Celebrate democracy: register and vote

The best way to celebrate democracy is by encouraging full participation in public life. That’s why the Association of Illinois Electric Cooperatives (AIEC) and its 24 distribution co-ops are supporting National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, 2020.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than 70 percent of eligible American citizens of voting age were registered to vote in 2018. That means up to 30 percent have not filed the required voter registration applications essential to making their voices heard.

We’re among thousands of organizations committed to making Sept. 22 the most successful National Voter Registration Day in history because we believe its goals are more important than ever before.

Unusual year and unexpected changes

While 2020 began as an active political year, disruptions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic concerns altered the campaign plans of many candidates. They also dramatically reduced overall access to voter registration forms through department of motor vehicle offices, public libraries and schools.

Suspension of on-site classes at many high schools prevented guidance counselors and government teachers from passing out registration applications to students reaching voting age this spring and summer.

Other voter education efforts at community events found many of those events scaled back or canceled.

Lingering concerns about a resurgence of COVID-19 cases this autumn continue to fuel uncertainties on how polling locations will operate or how states and other jurisdictions will handle absentee and mail-in balloting.

The challenge ahead

In 2018, of the 8,099,372 registered voters in Illinois, only 57.23 percent cast a ballot. Increasing overall participation in the election process begins with registering as many eligible voters as possible. That’s the goal of National Voter Registration Day. Recognized as a civic holiday since 2012, the annual event has served as a rallying point for voter registration initiatives supported by a network of nonpartisan organizations committed to increasing overall participation in the electoral process.

“Voting is central to American democracy,” said Laura Vogel, a senior political affairs advisor at the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association. “That’s why many electric cooperatives and their statewide associations are committed to making this year’s National Voter Registration Day the most successful event ever.”

Vogel, who represents electric co-ops on the National Voter Registration Day steering committee, has worked with co-ops in Illinois and throughout the nation to help develop new and effective ways to encourage co-op members to participate in local, state and national politics.

“Since 2012, National Voter Registration Day awareness efforts have helped to register more than 3 million voters,” said Vogel. “This year, we’re putting even more emphasis on digital engagement, because 41 states and the District of Columbia allow voters to register online.”

Many electric co-ops are using their social media pages to promote voter registration and encouraging political engagement with articles in their newsletters, on their websites and with bill attachments or point of contact brochures and leaflets.

National Voter Registration Day is a great opportunity for us all to begin focusing on the most important aspects of this political season. This nonpartisan program promotes participation, and that includes ensuring that those who are registered to vote stay abreast of any changes that we might see in how to legally cast ballots in our state on election day.

Remember to mark your calendar for National Voter Registration Day on Sept. 22, and together, let’s enjoy the rights and opportunities we all share as Americans and celebrate our democracy. To learn more about National Voter Registration Day, visit nationalvoterregistrationday.org.