Ask / Prepare / Register / Follow Up
About half of U.S. churchgoers aren’t registered to vote. That means millions of Christians are forfeiting their voice in elections that ultimately determine whether this nation honors biblical marriage, protects those in the womb and allows prayer in public schools. Help change that by hosting a church voter-registration drive.
Step 1: Ask
Get permission from your church’s leaders to host a voter-registration drive so that you’re under biblical authority. When asking, emphasize that voter registration is:
- It’s Biblical! “Part of pastoral responsibility is equipping the people of God to do their work in the world,” says Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life. He suggests having “Citizenship Sundays” that feature civic-responsibility sermons and voter-registration tables.
- It’s Easy! Recent federal laws have made voting registration easier than ever. Tennessee’s voter registration form.
- It’s Legal! The IRS says church voter-registration drives are legal, and even encouraged, as long as they’re nonpartisan and don’t endorse or oppose candidates. (Download an easy-to-read and understand guide to what churches and pastors can do in the political arena.)
Step 2: Prepare
- Contact your county election commission to obtain registration forms and learn about the collection procedures or simply download and print off as many forms as you need. Voters can mail their own cards. But it’s more effective to collect them from your fellow church members and then volunteer to mail or return them to the local election commission in bulk.
- Familiarize yourself with the list of frequently asked questions under the “How do I?” tab on the Tennessee Election Commission’s Web site.
- Schedule registration drives at least one Sunday prior to the week before voter registration ends.
- Enlist the help of your church leadership by asking them to designate every fifth Sunday as Voter Registration Sunday. Voters are constantly moving from one address to another or moving into a new district. With regular voter-registration drives (having a table available in a regular, known place) you can:
- Make sure people do not forget to register or keep their registration current.
- Avoid any perception that voter registration is motivated by partisan interest since it is regular and not tied directly to an upcoming election.
- Advertise your drive in church bulletins, newsletters, Sunday school announcements and posters—though “nothing beats announcements from the pulpit,” says Rick Scarborough, a former pastor and founder of Vision America, a voter-education group. “As the pastor goes, so goes the church.”
Step 3: Register
- Pews. Let ushers distribute registration cards in the pews, allowing those present a few minutes to fill out the cards before they’re collected. That way “you don’t miss anyone,” Scarborough says, “which is the same reason people pass offering plates.” Offerings are important to a church; making sure that Christians are good stewards of the power they hold as citizens, which power is ultimately a delegation from God, should be just as important.
- Tables. If your pastor and church leadership prefers a more passive approach, set up tables in the church’s foyer. If you only hold registration drives once or twice a year, consider having light refreshments and plenty of pens. FACT’s president, David Fowler, suggests these tips:
- Take the Initiative. “Stand up, don’t sit, and don’t just let people walk by. Speak to them, saying, ‘Good morning, can I help you fill out this form?’ ” and politely suggest that they fill it out at the booth.
- Provide Assistance. “Lead people step-by-step through the process so they don’t feel like any question is stupid.”
- Have Sign-up Sheets for people who want more information.
- Keep Records. Whether you do pew distributions or tables, keep a list of the names of the people you have registered so that you can later check to make sure the forms you have turned in have been properly handled by the Election Commission.
- Personal Contacts. If you have the time, consider making telephone calls or even personal visits to members of your church who aren’t registered—you can obtain that information by comparing church-mailing lists with voter-registration records, which are public information. “Don’t put them on the defensive by saying, ‘You’re not registered,’ ” Scarborough says. Instead, “offer to help them become a voter.”
Step 4: Follow Up
- Contact those on the sign-up list you kept during registration a few days before the election and remind them to vote.
- Send Thank-You Notes to church leaders and volunteers who approved or otherwise helped with the registration drive.