National Campaign Manager, Stakeholder & Community Engagement VOTE 2021, The Democratic Engagement Exchange
The Democratic Engagement Exchange’s mission is to build a vibrant and inclusive democracy where everyone living in Canada can contribute. Democratic engagement is key to building healthy communities, fostering a sense of belonging in a civic commons, and addressing shared solutions to our most pressing challenges. The Exchange does this through co-designing community-centered solutions, and cross-sectoral engagement, advising civil society organizations and government agencies, and creating award-winning programs and resources to build democratic power from the ground up.
As National Manager, VOTE 2021 Stakeholder and Community Engagement, I designed and co-created a national non-partisan campaign that worked with community-based social sector agencies across Canada supporting and enhancing local efforts to get out the vote in the 2021 federal election. Working with John Beebe, Senior Advisor and Adjunct Professor, Faculty of Art, Ryerson University and Founder of the Exchange, we reignited and grew the Canadian VOTE Coalition, Canada’s only non-partisan movement of over 700 community organizations and local leaders across Canada.
Canada’s 2021 federal election took place under unprecedented circumstances. It was the first modern election held during a global pandemic in the shortest possible length allowed by law: 35 days, or five weeks. As a result, we had to reinvent our approach. Turning to digital outreach and engagement efforts, The Exchange facilitated connections between hundreds of community organizations, shared learnings and best practices on effective non-partisan voter outreach and provided a variety of resources organizations could use in their communications.
Community Sector Capacity Building
A key outcome of the VOTE 2021 campaign was nation-wide community sector capacity-building. Social service organizations are the frontlines of democracy, almost all of whom are not mandated to lead voter engagement activities and do not have dedicated resources. Through the Exchange’s Election Readiness Trainings, toolkits, resources and the Canadian VOTE Coalition, local communities had access to vital information and tools to lead voter engagement activities in the communities they serve.
Democratic Engagement Strengthens Social Belonging
The pandemic has had a deep impact on our sense of social connection and community bonds. Many people have been isolated. We know democratic engagement depends on and reinforces peoples’ sense of belonging, social cohesion, a community spirit. Simply put: voting is often the first step in community involvement and civic participation. This, in turn, strengthens community ties and creates a stronger sense of belonging and social connection that we have come to recognize as intrinsically vital to our shared humanity
- Consulted on, produced and designed voter engagement materials: co-wrote Voter Outreach and Engagement Handbook, developed and designed digital shareables, coordinated production of video assets, designed and maintained web resource hub; managed social media coordinator.
- Engaged and strengthened the Canada VOTE Coalition: coordinated outreach strategy to engage and liaise with 700+ community organizations and local leaders, hosted weekly gathering sessions to share election news and best practices, advised on communications and outreach strategy in the co-creation of Coalition network; produced follow up survey.
- Managed media relations: drafted media pitches, developed story angles, coordinated media interviews and supported the development of key messaging on high-profile immerging issues.
Too often, the only avenue for democratic outreach is through political parties. This can be alienating for many first-time and infrequent voters who are turned off by partisan politics. The strength of democracy depends on all voices being heard – in the 2019 federal election, over 9 million Canadians did not cast their ballot. The Exchange is on a mission to change that.
Voter Outreach & Engagement Resources
Election Readiness 101 Trainings
Over the course of summer 2021, the Exchange held 10 Elections 101 Training Sessions for community organization staff and local leaders. Over 400 people attended training sessions and committed to leading non-partisan voter engagement in their community.
In these sessions, participants learned the ins and outs of non-partisan voter outreach, including why some people don’t vote and how to engage those voters in creative and effective ways. They learned how to demystify the voting process through activity-based discussion and social media campaigns. After the training session, participants received a virtual toolkit that included voter-engagement resources and tools, as well as relevant info sheets and materials from Elections Canada.
“The Power is Ours” Voter Outreach & Engagement Handbook
In addition to virtual training, we produced a Voter Engagement & Outreach Handbook. The intent of this handbook was to prepare community sector staff and local leaders with all the information they would need to engage first-time and infrequent voters and demystify the voting process.
A few pages from the handbook. Check out The Power is Ours: Voter Outreach & Engagement Handbook here.
Start With The Question: “What Matters to You”
“Start by asking people a question: “What matters to you?” Then listen. This is a powerful way to demonstrate to people that their opinion matters. It is a simple and effective first step. When you start by getting people talking and thinking about issues they care about, they are far more likely to want to learn more about how to vote and take the next steps.”
The handbook included voter outreach and engagement best practices, tips on engaging first-time and infrequent voters, plain-language answers to common election-related questions, and links to important Elections Canada materials and easy-to-use printouts. The handbook also included a portion on hosting a Vote PopUp, available to those in regions where health and safety guidelines permitted in-person activities.
Shared Voter Engagement Digital Resources
Many frontline organizations will not have the capacity, resources or expertise to produce unique voter engagement materials. In response, the Exchange produced a series of shared digital graphics and video resources for organizations and local leaders to use for free on their social media, e-newsletters and other communications channels.
Aimed at new and infrequent voters with the goal of demystifying the voting process, these assets were simple, colourful, fun and directed the viewer to pertinent Elections Canada materials. Key messages included: voting is easy, safe and secure and when it comes to voting you have options. Check out more graphics and videos here.
Canadian VOTE Coalition Champions
As part of this campaign, we reignited and continued to build a national network of Champion partners committed to non-partisan voter engagement to distribute resources and content through their communications channels, networks, as well as their subsidiary member organizations. Champions included YMCA Canada, Operation Black Vote Canada, the Canadian Muslim Vote, Proud Politics, Community Food Centres Canada, Samara Centre for Democracy, YWCA Canada and more. Social Planning Toronto, Community Food Centres of Canada and Civic Action shared these resources as original content on their own social media platforms, as well as promoted shared resources amongst their subsidiary organizations for free use.
The Canadian VOTE Coalition is now made up of over 800+ community service organizations, such as food banks, local libraries, community health centres and legal aid clinics, as well as local leaders across Canada. And growing! The Canadian VOTE Coalition is the only national movement dedicated to non-partisan voter engagement and is a critical piece of democratic infrastructure.
- How To Prevent The Rise Of Anti-Democratic Forces, Op-Ed by John Beebe, The Toronto Star, September 13, 2021
- Pandemic Adds To Delayed Election Results, Long Polling Station Lines, CBC The National, September 21, 2021
- What’s Behind Low Voter Turnout In Canada’s Election? Experts Seek Answers, Global News, September 21, 2021
- We Need To Invest In Democratic Infrastructure: Canadian VOTE Coalition, BNN Bloomberg, Amanda Lang, August 13, 2021
- Moderating a debate in Toronto Centre, I saw a better kind of politics, The Toronto Star, Martin Regg Cohn, September 3, 2021
Through proactive media relations, we earned $1.1M worth of earned media over the course of this three-month campaign.
A Note Of Recognition
I would like to acknowledge the tremendous leadership and vision of John Beebe, Founder of the Democratic Engagement Exchange in the Faculty of Arts, Ryerson University. Without his contribution and commitment to strengthening democratic participation and engagement in Canada, none of this would be possible.
All content featured here belongs to the Democratic Engagement Exchange. If you choose to use any of it in your non-partisan voter engagement work, please credit and link to the Exchange.