Community Organizations as Civic Educators: Resources to Help Grow Voters
Author: Ruby Belle Booth
Many youth voter engagement organizations, especially those operating as a 501c3, must often reckon with the challenges of talking about political issues and elections in a nonpartisan manner. Many K-12 educators face similar issues as they try to teach about elections and facilitate conversations about controversial political issues. The right resources and guides can help both educators and practitioners do this nonpartisan work effectively.
The Teaching for Democracy Alliance (TFDA), which is led by CIRCLE, offers K-12 educators and administrators resources that could also support the work of individuals and institutions working on youth electoral and political engagement outside of K-12 settings. These include local community organizations, voting organizations, youth-led organizations, libraries, museums, and more that can benefit from understanding best practices in teaching about elections and voting. For example, resources like lesson plans or about cultivating a classroom environment can easily be applied to meetings or sessions held by other community organizations and institutions. In this way, multiple institutions can fulfill the vision of CIRCLE’s Growing Voters framework, which calls on a greater diversity of community stakeholders to assume roles as civic educators.
Below we list several resources that may be helpful to different types of organizations:
Voter Registration Drives and Activities
- State age requirements for voter registration from the Civics Center can be helpful for clarifying if pre-registration for 16- and/or 17-year-olds is available in your state, or if 17- year-olds are able to register before their 18th birthday.
- CIRCLE’s analysis of policies and statutes on voter registration and education activities in K-12 schools can serve as a guide to your state’s opportunities for young people to engage in elections before they turn 18.
- Vote 411, a resource from the League of Women Voters, provides up-to-date election information, including sample ballots for any address and state-wide voting policies.
- Make a Voting Plan, also from the League of Women Voters, is a simple checklist that can help walk first-time voters through the process.
Teaching about Elections and Voting
- iCivics games are a fun way for young people to learn about the electoral process and civic life, from how to vote to understanding what running for office is like. iCivics also offers lesson plans that can be adapted to other learning environments beyond the classroom.
- Resources from iCivics and Share My Lesson offer guidance on how to organize a mock election, which can be an engaging way to teach about voting and elections.
- NAMLE’s Core Principles of Media Literacy Education is a great starting place for learning more about what media literacy education can entail. CIRCLE research has found that community organizations can play an important role in helping young people to translate civic information into action. Explore these core principles and imagine how media literacy could fit into your work with young people.
- Facing History and Ourselves’ Where Do We Get Our News and Why Does It Matter? lesson plan helps young people better understand their media choices and concepts like media bias.
- This lesson plan from Close Up for establishing classroom rules and norms in online environments can be adapted for offline and non-educational spaces by using small groups and large posters or a whiteboard.
- Illinois Civics Hub has toolkits for discussing current and societal issues and for cultivating civil and reflective spaces. Though designed for classrooms, many of the resources can be adapted to help craft programming in community organizations.
- This webinar, facilitated by TFDA members and featuring (beginning at 17:30) Paula McAvoy, one of the authors of The Political Classroom: Evidence and Ethics in Democratic Education, explores strategies and resources for structuring discussions of political issues in the classroom.
Additional Resources to Support Youth
- The National Council for Social Studies compiled 10 Tips for Successful Meetings with Public Officials, which organizations can provide to young people interested in this type of advocacy.
- CIRCLE’s Youth Voting and Civic Engagement in America data tool is a great way to explore data on youth voting and civic engagement, and the political, socioeconomic, and community conditions in the places where youth live.
- CIRCLE lists 18 ways young people under age 18 can get involved in elections, a great resource for young people who aren’t yet eligible to vote but are interested in engaging in politics and elections.