Get Out the Vote

A volunteer group of Bangalore based Software Engineers performed flash mob at Garuda Mall to highlight the need for voting in the upcoming Parliamentary elections in Bangalore on Friday. Mohan Kumar B N DNA

The IRS explicitly states 501(c)(3) organizations may conduct “get out the vote” activities and help people vote on a nonpartisan basis. Helping people vote is a safe, nonpartisan activity as long as you’re not telling or suggesting to someone whom to vote for or against.

As nonpartisan, trusted messengers based in local communities, nonprofits can play a vital role in promoting voter and civic participation.

Nonpartisan Ways to Help People Vote

  • Use your communications and daily interactions with your community to remind people about the election
  • Use meetings and events to share information and create excitement about the election
  • Highlight reasons to vote or provide information on the voting process like “where do I vote?” or “what’s on the ballot?
  • Create visibility about the election through posters and displays in other public areas
  • Conduct get out the vote drives targeting your employees or local community
  • Conduct a phone bank to a list of people you registered or your members
  • Highlight a ballot question – encouraging “yes” or “no” vote or staying neutral.
  • Provide voting rights information for voters informing them of their rights on Election Day and numbers to call for help
  • Help new voters. Youth, new citizens and other first time voters particularly benefit from information about the voting process and encouragement to vote. 

Q: Our nonprofit serves children. Is using the slogan “Vote for Children”partisan if our organization’s positions are known to be closer to one of the candidates?
No. It’s generally nonpartisan to say “Vote for” any issue – children, the environment, health care, affordable housing, etc. In 2016, food security organizations promoted voter participation in a campaign called Vote to End Hunger. It’s ok to ask voters to think about broad-based issues when voting that don’t indicate a specific position. On the other hand, slogans like “Vote for Reproductive Rights” or “Vote to Cut Taxes” are single issues that often divide candidates. They signal your support for specific candidates that share your organizations viewpoint and this appears partisan.

Q: Can we target our get out the vote activities to certain voters?
You may target your community you serve or any community known to need more help voting – youth, first-time voters, new citizens, underserved populations. You may not do what political campaigns do – target GOTV efforts at voters you have pre-identified as voting for a certain candidate – in other words based on a conversation you or someone has already had with them or on their partisan voting history in a voter file. Leave that type of GOTV to candidates, 501(c)(4) advocacy organizations and other political entities.

Q: I work with seniors in assisted living. Is it okay to help them obtain and fill out a mail ballot?
Senior living or medical facilities may help residents obtain and return an absentee ballot. The resident can designate a family member or someone working at the facility to help them fill out the ballot. Most states have that person sign the ballot along with the voter. People deemed “mentally incompetent” to make their own decision cannot legally vote. Consult your local election office for additional information.

Q: Can nonprofit staff wear candidate buttons or apparel on or close to Election Day?
To maintain a consistent appearance of nonpartisanship, staff should not wear any partisan political buttons or apparel. It is ok to have something in a private office, but not if it’s used regularly to see clients or constituents.

Q: What if someone needs a ride to the polls. Where can I send them that is nonpartisan?
You have three options.

  • Refer them to a nonpartisan group offering rides to the polls.
  • Suggest they call the party or candidate of their choice and ask them for a ride. Note that candidates or parties often offer rides to voters. You can provide contact information so long as you have equivalent information from at least both major parties.
  • Have your nonprofit provide transportation itself. In this case be sure there are no partisan stickers or signs on the vehicle.

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