YLS Volunteer Perspective on National Voter Registration Day

On Tuesday, September 25th, National Voter Registration Day, the United Way Young Leaders Society (YLS) partnered with Chicago Votes to encourage and facilitate Chicagoans registering to vote. The Ask. The ask of the volunteers was simply this: Meet your group of fellow volunteers on a designated downtown Chicago corner, participate in a brief training on voter registration procedures and guidelines, then approach strangers during rush hour to urge them to get registered or to update their voter registration information and help them throughout the process. Yes, that easy! Bumpy Start. Needless to say, my butterflies were in full flutter when I made it to the corner of Washington and Wells despite looking quite official with my voter registration sticker firmly affixed, and my clipboard, pens, and leaflets in hand. I was sharing my corner with an older gentleman who actually sold me my first Streetwise magazine 3 years ago; that actually bred some comfort knowing that we would be facing this (what I assumed might be hostile and annoyed) crowd together and with the full knowledge that he has been doing so for at least 3 years and has lived to tell the tale. Admittedly, I was a bit flustered at the outset. Rejection, being ignored outright, yelling “Are you registered to vote?!” above the rumble of the L overhead, and requesting personal information from strangers on a street corner is not something that I often practice at home. There is little that can prepare you for an experience like this. My Streetwise companion gave me a reassuring smile and nod as he watched me smile to the heavens and utter “Seriously?” in sheer frustration with my awkward approach and initial discomfort 5 minutes into the 2-hour event. I suspect I am not alone in having required an adjustment period. Nonetheless, I continued working on my rhythm — shifting to catch people crossing either end of the intersection or coming from behind, pausing briefly as the L rumbled past, making eye contact, smiling, and exuding confidence to reassure people that I was on official business and there to serve. Minute 6 Onward 6 minutes into my adjustment period, two women passed in intense conversation as I yelled out “Hi! Are you registered to vote?!” and much to my surprise one woman paused and did an about-face to inform me that she was registered, but that her address was out of date. In shock, I dropped my guard momentarily and yelped in excitement “Really?! I can help with that!” Her story was similar to that of most of the 15 people I ultimately assisted in getting registered or updating their information. It turned out that my biggest concern, that people are too busy to stop and go through the registration process, was our greatest advantage; people believed that they were too busy and lacked the necessary information to complete the process independently. They often expressed that they did not know where to go for information or for assistance in understanding what documentation to complete and what the deadlines were. They were genuinely relieved that I was there to confront them and help them through the 3-minute process. That story repeated time and time again empowered me, and I shamelessly, even gleefully approached anyone who crossed my path, ultimately registering students who were new to the Chicago area, professionals who had not realized that the deadline was looming near, and a man who admitted that he left school before he learned to effectively read or write, but was fortunate enough to be out with a friend that evening who was able to assist him in getting registered. It was an overwhelming experience that I will never forget. Enthusiasm & Gratitude What stuck out most in stark contrast to my expectations was the excitement and enthusiasm of people about having the option to exercise their right to vote. More often than not, when people paused and connected with me briefly to hear my spiel on voter registration, they responded with a joyous smile as they proclaimed, “I’m already registered.” Furthermore, the appreciation that people expressed for the volunteers was the most inspiring. There was a sincere respect and appreciation for the YLS volunteers taking time out for such a worthy cause, and individuals went out of their way to make that gratitude known; one man even cupped his hand around his mouth toward my ear to yell his gracious sentiments above the L. Following the event, we were informed that 112 people were registered to vote as a result of the combined efforts of YLS and Chicago Votes that evening. Great job volunteers! Blog post submitted on behalf of Jasmine Shaw, YLS Volunteer.

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