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It's Time to Make Voting Part of Who We Are

By The National Voter Education Week Steering Committee | September 30, 2021

If there’s one phrase we all can’t seem to escape, it’s “unprecedented times.” We’ve been living through “unprecedented times” for 19 months: going to work; attending school; witnessing and participating in a historic movement for Black lives; and experiencing one of the most tense election seasons in U.S. history – all under the inescapable conditions of a global pandemic and systemic racial injustice.

One of the few silver linings of last year was the unprecedented levels of commitment, engagement, and organization by activists that helped make the 2020 election the most participatory in our nation’s history, despite the obstacles created by COVID-19 and the structural barriers that often make voting disproportionately difficult for people of color, young people, the elderly, and people with disabilities. Among young voters especially, turnout skyrocketed to 50% – an 11-point increase over the 2016 election.

This year, during National Voter Education Week (NVEW) on October 4-8, we’re striving to use 2020’s unprecedented level of participation and organization to create a new precedent: One that establishes voting and civic engagement as a part of who we are, and not simply something that we do.

It would be easy to look at the 2020 election and ascribe turnout levels to a set of conditions that were, well, unprecedented. But that’s neither a luxury we can afford, nor an inevitability we can accept. We have the power to make every election – whether it falls during a federal election year or an odd-numbered year; whether it’s for the office of President of the United States or a local school board member – a touchpoint that mobilizes entire communities to show up and make their voices heard.

Doing so requires us to consider civic engagement beyond simply asking our communities to vote every two or four years. If we truly want to ensure that decisions made for our communities are also made by our communities, we have to ask our community members to adopt civic engagement and participation – including voting – as part of their identities. In short, we don’t just need them to vote and engage. We need them to be voters, and stay engaged. And the best time to make this happen is right now.

The historic events of 2020 put political activism and organizing front-of-mind for millions of Americans – especially young Americans – in a way that they had never experienced before. If past is prologue, this spike in interest and participation would be followed in subsequent years and election cycles by lower levels of interest and participation. There’s plenty of historical precedent for this kind of ebb and flow.

But these are unprecedented times. By organizing in communities and on campuses throughout the country and empowering the public with the resources and information they need to make their voices heard in our democratic process, we can send a powerful message that the work that made 2020 our most participatory election ever does not stop.

We continue in 2021 and beyond – not because it’s what we do, but because it’s who we are.

In the last month millions of Americans have already demonstrated they’re ready to show up and make their voices heard, even during an odd-numbered year. The California recall election saw turnout levels that, according to Nate Cohn of the New York Times, were “reminiscent not of a low-wattage special election but of a high-profile midterm.” This despite the fact that the September 14 election was the state’s first recall vote since 2003, meaning it was the first-ever recall election that any Californian born after 1985 had participated in. The enthusiasm of 2020 did not end in 2020. Voters are still motivated to show up. And we can help them do that for the rest of their lives.

The goal of NVEW is to ensure voters, especially new voters, have the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots. From the start, our vision was for NVEW to be an annual event, because this mission is as important in an odd-numbered year as during a federal election.

A digital week of action and education, NVEW focuses on the core steps necessary for participating in a modern election: registration, making a plan to vote by mail or in person, and understanding who and what is on the ballot. Building these habits every year helps ensure elections like 2020, as well as odd-year elections like the California recall and local ballot measures throughout the country, encompass the voices of the full community they impact.

By continuing to organize and educate, we can help convert this behavior into a positive civic identity that transcends election cycles. That’s why we want you to join us for NVEW 2021. Together, we can turn the page on 2020 by doing the unthinkable: Establishing a precedent.


The Andrew Goodman Foundation

ALL IN Campus Democracy Challenge

Asian and Pacific Islander American Vote


CAA Foundation

Campus Vote Project

Civic Nation

Democracy Works

Election Protection

Fair Elections Center


NAACP Youth & College

Nonprofit VOTE

National Vote at Home Institute

Rock the Vote

Students Learn Students Vote Coalition

Vote Early Day

When We All Vote

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The National Voter Education Week Steering Committee is a group of organizations who collaborate to lead and execute NVEW, an annual digital campaign to equip voters with the tools, information, and confidence they need to cast their ballots.

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