Minutes after setting up a sidewalk booth in downtown Benson, Arizona, for National Voter Registration Day, Arizona G&T Cooperatives’ Geoff Oldfather got his first customer.
“We had just finished setting up at 8 a.m. and at 8:03 someone drove by” the booth in front of the Southeast Arizona Economic Development Group offices, said Oldfather, the communications and public relations manager at the G&T in Benson, Arizona.
“A guy gets out of the car and asks, ‘Is this where I can register to vote?’ To me, that right there made the whole thing worth it.”
That exchange in downtown Benson was one of hundreds of thousands of scenes of grassroots civic engagement on Sept. 25, as a record 800,000 people registered to vote as part of the National Voter Registration Day campaign. It surpassed the previous record of just over 771,000, which was set during the 2016 presidential campaign.
About 30 co-ops signed up as community partners, and that number was likely higher if social media posts are included in the tally.
“It’s definitely safe to say that we played a part in helping achieve those numbers,” said Laura Vogel, NRECA’s senior adviser for political affairs. “We might not have been one of the huge players like Facebook or the League of Women Voters, but we are doing our part to help reverse the trend of low voter turnout during midterm elections.”
This year’s voter registration campaign—it occurs on the fourth Tuesday of each September—was co-ops’ first as partners, said Vogel. Most co-ops set up booths in their office lobbies, and others, like Arizona G&T, stationed themselves outside downtown businesses. At several sites, secretaries of state or local election board officials were on hand to answer registrants’ questions.
Coast Electric Power Association in Kiln, Mississippi, harnessed the youthful energy at college campuses and sponsored individual drives at five campuses in its service area.
“Administrators at one campus provided free pizza for students and another had an active political group,” said April Lollar, the co-op’s director of communications. “That was helpful because the student volunteers really got their peers to the booth to the register.”
If you ask Vogel, Oldfather, Lollar and other co-op voting enthusiasts, casting a ballot is a habit that is downright exciting. And if more co-ops take up the cause, it can boost their visibility in the community, said Vogel. “It just becomes part of the landscape along with all of the things co-ops do. Voting will truly be part of the co-op DNA, the more we keep promoting these programs.”
Read more about the experiences of Coast EPA and Arizona G&T on National Voter Registration Day:
Giving It the Old College Try
Coast EPA hypothesized that college campuses would be hotbeds of unregistered, first-time voters. It was right: 135 voters signed up that day at the five campuses with co-op-sponsored drives. The co-op also got an opportunity to beef up its own outreach to millennials and younger—a part of its strategic plan—and educate students about issues important to co-op voters.
Live From Downtown Benson
Geoff Oldfather and J.D. Wallace, a social media and marketing administrator at Arizona G&T, took to live social media to promote National Voter Registration Day and Co-ops Vote, NRECA’s nonpartisan political engagement effort. With Wallace behind the camera and Oldfather in front, the veteran broadcasters made two Facebook live segments that also implore rural residents to vote.
“If you’re a rural resident, you need to go to the polls because rural areas are left out of the debate, often” said Oldfather. “We’re underrepresented. This simply can’t happen. We’ve got to be on par with the metro areas and urban areas in our state.”
Victoria A. Rocha is a staff writer at NRECA.
More on the Midterm Elections:
Listen to our Along Those Lines podcast episode on the importance of the rural vote: