The Voter Participation Center
|Purpose||Voter Registration and Engagement|
|Headquarters||Washington, D.C., U.S.|
|Founder and President||Page Gardner|
|Affiliations||Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund|
The Voter Participation Center (VPC) is a non-profit, non-partisan organization in the United States dedicated to increasing voter registration, voting and civic activity among unmarried women, people of color and 18-29 year olds. The organization is based in Washington, D.C. and was formerly named Women's Voices Women Vote (WVWV). The VPC designs, tests and carries out voter registration and turnout programs. It also produces research material on demographic and voting trends among traditionally under-represented groups, with a particular focus on unmarried women.
Women's Voices Women Vote (WVWV) was launched by Page Gardner in 2003, 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. In response, VPC representatives cited a study from the Brennan Center for Justice, which suggested that cases of "voter fraud" are very rare and critics are overstating concerns.
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