Get Your Theater Involved in #PlayOurPart
How to Organize a Nonpartisan Voter Registration Event At Your Theater
As theater seasons launch around the country and the general election approaches, we who work at theaters have an opportunity to play a meaningful part in the democratic process. Many of us already experience high foot-traffic in our lobbies six days a week. We are in a natural position to offer this public service to our audiences. #PlayOurPart represents a nonpartisan effort to increase voter participation in the upcoming election, and in all elections, by offering pre-show voter registration in theater lobbies.
Creating a voter registration event at your theater is easier than you might think! Whether you want to organize a one-time event, or offer pre-show voter registration on a regular basis, we offer the following as a toolkit for your planning process.
CHOOSE A TIME AND PLACE FOR YOUR REGISTRATION DRIVE
Choose just one or a few performances and/or events at which you’ll offer voter registration, or think big and offer registration opportunities at every performance this fall! Whatever the scale, your participation will be meaningful.
COORDINATE WITH YOUR COLLEAGUES
If you work together, setting up voter registration in your lobbies can be fairly low-impact and stress-free. At a minimum, you probably will want to coordinate with general management (to schedule the event[s], book space, discuss the impact on facilities, etc.); house management (to discuss space-related logistics, traffic flow, day-of protocols, etc.); and marketing (to promote your efforts and maximize public impact).
FAMILIARIZE YOURSELF WITH LOCAL REGISTRATION GUIDELINES AND DEADLINES
Registration policies and deadlines vary state by state, and in some places county by county. Make sure you understand how voter registration works where you live so you can train volunteers and execute your drive in compliance with the law.
REACH OUT TO YOUR LOCAL COUNTY CLERK OR BOARD OF ELECTIONS
Although by law, you do not need to notify them of your registration activity, they will be able to provide important information and support. Questions to ask:
• “In general, what advice do you have about planning effective voter registration events?”
• “Do you offer volunteer training or other formal registration support?” (Many states/localities do as a free public service.)
• “What information should we emphasize to our volunteers?”
• “Can you provide us with forms or other materials?”
This is a great opportunity to build community! You can staff your registration table with theater staff and volunteers, affiliated artists, family and friends, and other community members. Whomever you engage to staff your table, just be sure to set aside time in advance for training. (More on this later.)
GET THE WORD OUT
Use social media to let your audiences know about upcoming registration opportunities at your theater.
On the Day
STAFF AND STOCK YOUR TABLE
We recommend staffing your table with one or two volunteers per shift. You’ll need blank registration forms (you can provide state-specific forms, or use the national registration form), envelopes and pens, and state-specific registration information (deadlines, identification requirements, etc.).
KNOW YOUR GAME PLAN
Decide in advance on a protocol that works for you. Your system should be simple, repeatable, and allow for the secure collection and timely mailing of all completed forms.
At Playwrights Horizons, we will be using the national registration form. We will stock our table with preaddressed envelopes for New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut, and with blank envelopes in case we encounter registrants from other states. When registrants complete their form, they will have two options:
1. We mail the form. All registrants will have the option to place their sealed, addressed envelope in a collections box at the registration table. At the end of the evening, registration volunteers will turn the collections box over to a house manager, who will deliver it to the administrative office. We will mail each day’s completed forms the following morning.
Please be aware that you are responsible for the timely dispatch of all completed forms; speak with your local elections office for information about legally mandated turnaround times.
2. They mail the form. If they prefer, registrants are also welcome to take a blank form to complete and mail on their own time.
Please note that, by law, you must allow registrants to leave with their forms if they prefer to mail them individually.
However you choose to organize your registration event, make sure your volunteers understand the procedures before the drive begins.
KNOW THE RULES
• It is your responsibility to offer accurate information and to collect and dispatch completed forms in a timely manner.
• Volunteers may not attempt to influence the party registration of a registrant, nor may they write on the forms. Volunteers may answer questions, but the registrants must complete their own forms.
• Important: all public registration efforts must be strictly nonpartisan. Notices about registration events may never endorse a particular party or political candidate.
• Representatives of your theater should not discuss personal political affiliations or beliefs in conversations about your registration event. This is a movement to promote access and participation.
AT THE REGISTRATION TABLE
• No partisan stuff. There should never be any campaign or party literature on (or anywhere near) the registration table, nor should volunteers or theater staff wear party- or candidate-affiliated clothing, accessories, etc. No fliers, posters, pins or buttons, no T-shirts or hats—zero, zip, zilch.
• No partisan speech. Volunteers may never attempt to influence the party selection of any registrant, nor may they advocate for a particular political candidate.
• No exceptions. Any theater staff or volunteers who are not working the registration booth, but who are still occupying the same lobby space (ushers, bar tenders, booksellers, etc.), should follow the same guidelines: no party or candidate-affiliated clothing or paraphernalia, and no partisan advocacy.
• No kidding. Be strict about this, and emphasize the importance of these policies in all volunteer training. No one should staff the registration table until they’ve been properly trained. It’s important! Failure to observe this policy will compromise your registration effort and could jeopardize your nonprofit status.
The Bigger Picture
ADAPT FOR YOUR CONTEXT
These suggestions are geared toward theaters with their own buildings, but we encourage theater companies, artists and practitioners without permanent spaces to get involved, too. Whoever and wherever you are, we hope you can adapt this model to your context. (And tell others what you’re doing!)
TELL THE STORY
Let the world know what you’re doing. Use the hashtag #PlayOurPart to spread the word.
CHALLENGE ANOTHER THEATER
We hope theaters around the country will participate in this effort. Once you commit to organizing your own registration event, consider challenging another theater to do the same.
DON’T FORGET TO VOTE
Election day is November 8, 2016.