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Getting Out the Vote for Local Elections: Creative Strategies for Nonprofits and Asian Organizers

HITTING THE STREETS: Volunteers organized by Trust grantee Minkwon Center for Community Action knock on doors and register Asian New Yorkers to vote. 

Anything public—schools, parks, transportation, libraries—is affected by whom we elect. But “many low-income New Yorkers don’t feel their votes make a difference,” says Louisa Hackett, executive director of Community Votes, a Trust grantee. 

The nonprofit group targets neighborhoods such as Cypress Hills and East New York, where the voter turnout was only 15 percent for the last mayoral election. 

A few voters can have a real impact, especially in City and State elections, where some candidates win by a minuscule margin: A candidate won the 2014 State Assembly District 86 primary election in the Bronx by six votes.

With a Trust grant of $60,000, Community Votes is working with nonprofits to find creative ways to turn out the vote. At social service providers, for example, receptionists register people to vote as they wait for appointments; after-school staff inform parents about upcoming elections while enrolling children.

“Our job is to find out what residents care about and explain how elected decision makers impact those issues,” continued Hackett.

One group that lags behind on voter rolls: Asian Americans. Minkwon Center for Community Action is working to change this. Last year, with our grant of $100,000, Minkwon led a coalition of 18 groups that registered 6,000 new voters in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, Chinatown in Manhattan, and other neighborhoods with a high concentration of Asian New Yorkers.

The coalition held candidate forums, distributed voter guides in five languages, and did exit polling. Another Trust grant of $100,000 will continue to boost civic engagement. 

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