this again next year! There were a couple of student groups registering voters at our campus centers, as well. Thank you for such a well organized website, and for making so many tools available to us. They were incredibly helpful.” — University of Southern Maine

They had really great conversations.

“It was fun because we not only registered voters we had great conversations. Community conversations are valuable. We had a low turnout at the cafe because it was a super nice day and even though Tuesdays are the busiest day of the week, this day staff was sent home due to lack of business. Regardless, considered by all a success.” — Protect Oregon’s Progress

And they had a good time.

“I just want to add our numbers are not reflective of our efforts and event. We partnered often with local League of Women Voters to do voter signups so they have already helped many people register at prior events. On our registration day, they talked to about 40 people, updated addresses on a couple of voter records and gave out lots of information about upcoming voter forums in our library and community. For our small town — this was a great event and we were pleased with the results. Thanks for the great posters!” — Whitman County Library


Success only happens when you get out there and do something. Don’t let the numbers tell you otherwise.