Rock the Vote
|Founded||1990, Los Angeles, California, United States|
|Focus||Youth voting, voter registration|
|Method||Online mobilization, field organizing, entertainment community|
Rock the Vote uses its Democracy Class program along with music, popular culture and new technologies to engage and incite young people to register and vote in every U.S. election. They aim to give young people the tools to identify, learn about, and take action on the issues that affect their lives, and leverage their power in the political process.
The Canadian Rock the Vote organization, RocktheVoteCanada.ca, is also a non-profit youth organization founded by Robyn Kowalski and Nicole Williams in Edmonton, Alberta.
1992: Election polls that year showed a 20% increase in youth turnout over the prior Presidential election, ending 20 years of declining youth participation.
1993: President Bill Clinton signed the National Voter Registration Act of 1993, commonly referred to as the "motor voter" bill, which expanded access to voter registration. The legislation was strongly supported by Rock the Vote through celebrity advocacy and public education.
1996: Rock the Vote created the first telephone voter registration system, 1-800-REGISTER (later creating 1-800-ROCK-VOTE) to provide information regarding local elections offices and how to find the appropriate polling place or request an absentee ballot. In conjunction with MCI, they also created the first online voter registration system, called NetVote ’96. All in all, Rock the Vote registered over 500,000 new voters through radio partners, volunteers, concert tours, MTV’s Choose or Lose bus, 1-800-REGISTER, and NetVote ’96.
2000: Rock the Vote sponsored a 25-city summer bus tour featuring free entertainment and promoting local community activists at each stop.
2004: More than 1.2 million young people used the Rock the Vote website to register to vote. More than 15,000 Rock the Vote volunteers and local partners registered an additional 200,000 voters. Partnering with VoterCall, Rock the Vote made hundreds of thousands of get out the vote (GOTV) contacts to young people who registered through the Rock the Vote website. Rock the Vote also launched, with Motorola, one of the first large-scale mobile phone political engagement projects; more than 118,000 people signed up to get information on their mobile devices.
The group focused on health care issues, encouraging politicians to close the gap in health care availability. During the 2004 presidential election the group drew criticism from Republican Party officials such as RNC chairman Ed Gillespie for sending a mock draft notice to over 600,000 e-mail addresses. The message included the words "Selective Service System" and read "You are hereby ordered for induction into the Armed Forces of the United States, and to report to a polling place near you" on November 2 (Election Day). The Rock the Vote logo and a facsimile of Secretary Donald Rumsfeld's signature appeared at the bottom of the message. In addition, Rock the Vote created public service announcements featuring the subject of the draft.
In a letter to Rock the Vote president Jehmu Greene, Ed Gillespie accused Rock the Vote of "promoting a false and misleading campaign designed to scare America's youth into believing that they may be drafted to serve in the military." Gillespie also claimed that the "urban myth regarding a draft" had been "thoroughly debunked" by President Bush, Vice President Dick Cheney and Rumsfeld, Gillespie wrote: "This is the sort of malicious political deception that is likely to increase voter cynicism and in fact decrease the youth vote, as well as raising [sic] serious legal issues regarding the political motivations of your efforts." Rock the Vote replied by pointing out that General Jack Keane, former Vice Chief of Staff of the U.S. Army, "says the continued success of the all-volunteer military is not guaranteed." Keane has told Congress that adding more than 50,000 troops to the Army would require thinking about a return to the draft", and saying her organization wanted an "educated dialogue".
According to the Los Angeles Times, Rock the Vote experienced financial problems in the aftermath of the 2004 election. It emerged from the election $700,000 in debt, and its president resigned in the summer of 2005 "amid disagreements about the organization's direction." Working with founder Jeff Ayeroff, political director Hans Riemer led the effort to rebuild for the 2007-2008 presidential cycle before leaving the organization to become the youth director for Senator Barack Obama's Presidential Campaign.
2007 Integration with Young Voter Strategies
In 2007, Rock the Vote combined operations with Young Voter Strategies (YVS). Originally a project of The Graduate School of Political Management at the George Washington University, Young Voter Strategies was considered the leading source for opinion polling, tactical research, and demographic analysis of young voters, working to mobilize the 18-to-29-year-old electorate and educate the public, candidates, and consultants on ways to engage young voters.
In 2008, RTV ran the largest nonpartisan voter registration drive in history. Using a combination of online, mobile and grassroots outreach, RTV generated more than 2.25 million voter registration applications and fueled a third consecutive increase in young voter turnout. Voter registration, education and engagement efforts included:
- Live candidate forums with young people organized in Florida and North Carolina.
- A 16-state bus tour (the Road Trip) involving 23 artists promoting registration, education, and early voting. The tour made at least 2 stops each day at campuses and communities, from rallies at Virginia Union to early vote caravans with Bow Wow at Cleveland State University. In its wake, the Road Trip left behind trained volunteers who continued the efforts.
- 6,200 active volunteers and 700 community street teams on the ground ran Do-It-Yourself campaigns nationwide, organizing registration, early vote, and Election Day events.
RTV raised awareness, provided education on the process, and motivated young people to vote through multiple Public Service (PSA) ad campaigns:
- RTV implemented several PSA ad campaigns online, on air, and in print that featured Christina Aguilera, Adrian Grenier, Anne Hathaway, Ashanti, Samuel L. Jackson, Rosie Perez, Robert De Niro, Fall Out Boy, Wyclef, Jamie Foxx, and others. Spanish language PSAs featured John Leguizamo, Juanes and Paulina Rubio.
- RTV campaigns featuring Christina Aguilera and Adrian Grenier both premiered on primetime television- NBC’s Access Hollywood, Entertainment Tonight and CNN’s Larry King Live - as well as in print publications such as US Weekly.
- RTV PSAs ran in more than 18 target markets and were aired on Comedy Central, The CW, MTV, E!, VH1, BET, Lifetime, History, Discovery, Logo, ESPN, CMT and all the major network affiliates.
Staffing & Leadership
In 2007, Heather Smith was appointed as Rock the Vote's President. In 2008, Smith led Rock the Vote to achieve its highest voter registration numbers in the organization's 20-year history, with more than 2.2 million individuals using Rock the Vote's tools to register to vote. During the election season, Rock the Vote ran one of the largest non-partisan voter registration campaigns in history, with more than 22 million young voters casting a ballot. Smith appeared on NBC News, The Today Show, FOX News, CNN, NPR, BBC, and other mainstream news outlets in the U.S. and around the world.
Prior to taking over Rock the Vote, Smith founded and directed Young Voter Strategies, a non-partisan project in partnership with the Graduate School of Political Management at George Washington University with support from The Pew Charitable Trusts. Young Voter Strategies provided the public, parties, candidates, consultants and non-profits with data and research on the youth vote as well as best practices to mobilize young people. In 2006, Smith and Young Voter Strategies coordinated one of the nation's largest non-partisan project to register young voters using methods of voter outreach considered innovative and replicable. The project registered more than 540,000 youth ages 18–30 and was credited with playing a substantial role in the young voter turnout increase in 2006.
In 2004, Smith served as national field director for the Student PIRGs New Voters Project, one of the largest non-partisan grassroots efforts with a mission to register and mobilize young voters. Under Smith's direction, the New Voters Project registered nearly 600,000 voters and conducted an intensive, multi-faceted effort to bring newly registered voters to the polls on Election Day. Youth turnout was 11% higher than in 2000.
Prior to her work at the New Voters Project, Smith was an organizing director for Green Corps' Field School for Environmental Organizing in Boston. Smith received a B.A. with honors in economics and public policy from Duke University. In 2006, Smith was named one of Campaign & Elections magazine's Rising Stars for her work with young voters. She has also been named one of Esquire Magazine's Best and Brightest of 2007.
In summer 2014, Rock the Vote announced its new leadership council, with electoral politics specialist Ashley Spillane joining as the organization's President. Prior to Rock the Vote, Spillane served as the Executive Director of The Atlas Project where she developed an interactive web platform that provides organizations access to raw intel for development of strategic programs at the local, state, and national levels. Spillane spent a decade working on numerous political campaigns across the country, including presidential and gubernatorial campaigns in Iowa, Ohio, Florida, Minnesota, and Maryland.
Joining Spillane on Rock the Vote's 2014 team is Chief of Staff and In-House Counsel, Liz Howard, who previously worked at Sandler Reiff Young & Lamb law firm, specializing in election administration matters; Audrey Gelman, a Vice President at the public affairs firm SKDKnickerbocker and former spokesperson for New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer, who will serve as Rock the Vote's Official Spokesperson and Senior Advisor on Media Relations and Artist Engagement; and Dominic Lowell, RTV's Director of Strategic Partnerships, who previously served as the Vice President of Investment Services at the Democracy Alliance (DA). Together, they join Chief Technology Officer David Pruter, Program Manager Andrew Goodwin, New Media Manager Austin Estes, and Brand & Events Manager Lena Bell to form the core Rock the Vote team, headquartered in Washington, D.C. Former Rock the Vote President Heather Smith will join the organization’s Board of Directors.
This is a partial list of celebrities who have appeared in public service announcements (PSAs) for Rock the Vote.
- Against Me!
- Christina Aguilera
- Rachel Bilson
- Adam Brody
- Bootsy Collins and Buckethead
- Chris Cornell
- Miranda Cosgrove
- Darren Criss
- Miley Cyrus
- Leonardo DiCaprio
- Robert Downey Jr.
- Macy Gray
- Jake Gyllenhaal
- Maggie Gyllenhaal
- Reverend Horton Heat
- The cast of Jack & Bobby
- Janet Jackson
- Samuel L. Jackson
- Ricky Martin
- Brittany Murphy
- The cast of One Tree Hill
- Donny Osmond
- P. Diddy
- Sarah Jessica Parker
- The Ramones
- Rooster Teeth
- Peter Sarsgaard
- Justin Timberlake
- Benicio del Toro
- Paul Van Dyk
- Scott Weiland
- http://www.rockthevote.com/about Rock the Vote's mission statement
- Rock the Vote - About
- Ed Gillespie (October 13, 2004). "Republican National Committee Letter To Rock The Vote".
- Jehmu Greene. "Rock the Vote replies to RNC letter". Retrieved 2006-10-26.[dead link]
- Charles Duhigg (2006-02-07). "Rock the Vote Is Stuck in a Hard Place". LA Times.
- , Rock the Vote - Road Trip
- Heather Smith's Biography