The Voter Participation Center
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
Founder and President
|Affiliations||Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund|
The Voter Participation Center (VPC) is a non-profit organization in the United States. Its mission is to increase voter registration among unmarried women, people of color and 18-29 year olds. The organization is based in Washington, D.C. The VPC designs, tests and carries out voter registration and turnout programs. It also produces research material on demographic and voting trends.
In 2003, VPC was founded as Women's Voices Women Vote (WVWV) by Page Gardner as a nonpartisan project aimed at increasing the participation of unmarried women. WVWV was formed specifically to focus on the "marriage gap", and has promoted the term through its research, which determined that marital status is a key determinant of registration and voting, with unmarried women registering to vote and voting in elections at lower rates than married women. In 2008, the organization broadened its focus to include the other demographic groups that constitute what it calls the "Rising American Electorate" (RAE), while still retaining a particular interest in unmarried women. WVWV coined the term "Rising American Electorate" to refer to traditionally under-represented groups including unmarried women, people of color and young people who constitute a majority of voting eligible citizens. In 2011, Women's Voices Women Vote formally changed its name to The Voter Participation Center, to reflect this broadening of programmatic focus. The VPC's sister organization, Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, continues to operate as a 501(c)4. At the time of the re-branding, The Voter Participation Center launched a new website and logo to reflect the change. The Center has partnered with state and national organizations, including USAction, Project Vote and Working America, among others. In addition, the organization provides its research material, test findings and models to other local, state and national non-profit organizations interested in increasing voter participation among unmarried women, people of color and young people.
The VPC's programs focus on increasing voter registration, turnout, awareness of issues and civic involvement of under-represented groups, including unmarried women, people of color and young people. Many VPC programs focus on unmarried women, as this group forms a large proportion of what the VPC terms the “rising American electorate” and its research indicates that marital status is a key factor in determining civic participation.
Since its inception in 2003, the VPC has focused its work on efforts to register 1 million voters. Its registration programs have largely focused on distributing applications to register by mail and encouraging their return, and reminding traditionally under-represented groups to vote. According to the VPC, in 2008, the organization generated slightly fewer than one million voter registration applications in 35 states.
Getting registrants to vote in an election is another focus of the organization. The VPC has stated that its programs have been shown to impact election day turnout in both the near and long term. Its vote-by-mail programs are tested with a control group before being rolled out and have been successful in numerous states, according to the group.
The VPC also designs and conducts education and advocacy programs targeted at the organization’s primary audience of traditionally under-represented groups. The objective of these efforts is to better understand how knowledge, participation and voting are interconnected.
WVWV released its first two studies in March 2004, one in collaboration with pollsters Anna Greenberg and Stan Greenberg, the other with Celinda Lake. These studies found that single women register to vote and vote at a markedly lower rate than married women and that marital status is a top determinant in whether one registers and/or votes. They concluded that if unmarried women had voted at the same rates as married women in the 2000 election, the numbers would have been enough to have decidedly changed the outcome of the election in favor of Al Gore.
WVWV has issued several reports commissioned from Lake Research Partners on the changing demographics of America, tracking the growth, socio-economic characteristics and voting behavior of unmarried women and other traditionally under-represented groups. In addition, WVWV research has also documented obstacles to voter registration and election reforms best suited to improve voter registration and turnout numbers. According to WVWV research, some of the greatest barriers to voter participation include unnecessary rules limiting early and absentee voting, voter identification requirements, and inconsistent state regulations concerning voter lists and registration guidelines. In an effort to focus the attention of lawmakers and election reform groups on these obstacles, WVWV released a report titled, "Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote".
The VPC also focuses on educating policymakers and media on issues impacting what it calls the "Rising American Electorate", including a series of reports produced in March 2010, in partnership with the Center for American Progress. The VPC and CAP papers focused on the impact of legislative issues including healthcare, childcare, paycheck fairness and training in non-traditional professions on the economic security of unmarried women. Later that year, in October 2010, the organization released a joint study with Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research focusing on voting trends, which found that unmarried women favor Democratic candidates by a 67 percent to 28 percent margin. In comparison, the same study found that married women lean Republican by 52 percent to 40 percent. According to Page Gardner, the study's results suggest that there is not a traditional gender gap between men and women, but rather a gap between unmarried and married women.
In October 2004, actress Jennifer Aniston recorded a televised public service announcement for the group encouraging unmarried, separated, divorced and widowed women to register and to vote in the 2004 election. In 2007, in preparation for the 2008 presidential election, the organization launched a public service campaign in November 2007, featuring actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus in a replica of the Oval Office. In addition, the organization produced the "Our First Time" campaign, which featured well-known women revealing the details of their first time voting.
In addition to the commercials, the organization sent out mailings enclosing voter registration forms to unregistered single women voters and also carried out automated calls, informing them that they would receive such mailings. During the 2008 North Carolina Democratic Primary the group received negative attention when it was reported by NPR and the Center for Investigative Reporting that automated calls had been made to African-American voters providing confusing information, which may have misled voters to believe that they were not registered to vote. Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered the calls to stop, after which the organization apologized, cooperated with Cooper to resolve the mistake, and retrieved over half the registration mailings it had sent out in North Carolina.
In June and July 2012, it was reported that the organization had sent out a number of voter registration forms to non-citizens, deceased people and pets as part of a campaign to increase voter participation among groups it says are underrepresented, including unmarried women, blacks, Latinos and young adults. Page Gardner, VPC president, fielded a teleconference call with reporters recently because such a mailing was sent to a dog, Mozart, in Virginia. This occurred because this dog got on a magazine subscription list earlier. “Mozart won't be registering and won't vote,” Gardner said. Virginia state representative Alfonso H. Lopez also defended VPC in an op-ed in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, writing, "Any large-scale effort to reach millions of Americans is guaranteed to include some clerical errors and inaccuracies. However, focusing on these harmless errors to attack the efforts of the Voter Participation Center to bring more Americans into our democratic process does the organization an injustice." Cases of this were reported in Florida, New Mexico, Virginia, Washington, and other states. A representative said that the organization expected people who were already registered or who received forms in error to simply throw the erroneous forms away. Officials in at least one state said they feared that ineligible persons could be added to the voter rolls as a result.
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- Jones, Stephanie R. (26 September 2004). "Come here often? -- Apparently not: Single women vote in lower numbers than other demographic group, but that may be changing". The Commercial Appeal (Memphis, TN).
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- Thomas, Scott E.; Insley, Alicia C.; Carrier, Jennifer L. (April 2009). "Access to Democracy: Identifying Obstacles Hindering the Right to Vote" (PDF). voterparticipation.org. The Voter Participation Center. Retrieved 13 October 2011.
- Bradley, Tilla (22 March 2010). "The Fate of Unmarried Women in America". Accuracy in Media. aim.org. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
- Terris, Ben (26 October 2010). "All the Single Ladies". The National Journal. Retrieved 27 July 2011.
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- "Robocall group agrees to $100k penalty in NC". ABC Local. 21 October 2008. Retrieved 6 September 2011.
- "Why Women Should Vote in 2006: NWLC, Women's Voices. Women Vote. Unite on Project to Increase Participation From Women on Their Own; 24 Percent of Voting Age Americans Are Women on Their Own" (Press release). U.S. Newswire. 14 September 2006.
- "Voter Education". nwlc.org. National Women's Law Center. 2010. Retrieved 9 September 2011.
- Pimintel, O. Ricardo (4 July 2012). "Group tries to keep voters going to the dogs". MySA. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Lopez, Alfonso H. (10 August 2012). "Lopez: Voter Participation Center should be applauded". Richmond Times-Dispatch. Retrieved 4 October 2012.
- Martin, Aaron (19 June 2012). "Bedford County Dead Dog Receives Voter Registration Forms". NBC Local.
- "Dogs, dead people get voter forms from nonprofit". 13 July 2012.