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. It seeks to increase voter registration among demographic groups that are more likely to lean Democratic, including unmarried women, people of color and young people. Founded as Women's Voices Women Vote in 2003 by Democratic political operative Page Gardner, the organization is based in Washington, D.C.
The VPC runs a large direct mail program, sending voter registration materials to targeted voters, including unmarried women. It also produces research material on demographic and voting trends. The group has occasionally faced controversy over its methods of voter registration and voter turnout.
In 2003, VPC was founded as Women's Voices Women Vote (WVWV) by Democratic political consultant 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 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 a broadening of programmatic focus. The VPC's sister organization, Women's Voices Women Vote Action Fund, continues to operate as a 501(c)4. The Center has partnered with progressive state and national organizations, including USAction, Project Vote and Working America. The organization says that it 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. VPC has received funding from the Bauman Foundation and the Democracy Alliance, a network of liberal donors who pool their giving to political causes.
The VPC's programs focus on increasing voter registration, turnout, awareness of issues and civic involvement of demographic 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 people to vote. According to the VPC, in 2008, the organization generated slightly fewer than one million voter registration applications in 35 states.
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 demographic 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. The organization also 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.
In 2012, VPC created and launched a music video on Voter Registration Day featuring Fergie, Sheila E., Kate Walsh, Seth Green and Patti Austin. It was based on an original song co-written by Austin. In 2014, VPC published a video featuring actresses Felicity Huffman and Rosario Dawson encouraging women to register and to vote.
2008 North Carolina Democratic primary
During the 2008 North Carolina Democratic Primary the group ran into legal trouble when it was reported by National Public Radio 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. The robocalls did not identify the VPC as the caller. Attorney General Roy Cooper ordered the calls to stop, and the organization was ordered to pay a $100,000 fine. Some saw the calls as an attempt to suppress Barack Obama primary voters because of the VPC's affiliation with several high-level Hillary Clinton allies, including John Podesta and Maggie Williams.
In 2008, a number of VPC's vendor contracts were called into question after it was revealed that VPC had paid Integral Resources Inc. nearly $800,000 for phone services. Integral Resources Inc. is run by Ron Rosenblith, who is married to VPC president Page Gardner. VPC also paid several million dollars more on contracts with companies run by five additional members of the group's board of directors.
2012 voter registration efforts
In 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 because such a mailing was sent to a dog, Mozart, in Virginia. Gardner said this had occurred because the dog had previously been added to a magazine subscription list.
Democratic Virginia state representative Alfonso H. Lopez 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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