Two high-profile nonprofit organizations, Global Citizen and HeadCount, are teaming up for a voter registration campaign that is bringing in pop stars like Taylor Swift, Billie Eilish, Usher and DJ Khaled to urge fans to get on the rolls. The nonpartisan “Just Vote” drive will have the musicians offering “rewards” to elect fans who use the platform to check their registration status.
Others joining the initiative include Billy Porter, Quavo, Finneas, Julianne Hough, Loren Gray, Nicky Jam and some superstar names to be announced in the next rollout of talent. The experiences initially being offered as bait for checking registration on the site range from a dance lesson with Usher and his choreographer to a “virtual get-together” with DJ Khaled. The rewards being offered by Eilish, Swift and some other top names weren’t part of the initial announcement but are expected to show up on the Just Vote site this week.
Regular concertgoers will know HeadCount for the registration booths that regularly pop up alongside merch stands in the lobbies of concerts during every election year — except 2020. Global Citizen advocates for health issues and combatting poverty around the world, and made big waves this year for its multi-network “One World: Together at Home” prime-time special, which featured performances by Swift, Eilish and Lady Gaga, among others. Although the two orgs had been affiliated in less strategic ways before, like HeadCount setting up booths at the annual Global Citizen all-star shows in Central Park, the Just Vote campaign marks the philanthropic orgs’ first major collaboration.
HeadCount executive director Andy Bernstein tells Variety that his org has had to think creatively to make up for all the thousands of lost sign-up opportunities at gigs this year. “There are many wonderful tours we would have been on,” he says. “W e were on the road with Billie Eilish when everything shut down. This summer we would have been out on the road with Green Day, Harry Styles, Camilla Cabello and Dead and Company. Sure, a lot was lost — and a lot was lost for the whole country. Voter registration was down 2 million voters a month in April because DMVs were closed. But these digital approaches work, and in a lot of ways they work as well or better. So what we’re going to do with Just Vote and with Hugh and Global Citizen is a model where we give people a chance to possibly have a very meaningful moment of their lives with talent, and get a lot of people checking their registration status and then registering to vote. So you’ve just got to innovate, just like everybody else, just like every restaurant that has had to figure out how to keep the lights on.”
One key point in the campaign is that the “experiences” being offered by celebrities as “rewards” (the word “prize” is being downplayed) are open to anyone checking their registration status on the site; requiring them to actually register would be another thing.
“There’s a strong correlation between those who check their voter registration status and those who register and therefore go on to vote,” says Hugh Evans, co-founder and CEO of Global Citizen. “But also, you’re not actually allowed to incentivize people to register. You can only incentivize people to check their registration status. So that’s an important part of it.”
As with Global Citizen’s recent pandemic-oriented campaigns, there is a significant element that involves bringing in corporations as well as fans, which in this case urges major companies to give employees time off to vote on Election Day. Last week, Evans says, “we held an incredible roundtable forum with leaders of the private sector, and Bob Weir from the Grateful Dead co-hosted that with Andy and and our team at Global Citizen. so far, great partners like Cisco and Proctor and Gamble and Delta Airlines have already signed on, so already that represents over 300,000 employees that will be giving their employees time off to vote. So we’re going to be continually encouraging the private sector through this campaign to step up as well, because it gives everyone the opportunity at every employee level to be able to participate, and I think that’s critical for this year’s campaign.”
For Global Citizen, it’s a chance to remind the globe that the org obviously wasn’t founded purely to deal with a pandemic, despite it being the face of public advocacy efforts all year, with its alignment with the World Health Organization.
“I guess when you do something as broadly seen as ‘One World: Together at Home,’ then people say, ‘Okay, it’s focused on this,’” says Evans. “But from our very beginning, Global Citizen… I think the trick’s in the name. It’s always been focused on the eradication of extreme poverty, but also about mobilizing citizens to take action. And we’ve always seen that America’s influence in the world — be that to tackle pandemics, to address climate change or to pursue opportunity for all — is fundamental to achieving Global Citizen’s vision. And so by using their voice, we really believe all Americans who are eligible can help us achieve this mission, Because of the vast power that the U.S. holds globally, a vote in the U S. can mean a vote for the world.”
Clearly the campaign is aimed at younger potential voters, many of whom may still require some urging to register, but some of whom are college students already on the rolls — somewhere — who may be unclear on their status. “Because many people who have traveled back from college due to COVID are at their parents’ house, they aren’t sure which state they’re registered in,” Evans says. “And so it’s critically important to know, are you on the right voter registration poll? Are you actually properly registered? Does your signature match when you signed it with a stylus at the DMV? These are really important factors to determine the eligibility of every single person to be able to participate in the democratic process.” As for potential first-timers, “We know that more than a third of all the eligible voters are Gen Z or millennials, and the data is suggesting that that same demographic does have the belief that they can change the world — but only 60% are currently planning to vote.”
Adds Bernstein, “You know, you have 7 million people who’ve never been eligible to vote in a federal election before. Gen Z is now 10% of the electorate. And in 2018, we did see high turnout among those youngest voters. We haven’t talked a lot in the last year about March for Our Lives and Parkland, but let’s go back to two years ago — it was on everyone’s minds, and we were able to see that it directly translated to voter turnout. So I think now that is what you have with the Black Lives Matter movement and just what’s in the news every day, and very strong opinions about COVID and how to react to it, in both directions. If somebody doesn’t feel a connection to how government policy impacts their lives now, it’s almost strange, because government policy is impacting everyone’s lives every day, as it relates to the pandemic. So I think all of the signs point to a very engaged electorate, including young people. But we’re not going to just take that for granted. We have to do the things to make sure that we’re getting people that are on the sidelines, because even in a very high turnout election, you’re looking at roughly half of young people. And let’s also not forget: more people didn’t vote in 2016 than voted for either Trump or Clinton. So there’s still always a lot of work to do. But we can feel that the wind is at our backs, not in our faces.”
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