The Voter Participation Center: Engaging, Registering and Turning Out the Rising American Electorate

October 11th, 2011

This week, Women’s Voices. Women Vote (WVWV) formally becomes The Voter Participation Center (VPC) and the organization that was founded on the observation that married and unmarried women behave differently politically evolves yet again.

WVWV began in 2004 because research demonstrated that marital status was more determinative than gender in predicting whether a woman was more likely to be registered and to vote:  Unmarried women were less likely to be registered and less likely to vote than their married sisters.  Clearly, women are not and should not be treated as a monolithic bloc, despite the preoccupation of the political world and the media with the gender gap –the difference in the voting behavior between men and women.

But the numbers of unmarried women – single, separated, divorced and widowed women, were (and are) growing dramatically – and so was the gap between their percentage of the population and their percentage of the electorate.  We created WVWV to encourage and make it easier for unmarried women – who are less economically secure and less likely to have a job, health insurance or savings than married women – to register, to vote and to make their voices heard.

A few years later we realized that other groups of underrepresented and under-registered voters – people of color and young people under 30, shared the same values and concerns as unmarried women – and that they responded to the same appeals to participate in our democracy as unmarried women.  In 2008, WVWV began targeting its registration and turnout programs to this Rising American Electorate (RAE) – unmarried women, people of color and young people.  In 2010 the RAE comprised 53 percent of our population – but only 42 percent of the 2010 electorate and 47 percent of the electorate in 2008.

The name change acknowledges the fact that the work of WVWV is no longer focused exclusively on unmarried women, but that we are working hard to reach out to and engage the entire RAE.  The work of The Voter Participation Center is to make it easier for the RAE to navigate the ever-changing patchwork quilt of voter registration rules and election laws so they can register and vote, and to engage them in ways that make it easier for their voices to be heard in the public debates.

An equally important part of the VPC’s mission is to help the RAE, and unmarried women particularly, recognize and flex their political muscle this year and next.  According to a just-posted article by Jon Kraushar on FoxNews.com, “By their sheer numbers, unmarried women have the power to influence America’s leadership course if they are motivated enough to get out and vote.  Rallying their participation and support will be a challenge for candidates and advocacy groups.”  While we are expanding our audiences, we remain true to our original mission as well.  All of the voices in our democracy need to be heard – that’s our commitment and our challenge.