West River Electric Association, whose 4,500 square-mile territory skirts Mount Rushmore, has served as a polling place for years. This election cycle, the co-op based near Rapid City, S.D., wants to do one better:
“About 20 percent of our payments come from the front counter so we have lot of traffic coming in and out,” said Dick Johnson, CEO/general manager at WREA. “We thought it was great for representatives at the counter to be able to say ‘Want to sign up to vote?’ ”
In addition to going through the official business and training to serve as a registration site at the Rapid City office, WREA did the same for its more rural Wall, S.D., office 50 miles away.
For many of WREA’s 12,500 members, registering at the co-op will save them a 90-minute trip to the Pennington County Courthouse or to the Meade County Auditor.
“The majority of our service territory is in two counties. Hopefully, we’ll get quite a few people signed up to vote,” Johnson said.
The first registration came within minutes. Mike Letcher, manager of operations for the co-op, needed to update his voter registration since moving into a new district.
Co-op linemen will get a special opportunity to register when the co-op brings its trained staff to its outpost in Enning, S.D., on Sept. 8, a day of appreciation complete with a cookout.
WREA’s Member Appreciation Day, Sept. 23, which involves vendors, workshops and food, is expected to reap the largest number of registrants in the co-op’s service area.
NRECA helped plant the seed when it launched Co-ops Vote campaign at its annual meeting in New Orleans last February. Not linked to any political party, the national initiative strives to get members educated on issues and excited about going to the polls.
“We’re investing in Co-ops Vote to build a strong, new model of civic engagement to match the change in our political systems,” said NRECA interim CEO Jeffrey Connor.
“Co-ops Vote at the annual meeting got us to start thinking about what we can do to get people out to vote,” said Johnson. “You can do social media and things, but this is chance to get them out to vote, to get registered.”
The co-op is not predicting how many members will register for the first time.
“Our goal is not to encourage the party or encourage any type of voting. Our goal is just to encourage them to vote, for them to take an interest,” said Veronica Kusser, WREA manager of member services.
As the first to utilize the co-op’s latest service, Letcher believes members will appreciate it.
“It is definitely more convenient—one less trip downtown,” said Letcher. “Our office is on the edge of town. Members have to drive through here to get to downtown. It is easier to stop here.”
Cathy Cash is a staff writer at NRECA.