Toolkit for Youth Political Power
Organize. Vote. Run. Lead. Transform.
Regardless of whether we are old enough to vote, policies (the principles that guide the government) have a big impact on us, our families, and our community.
Like school for example! Policies affect how schools are run and cared for, what is taught in school, and by whom. Policies also affect community safety, what crimes are, and how to respond to them.
As young people, we're often on the political menu and not sitting at the decision-making table.
It's important for us to take action so that our voices are heard and to encourage adults to support us with how they vote.
Voter participation is a big issue.
Over 90 million eligible voters didn’t vote in 2016!! That means that their voices weren't impacting how our government and society operates.
So who is representing you and your community? What decisions they are making on your behalf? Let's take a look!
Below is a map of elected leadership positions in Michigan.
The infographic below breaks down some of the decision-making power our elected officials have in Michigan and how the choices they make impact us.
Absentee Voter Ballot
Michigan Voter Registration Application
Register for Voting Online
Maps and Precincts
Find Your Precinct
Map of Lansing Wards and Precincts
Map of East Lansing Precincts
Below is an example of what you ballot may look like:
When completing the ballot, make sure to fill in the bubble completely!
What are the positions we vote for?
The U.S. presidential race gets all the attention, and in that way, it can seem like the star of the nation's electoral movie. It gets the most interviews, the most advertisements on TV, and people often view it as the one election they need to show up for.
Just like no movie would work with just one actor, our government requires a huge cast to make things happen.
The United States Government is split into three levels of leadership. There are the Federal officials, who make choices for our whole country. Then there are State officials, who make decisions for just their own states. And then there are the often overlooked Local officials, who make choices for your local city or township that you may not even know affect your daily life. All three of these levels of government make up the Electoral College and have the final say in who our president is. That's why it's really important that we educate ourselves and vote for people at all levels of government.
As Americans, we choose:
Click on any of the above to learn about the people you have the power to elect.
What is a ballot initiative?
As citizens of the State of Michigan, we get to exercise direct democracy in a way many other states cannot: through ballot measures! Instead of a law going through to be voted on by Congress, the people can vote directly for the law. Ballot initiatives can be addressed to the state government, but they can also be used for local cities and county elections. This is a huge opportunity for us to move change for our communities!
Ballot initiatives come in two types: Direct Initiatives and Indirect Initiatives.
Direct Ballot Initiatives, or constitutional initiatives, go directly to the ballot for election
Indirect Ballot Initiatives, or statute (law) initiatives, are submitted to legislature.
If the State Congress rejects the initiative, or proposes a different version of it, or if Congress takes too long, some states send it right to the ballot. In other words, Congress might submit a competing ballot measure alongside the original ballot initiative.
If you’d like to see current Michigan ballot initiatives, check out this site: –,00.html
A popular referendum is a petition by the people to vote on a new law the legislature has recently passed. The State Congress decides whether to put the legislation on the ballot. Most states (though not all) are able to do this.
You might be asking yourself whether or not these initiatives are effective. In fact, according to the Initiative & Referendum Institute’s Ballotwatch, between 1904 and 2009 there were 2,314 ballot initiatives on state ballots, and 41% of these were approved!
So what’s the process of putting an initiative on the ballot?
1. File the proposed petition with a designated state official.
The petition has to be formatted in a very specific way according to Michigan Law. The Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections offers consultations for formatting the bill to this legally required form (though they can’t offer advice about the actual content of the proposal
In addition to sending the petition as a pdf in an email to , 15 printed copies of the petition must be sent to the Secretary of State, specifically to the Bureau of Elections.
2. Review of the petition to make sure it lines up with statutory requirements.
In Michigan, this is an optional step. Petitioners can (and should, although they don’t have to) submit a copy of their petition to the State Board of Canvassers so they can pre-approve the petition form. If the petition doesn’t have the proper format, all the signatures collected will be thrown out.
3. Preparation of a ballot initiative title and summary.
This step is important because most people only ever read the title and summary of the initiative while they’re voting.
The title and summary are supposed to be unbiased, but whether or not this is always the case is up for debate.
In Michigan, the title of the petition is drafted by the group or people that are filing the initiative want them to. The title and summary of the ballot initiative is drafted by the Director of Elections with the approval of the Board of State Canvassers.
4. Circulate the petition to get the required number of signatures from registered voters (usually a percentage of the votes cast for a statewide office in the preceding general election).
Referendum petitions can circulate from the date the law was enacted by legislature until 90 days after the legislative session that the law was enacted during.
Only signatures collected 180 days before the petition is filed (step 5) can be counted. Petitioners can only file with their signatures all at once–they can’t file with some signatures and then submit more signatures later.
There is a minimum signature requirement before a petition can be considered. Usually petitioners need way more signatures than the minimum required, because so many of them won’t pass the verification process (in step 5).
Ballot initiatives that make new laws or amend current laws need 252,523 signatures to be considered.
Ballot initiatives that amend the State Constitution need 315,654 signatures.
Referendum require 157,827 signatures.
5. Submit the petition to the state elections official, who verifies the number of signatures.
In Michigan, you file the petition with the Michigan Department of State’s Bureau of Elections.
Once a proposed ballot initiative has gone through this process, it’s placed on the ballot during the next general election.
If the proposal was for a referendum, the law the referendum is trying to overturn is suspended until the election can happen.
To become a law, it needs to receive a majority vote.
If you’d like to learn more about the details of Michigan ballot initiative petitioning, you can check that out here:
A big ballot proposal about gerrymandering is coming up this 2018 election. You can learn more about that by clicking here.
Everyone knows we have a President (and most people know they’re elected every four years) but Americans vote for so many other federal officials!
If we want to have a say about who runs the country, we need to vote for who represents our State in the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives.
Michigan gets to choose two people to send to the Senate at Washington DC to make choices on the behalf of our state, and our state gets to choose 14 people to represent us in the House of Representatives. The whole state of Michigan decides who our senators will be, but each of the state’s 14 Congressional Districts chooses their own Representative for the U.S. House of Representatives.
Every two years 1/3 of the 100 United States Senate seats are up for reelection (that’s 33 to 34 people that voters can either keep or replace). Senators keep their job for a 6-year term. That means in 2022 the Michigan U.S. Senate Seat currently held by Senator Debbie Stabenow will be up for election, and in 2020 the seat held by Senator Gary Peters will also be up for election. Voters can choose to keep these two in office (they are considered “incumbent” because they already have the position), or we can vote for new people to take their place.
Every two years all 435 U.S. House of Representative seats are up for election. U.S. Representative keep their job for a 2 year term. Every two years Michigan gets to choose their 14 representatives all over again. Unlike senate elections, the whole state doesn’t decide together who the 14 people will be. Instead, citizens are split into 14 groups of people (with about 710,000 people per group). These 14 groups of people are called “Congressional Districts”.
The Michigan State Government is divided into the Executive Branch, the Legislative Branch, and the Judicial Branch.
The Executive Branch includes the Governor and Lieutenant Governor, the Secretary of State, and the Attorney General.
The Legislative Branch includes senators and representatives of the Michigan Senate and the Michigan House of Representatives.
The Judicial Branch includes the Supreme Court of Michigan, The Court of Appeals, and various trial courts.
Michigan Citizens get to decide who fills each and every one of the top positions within each of these various branches of government.
There are multiple levels to the judicial system in the United States. The first division between them is that some are “Federal Courts” and some are “State and Territorial Courts.” The Federal Courts deal with, well, federal laws. They have the authority of the federal government. No federal judges are elected by the people. The State and Territorial courts deal with state and US territory laws, and have the authority of these states and territories. In Michigan, most of these judges are elected.
Michigan State Courts
The State of Michigan divides its courts into miscellaneous limited-jurisdiction trial courts, trial courts called Circuit Courts, the Court of Appeals, the Supreme Court. Because the federal and state levels both use the term “circuit courts”, it’s important to specify whether you mean “Federal circuit court” or “State circuit court”.
State Judges are chosen in nonpartisan elections, in other words, they do not run as “Republican” or “Democrat”. However, this does not mean that they do not have partisan beliefs or ways of deciding the law that are ideologically similar to one of the political parties. The word “nonpartisan” can, in this way, be misleading. And in the case of State Supreme Court judges, political parties can nominate them at political party conventions or through a nominating petition.
District Courts deal with traffic violations, misdemeanors, landlord-tenant conflicts, and all civil cases with claims up to but under $25,000.
There are 100 of these district courts, and district court judges are elected for 6 year terms.
Circuit Courts deal with felonies, civil cases with claims over $25,000, and family law.
It includes a family division that deals with juvenile criminal cases, divorce, paternity, guardianship, adoption, safe newborn delivery, minor-emancipation, child abuse, personal protection actions (PPOs and enforcement), name changes, and “friend of the court” (the office that handles “domestic relations” in cases involving minor children).
The court also hears case appeals from the other trial courts (like the district courts) or administrative agencies.
In Michigan there are 57 Circuit Courts, 221 judges, and each judge is elected to serve a 6 year term.
Probate Courts deal with wills, administers estates and trusts, appoints guardians and conservators, and orders psychological treatment.
There are 78 of these courts and their judges are elected to 6 year terms.
Since there are so many judges in all of these courts, nearly every election on an even year will include the election of a Circuit Court, District Court or Probate Court Justice in your area. If you’d like to know what your district court or circuit court district is, check out the maps below.
The “Court of Appeals” deals with appeals cases. Any final order from a circuit court, or from some probate courts and orders from agencies.
Court of Appeals hearings are held in the capital, Lansing, as well as in Detroit and Grand Rapids, all year (and in the spring and fall, they are also heard in Marquette and in a location somewhere in the Northern Lower Peninsula).
A panel of three judges decide Court of Appeals cases. The panels are rotated between cases, so the three judges don’t always decide a case together. Two of these judges must agree on a ruling.
Only the Michigan Supreme Court can overrule a Court of Appeals decision (or a special Court of Appeals panel).
The Michigan Court of Appeals is also home to the Michigan Court of Claims. This is the court where claims for money damages of over $1,000 against the State of Michigan are heard. Four Court of Appeals judges are assigned to the Court of Claims and each Court of Claims case is heard by a single judge.
Before 2012, there were supposed to be 28 judges on the Court of Appeals. After 2012, it was decided that there should be 24 judges. The 4 judges already on the court were meant to be lost by “attrition”. This means that when the person holding that seat’s position are done with their 6 year term, they can choose to stand for re-election, or they can retire and their position will no longer exist (until 4 judges retire).
Barriers to Voting
Stricter voting laws are problematic because they will make it harder for low income and marginalized voters to obtain a state ID card and birth certificates.
As of December 2016 : Michigan voters without photo identification could still cast a ballot under an affidavit, but they would have to bring an ID to their local clerk’s office within 10 days of an election in order for their vote to count.
The Voting Rights Act
Most of us can remember the Civil Rights Act of 1964 from U.S history classes. But what some forget is that there was another notable law that was passed the year afterwards. This was the Voting Rights Act of 1965. It expanded the number of African-Americans who could vote and put an end to the discriminatory practices based on race and color at polling stations.
What Happened Before this Law Came Into Effect?
Before this law was enacted, state governments, particularly in the South, used brazenly, prejudiced obstacles for Black men to meet when they came to exercise their right to vote, as expressed in the 15th Amendment of the Constitution. Some of these prerequisites included literacy tests, poll taxes, and proving that your ancestors were free (known as the “grandfather clause”). These requirements drastically reduced the black voter rolls. In states like Louisiana which instituted a “grandfather clause” in 1896 the percentage of African Americans who could vote was reduced from 44.8% to an astonishing 4 percent in a matter of four years. By 1940, other states would follow a similar path to the point that only 3 percent of eligible African Americans in the South were allowed to vote.
How Did It Get Passed?
These harsh measures helped spur the Civil Rights Movement and push people to march, protest, and resist. Because of their activism and the signing of the legislation into law by President Lyndon B. Johnson, the Voting Rights Act became official U.S. policy and led to the registration of 250,000 Black voters by the end of 1965 alone.
Throughout the decades since, Congress and the President have taken upon themselves to reaffirm the statues of this law, particularly section 4 and section 5.
What Is Section 4 and 5 of the Voting Rights Act?
Section 4 targets specific areas around the country where there has been a history of racial discrimination in voting and requires these same areas to adhere to the newly-created law. The severity of these remedies would range based on how much improvement an area needed. The most basic of these would be a suspension of all tests and devices like literacy tests.
Section 5 would guarantee that all new election and voting practices in these areas are approved by the Attorney General or the United States District Court for the District of Columbia. To receive this approval and be implemented, the new changes would have to have no discriminatory purpose or effect whatsoever.
What is the Status of These Sections Today?
In 2013, the court case of Shelby County v. Holder placed the enforcement of these sections under threat. The Court stated that “it is unconstitutional to use the coverage formula in Section 4(b) of the Voting Rights Act to determine which jurisdictions are subject to the preclearance requirement of Section 5 of the Voting Rights Act.” This means that all new election laws and practices were no longer required to have Attorney General or Court approval, even if these counties/cities have had a history of discrimination. Thus making Section 5 largely ineffective and unable to protect the voting rights of the citizens it was sworn to protect.
What Have Been the Consequences of this Decision?
As soon as Section 4b was considered unconstitutional, states all over the country began to use new methods that disparage voting such as voter ID laws, the closing down of polling stations in primarily Black neighborhoods, and English-only elections. This has had a disastrous effect on minority people’s ability to vote and officially made 2016 the first election without the full protection of the Voting Rights Act in recent memory.
Where Do We Go From Here?
Thankfully, there is a light at the end of the tunnel. After Section 4b was made unconstitutional, the Chief Justice John Roberts recommended Congress pass legislation to make up for this gap. Two bipartisan bills have been introduced – the Voting Rights Amendment Act and the Voting Rights Advancement Act – and are still waiting to be passed. All it would take is for the people to rise up launch a grassroots movement to remind our Congressmen and Congresswomen that our democracy matters and that we will not submit to these new alterations in voting law. Whether this be through mass protests like the Women’s March, sit-ins at legislator’s offices, or even voting them out of office if they refuse to promise to restore the Voting Rights Act.
In the Gilded Age of U.S. history, money and corruption was the norm in politics. Even the party machines that were supposed to represent the people’s wishes were overhauled by the interests of those with wealth and power like “Boss” Tweed in the late nineteenth century. These problems would be washed away with the introduction of “trust-busting” and new campaign finance laws that made it more difficult for the wealthy to buy off corrupt politicians in the Progressive Era. But with the Supreme Court decision of Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission (2010), the political environment has suddenly shifted back towards the Gilded Age all over again.
What is Citizens United?
Citizens United is a notorious Supreme Court case that argued corporations and nonprofit entities had the right to spend unlimited amounts of money into the political process. Otherwise, restricting their option to do so would be violating their First Amendment rights. As a result, the floodgates were opened up with the help of Super PACs.
What are Super PACs?
Super PACs are different from regular PACs in that they are not required to disclose the amount of money they receive from corporations and nonprofits. This has created scenarios where candidates can use their regular PAC to make it appear like they aren’t bought off, but then establish a Super PAC for wealthy donors to contribute to.
For example, in the 2016 Presidential election, prospective Republican candidate Jeb Bush formed two Right to Rise PACs: a regular one and a Super PAC. These two PACs would coincidentally have the same names, the same logos, and even the same lawyer heading them. And when he made a video announcement about this PAC, he would consistently reference the regular PAC without ever mentioning the alternative. This is just one example of the deceit that is being utilized in the political arena by candidates running for important positions.
What Reforms Can be Implemented?
What makes this issue so complicated and complex is the lack of a pragmatic solution. But there are three general options that can be done to counter this if under the right conditions:
States can issue their own public financing system that would create an incentive for candidates to take money directly from the people themselves rather than the hundreds of thousands of dollars they would receive from corporations and nonprofits. And there quite a few versions of that that could be potentially done. For example, in a publicly funded matching system, if an individual donated money, the state government would donate the same amount of money to a candidate’s campaign so as to make them less likely to go to corporations and organizations for large sums of money. An unintended consequence of this system, though, is that this will only encourage corporations and organizations to donate ever larger sums of money than they already have.
To over the heads of our Supreme Court Justices, some have suggested a movement to pass a constitutional amendment. This amendment would clearly express that there must be limits on the amount of money a candidate can spend and receive, as well as resisting the idea that corporations are artificial individuals. But this would require 38 state governments to approve of the measure. Something practically impossible at the moment where the only state legislatures that have said it would support the measure are Vermont and California.
Hence, the other solution. Elect a President who would appoint a Supreme Court Justice that is in favor of reversing Citizens United and its’ ramifications. In fact, many of these campaign finance cases have been decided by a narrow 5-4 margin throughout the decades. This is best shown in the figure below by Vox. So, if one of these five justices was to be replaced with one who does not approve of Citizens United, we would be poised to reverse the decision and any other previous decision that negatively affected a citizen’s ability to be heard in the political process.
The Electoral College
In each presidential election year, a group of candidates for elector is nominated by political parties and other groupings in each state, usually at a state party convention, or by the party state committee. It is these elector-candidates, rather than the presidential and vice presidential nominees, for whom the people vote in the November election, which is held on Tuesday after the first Monday in November. In most states, voters cast a single vote for the slate of electors pledged to the party presidential and vice presidential candidates of their choice. The slate winning the most popular votes is elected; this is known as the winner-take-all, or general ticket, system.
Each state has a number of electors in the electoral college proportionate to its population: the sum of its number of senators (always two) and representatives in the House.
Technically, Americans on election day cast votes for electors, not the candidates themselves, although in most cases the electors’ names are not on the ballot.
California, the most populous state, has 55 electoral votes. A few small states and the District of Columbia have only three.
Today, the electoral college has 538 electors, and in all but two states, Maine and Nebraska, all of the state’s electors are awarded to the winner of the popular vote within that state.
The problem with the Electoral College
Although the electoral college has been an established institution for years, it is an incredibly undemocratic system. This is because a president can be elected despite their opponent’s receiving a larger popular vote. This was seen in our past 2016 Presidential election when Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by more than 2.6 million votes but still lost the presidential election to Trump as he had won enough electoral votes. So in our current system, it does not matter if you won the popular vote because you can only win the presidency through the electoral college. As explained above, this is very undemocratic because the electoral college allocates delegates in a winner-take-all fashion. So if 49% of voters voted for one candidate in a particular state, their votes would get zero representation because this rule gives all the delegates to the other candidate who received 51% (or more) of the votes.
One of the arguments made in favor of the electoral college is that it serves to emphasize small states and make them more important to the candidates. This might sound beneficial in theory, but it undermines simple democratic ideology. If electoral votes were distributed proportionately, Wyoming would only have one vote based on its low population. But instead, Wyoming voter’s choice is inflated to three times more than it should be.
The Electoral College was originally created to serve as a barrier between the people and the Government, to prevent a mistake from the constituents they hardly trusted. Today, however, Americans are much more educated. Increased literacy and the engulfing nature of social media has made it extremely easy to be an informed voter.
After witnessing President Donald Trump’s stunning victory in the 2016 presidential election, it is very clear that the electoral college as an institution should be abolished. Although, this would not be an easy task. Since it is included in our Constitution, getting rid of it would require a constitutional amendment. That means receiving a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate and the ratification of three-fourths (38) of the 50 states. Since the Democrats lost the presidency, the Senate, and the House, a constitutional amendment to abolish the electoral college is not likely to be proposed in a GOP-controlled Congress. Given a situation where it is passed in Congress, it is highly unlikely that 38 states would ratify it. Red states are likely to not support the idea as the electoral college has been perceived as beneficial for the Republican Party. There also may not be much support from swing states either as it would mean losing their important position in the presidential campaign.
The only option that we as a community have in order to work towards eliminating this system is to launch a national campaign that makes the case that this institution isn’t right and goes against all of our democratic principles. We must inform voters that the last two elections in 16 years have gone to the candidate with fewer votes. This just isn’t what a true democracy should look like.
For a more visual explanation, watch the video below.
The Incarcerated/Returning Citizen Population and Voting Rights
We know about how dismally low of a turnout rate there is when it comes to elections, especially midterms and local elections. But why is it so low? A portion of that reason has to do with the 6.1 million returning citizens and/or incarcerated citizens who have been denied their right to vote in their respective state. Based on a state’s laws, significant parts of the electorate can be wiped off the voting rolls like the grandfather clauses did for African Americans in the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
For example, 10.43% of Florida’s eligible voters are disenfranchised for life due to harsh laws on felons when they enter the penitentiary system and even after they leave it. In terms of population numbers, that is nearly 1.7 million people. A utterly shocking statistic when taking into consideration how large of a swing state Florida is. Anyone remember the 2000 Presidential Election? Only two other states have lifetime disenfranchisement policies for all returning citizens: Iowa and Kentucky. But even though the other 47 states don’t have this specific policy, they do have some laws that make it difficult for incarcerated citizens to be treated like any other non-incarcerated citizen. For instance, the state of Michigan makes it illegal for someone in prison to vote. And another law in the Michigan Freedom of Information Act declares that:
It is the public policy of this state that all persons, except those persons incarcerated in state or local correctional facilities, are entitled to full and complete information regarding the affairs of government and the official acts of those who represent them as public officials and public employees, consistent with this act.
This creates a nation of returning citizens and incarcerated citizens who are unable to vote and participate in the democratic process.
Other states have tried to resolve this.
In 2016, Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe issued an executive order that gave back the right to vote to 200,000 returning citizens. Moves like these are a way to restore these citizens to a first-class status like everyone else.
Whenever an American votes for their federal, state, or local representatives, they vote in a certain electoral district. Their district is a specific geographic space, and every registered voter within the lines can only vote in that geo-political boundary.
But who decides where the lines between these districts should go?
In Michigan, the state legislature decides–they make the law that decides the district’s boundaries.
When our country was still small and limited to a few states, electoral districts generally just followed the shape of city or town limits. As the U.S. population increased rapidly over time, the number of people each politician represented increased.
For some parts of government, this didn’t matter–many states have Senates modeled after the U.S. Senate. In the U.S. Senate, each state gets two representatives regardless of their population. States whose senate included one representative from each county didn’t care so much whether each state senator represented a similar number of people or not. For other parts, like the federal and states’ House of Representatives, the growing and changing population left citizens with unequal representation.
In the U.S., most elections use a “winner take all” system, where the politician with the most votes wins and they’re supposed to represent all of the people in their district–including the people who didn’t want that politician to represent them. As the populations within each district changed, some districts included way more people than others. In the “winner take all” voting system of the U.S., that meant that in districts with a lot of people there were way more citizens who didn’t vote for the person representing them than in districts with smaller numbers of people (and thus smaller numbers of people who didn’t vote for the person representing them). For example, according to professor Justin Levitt from the Loyola Law School, in the 1960s Los Angeles County had 422 times as many people as California’s smallest district, but because each district elected one senator the people in that smallest district got to have 422 times as much representation on the Senate than LA County citizens.
Citizens needed a better, more fair chance at representation. Federal, state, and local governments started to decrease the number of people each politician represented by increasing the total number of politicians, and by re-draw the boundaries that decided which people a politician represented. Now, these lines are re-drawn every 10 years, after the U.S. Census data is available.
So where does gerrymandering fit into this redistricting?
Gerrymandering happens when districts are drawn so that one political party has an unfair advantage over others. Instead of using the census data to draw fair boundaries, the party in power uses the data to manipulate the districts so that they includes more people who vote for their party. This makes it almost impossible for people who disagree with the party in power to ever win in an election!
When a party “gerrymanders” electoral districts, they ignore federal and state guidelines for redistricting.
The federal government (specifically the U.S. Constitution) specifies that each electoral district within a specific jurisdiction needs to have about the same number of people.
Since there are electoral districts for several levels of government (districts for electing people to U.S. Congress, districts for electing people to the State House of Representatives, districts for electing people to a city council) each set of districts might include different numbers of people, but within a single level of government the electoral districts must be roughly equal in number of people.
Congressional Districts (the ones that elect people to the federal government) must have as close to an equal population as possible according to the Supreme Court in Wesberry v Sanders.
This is the strictest rule for redistricting.
State and local legislative districts (the ones that elect people to the state and local government) must be “substantially” equal according to the Supreme Court in Reynolds v Sims.
A Supreme Court Case (Brown v Thomson) pointed out that if large and small districts are more than 10% apart in population starts to look suspicious.
Even if the districts have equal numbers of people, they aren’t necessarily fair. Gerrymandering also includes drawing lines so that people of color have less of a say in elections.
Two strategies are used to do this: cracking and packing.
Cracking happens when people of color in one area are separated into a lot of other districts so that there are just a few people of color in each district and they have no power as a group.
Packing happens when people of color are all put into a few voting districts that are almost entirely people of color so that those people of color can’t have voting power in other districts.
You can see a visual example of this process below. Imagine this is a city. The rectangles under “Disproportionate Outcomes” represent ways electoral district lines could be drawn in the city.
On the left you can see that the yellow precincts have been “packed”.
Most of the yellow precincts were put into two voting districts so that they couldn’t have a say in the other three districts.
Even though only 40% of the precincts are Green, they were able to get 60% of the vote because they drew the lines unfairly.
North Carolina’s redistricting was so bad that federal courts deemed it unconstitutional. Despite this ruling they allowed North Carolina to keep their unconstitutionally racist, voter suppressing districts for the 2016 election that allowed Trump a victory.
But how does a court decide whether redistricting is bad enough to be unconstitutional?
The Voting Rights Act of 1965 included rules about gerrymandering.
Section 2 of the VRA prohibits voting practices that discriminate based on race, color, or membership to a language minority group. Racialized gerrymandering is illegal under this law.
The VRA applies whether or not the gerrymandering was intended to discriminate along racial lines. It doesn’t matter if the lawmakers say they didn’t intend for their redistricting to discriminate, the impact matters.
There are three ways to test whether electoral districts have been drawn in a way that violates Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act. This three-step process was made during the Supreme Court case Thomburg v Gingles to help determine whether a group has been discriminated against. They’re called “Gingles” conditions.
Compactness: Is the population of people of color concentrated in one “compact” area with relatively regular boundaries so that district lines could be drawn around the population and that district would be mostly people of color.
Does most of the population in question usually vote for the same type of candidate?
“Type of candidate” doesn’t mean democrat or republican, but the type of democrat or type of republican
If the answer is yes, the next question must be asked.
Do voters around this population of people of color usually vote for a “type of candidate” different than the one preferred by the population in question.
If these “Gingles” conditions are met, then courts can consider the situation to determine if it’s a violation of the Voting Rights Act.
Section 2 of the Voting Rights Act does not, however, guarantee voting proportionality. Voting proportionality is when the percentage of minority voters in a total population matches the percentage of districts minority voters could actually elect a candidate they want. If 20% of voters in a state are people of color, and 20% of the districts can already be elected by them, the courts are less likely to say the Voting Rights Act has been violated by gerrymandering.
The Supreme Court has decided it’s okay to consider race when drawing electoral district lines, but without a compelling (court approved) reason, race cannot be the main reason for drawing the lines a certain way.
Gerrymandering is, unfortunately, a huge problem in Michigan.
Every 10 years, after the census data is released, the state congress redraws the lines (and the Governor can approve or veto them). A State House of Representatives committee and a State Senate committee are responsible for this process. Unfortunately, if one party has a majority in the House, the Senate, and the Governor’s position, that party has an unfair advantage when the time for redistricting happens.
The last time districts were drawn in Michigan was in 2011, when the Republican party controlled the House, Senate, and Governor’s office.
Learn more about gerrymandering!
If visuals are helpful for you, check out the videos on gerrymandering below. If you prefer learning-by-doing, try these games to learn more:
If you’d like to learn more about gerrymandering in Michigan, and how it impacted the 2016 presidential election, and new ways to measure gerrymandering (or if you want to play around with some maps that explain gerrymandering in Michigan) check out this article here http://www.bridgemi.com/public-sector/gerrymandering-michigan-among-nations-worst-new-test-claims .
In 2018, Michigan will be voting on a ballot initiative to combat gerrymandering in the state. If you’d like to learn more about the initiative, and about gerrymandering in the state of Michigan, check out this link here http://www.votersnotpoliticians.com/michigangerrymandering .
Solutions to Voting Barriers
Throughout the United States, citizens must register in order to be eligible to vote. Generally, voters are required to register or update their registrations several days or weeks in advance of an election. Some states, however, permit same-day registration, which enables voters to register and vote at the same time. Same-day registration is sometimes referred to as Election Day registration.
As of October 2017, 15 states and the District of Columbia had implemented same-day registration provisions enabling voters to register and vote at the same time. Another three states had approved same-day registration provisions but had not yet implemented them. These states are identified below.
In those states that permit same-day registration, voters must generally provide proof of residency (e.g., utility bill, pay stub) and identity (e.g., driver’s license) at the time of registration.
States with Same-Day Registration
As of October 2017, the following states had enacted same-day registration provisions:
District of Columbia
Hawaii approved same-day registration provisions but has not yet implemented them as of October 2017.
The Benefits of Same-Day Registration
Increases voter turnout. States that allow Same-Day Registration lead the nation in voter participation.
Eliminates registration deadlines that come before people become interested in the election. Many citizens become most interested and engaged in elections during the last few weeks before Election Day. For citizens that do become interested late, registration deadlines may have passed and their chance to vote is gone. For a state to close voter registration 25 to 30 days before an election, like some states do, is completely unnecessary.
Remedies inaccurate voter rolls. Many previously-registered voters can lose their eligibility for many reasons, such as moving somewhere outside of their previously registered voting location. If a citizen fails to discover any problems prior to Election Day or when the registration deadlines have passed, this would lead to eligible citizens losing their vote. With Same-Day Registration, these voters can simply update registration records or register at the polling place and their ballot will be counted.
Assists geographically mobile, lower-income citizens, young voters, and voters of color. If a citizen moves and fails to update their registration records, Same Day Registration allows them the opportunity to register and vote after their move. Research has shown that allowing young people to register to vote on Election Day could increase youth turnout in presidential elections by as much as 14 percentage points.1 Experts also predict that Same-Day Registration can be effective in increasing voter participation among voters of color.2 This prediction was based on a study done in North Carolina, where African American voters represented 20% of the voting-age population but were 36% of voters who used Same-Day Registration to vote in the 2008 presidential election. This was the first such election in North Carolina where Same-Day Registration was available.
Greatly reduces the need for provisional balloting. Provisional ballots are offered to citizens who believe they are registered but whose names do not appear on voter rolls. But more than one in four such ballots cast in the 2008 presidential election was subsequently rejected.4 Allowing eligible voters to register and vote on the same day greatly reduces the need for provisional ballots, helping to assure voters that their ballots will be counted, and saving elections officials the time and expense of processing many provisional votes.
Seeing all of the benefits of Same-Day Registration, it is time for Michigan to get on board and implement this option. Take action by clicking this link: https://secure.everyaction.com/Fn2jq-Ie0EaJC-udQt1ssw2
Mary Fitzgerald, Easier Voting Methods Boost Youth Turnout, The Center for Information and Research on Civic Learning and Engagement (CIRCLE) (Feb. 2003),
R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, Election Day Voter Registration in California, Demos (2011), R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, Same Day Voter Registration in Maryland, Demos (2010), R. Michael Alvarez and Jonathan Nagler, Election Day Voter Registration in Massachusetts, Dēmos (2008),
Democracy North Carolina, “2008 Recap: The Year of the Voter,” Feb. 19, 2009,
United States Election Assistance Commission, 2008 Election Administration and Voting Survey, –voting-survey-report/.
Early voting permits citizens to cast ballots in person at a polling place prior to an election. In states that permit no-excuse early voting, a voter does not have to provide an excuse for being unable to vote on Election Day. States that do not permit no-excuse early voting may still permit some citizens to vote early through in-person absentee voting, which can be done by having a valid reason for doing so with proof.
As of November 2016, the following 34 states (plus the District of Columbia) permitted no-excuse early voting in some form:
District of Columbia
States with in-person absentee voting
In some states, a voter may be able to vote early if he or she provides some reason for being unable to vote on Election Day. This practice is known as in-person absentee voting. As of November 2016, the following five states permitted in-person absentee voting:
Note: The reasons a voter may give for voting in-person absentee vary significantly from state to state. For example, the South Carolina State Election Commission lists 16 separate criteria qualifying an individual to vote absentee. Meanwhile, the Missouri Secretary of State lists six. For more information, consult the relevant state election agency or local election official.
States without early voting or in-person absentee voting
As of November 2016, the following seven states did not permit early voting or in-person absentee voting:
States with all-mail voting
As of November 2016, the remaining three states (Colorado, Oregon, and Washington) used all-mail voting systems, thereby eliminating the need for early voting.
Michigan is one of 10 states that don’t allow some form of early voting. We have absentee voting, but this option is only available to voters who meet certain criteria
Absentee voting is only legally available to voters who meet certain criteria:
Age 60 years old or older
Appointed to work as an election inspector in a precinct outside of your precinct of residence.
Unable to vote without assistance at the polls
Expecting to be out of town on election day
In jail awaiting arraignment or trial
Unable to attend the polls due to religious reasons
Although Michigan is a no early voting state, there have been efforts made to allow early voting or no-reason absentee ballots. In January 2015 Senator Jim Ananich (D-Flint) introduced Senate Bill No. 60, which is a bill that would allow Michigan voters to cast their ballots up to 30 days before an election.
The Brennan Center for Justice conducted research on Early voting in order to identify its benefits and make policy recommendations that we can work towards having our government officials in Michigan take into consideration.
Key benefits of early in-person voting:
Reduced stress on the voting system on Election Day;
Shorter lines on Election Day;
Improved poll worker performance;
Early identification and correction of registration errors and voting system glitches; and
Greater access to voting and increased voter satisfaction.
Policy recommendations for early in-person voting:
Begin early in-person voting a full two weeks before Election Day;
Provide weekend voting, including the weekend before Election Day;
Set minimum daily hours for early voting and provide extended hours outside standard business hours;
Allow use of both private and public facilities;
Distribute early voting places fairly and equitably;
Update poll books daily; and
Educate the electorate about early voting.
Contact your Local Election Office to learn more about early voting in your area.
Michigan Absentee Voting: http://www.michigan.gov/sos/0,4670,7-127-1633_8716_8728-21037–,00.html
Michigan Senate Bill No. 60: https://www.legislature.mi.gov/documents/2015-2016/billintroduced/Senate/pdf/2015-SIB-0060.pdf
Early Voting: What Works: http://www.brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/VotingReport_Web.pdf
Discrimination at the Polls: Who to Contact
The Justice Department announced efforts to ensure that all qualified voters have the opportunity to cast their ballots and have their votes counted free of discrimination, intimidation or fraud in the election process.
Below are contacts available to put in a complaint related to possible violations of the federal voting rights laws:
Make a Difference
Know Your Rights
Myths & Misconceptions about our Criminal Justice System
Being pulled over, searched, or questioned by the police can be a scary or intimidating encounter. Are you knowledgeable about your rights during these situations?
Test your knowledge and see how much you know about the U.S. criminal justice system!
Q: Not responding to the police is the obvious way to let police know you are remaining silent.
A: FALSE. (When enacting your “right to remain silent” you must inform the officer that you are exercising your right.)
Q: Undercover police officers must inform you if they are cops or not.
A: FALSE. (Law enforcement officers are not required by law to reveal that they are indeed undercover officers.)
Q:Video and audio footage of violent or unjust police is enough to change how law enforcement protects and serves.
A: FALSE.(It is not enough. Change and policy reform requires voting and electing our judges and officials in charge with our safety. We must be engaged and have an active voice in our communities and educate ourselves to challenge the powers that govern us.)
Know Your Rights: During Police Encounters
Understanding your rights while encountering police is key to defending yourself against unjust treatment and police brutality. Regardless of the situation, you are entitled to rights and protection under the law, which include:
● You have the right to remain silent. If you wish to exercise that right, say so out loud.
● You have the right to refuse to consent to a search of yourself, your car, or your home.
● If you are not under arrest, you have the right to calmly leave.
● You have the right to a lawyer if you are arrested. Ask for one immediately.
● Regardless of your immigration or citizenship status, you have constitutional rights.
Click this link to access a printable ACLU Bust Card: https://www.aclu.org/files/assets/bustcard_eng_20100630.pdf
Know Your Rights: As a Returning Citizen
According to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights, a felony is typically defined as a crime punishable by one or more years of prison. The law can be confusing but understanding the rights returning citizens do and do not have is important to know and defend!
Rights of formerly incarcerated citizens varies by state. In Michigan returning citizens have:
● The Right to Vote: Incarcerated citizens do not have the right to vote while incarcerated, however, the right to vote is restored once they return home.
● The Right to Bear Arms: The right to own firearms is lost while incarcerated. But formerly incarcerated citizens may legal appeal to restore their right after 3 to 5 years, depending on the terms of the sentence.
● The Right to Serve on a Jury: In Michigan there is an ongoing debate on whether or not formerly incarcerated citizens are allowed to sit on a jury after returning home. Returning citizens do have the right to serve on a jury, however, that right can be challenged in some cases.
For more information about the rights of returning citizens in Michigan, visit the link below:
Why Immigration Rights Matter
Historically, Americans have harbored an ideology of “otherness” towards immigrants which has resulted in discriminatory practices and exclusionary policies. Today, implicit and explicit biases compounded with the rhetoric of the current administration exacerbate injustices towards immigrants. All persons within the U.S. have rights. It’s critical that these rights are known to increase the capacity of those whose rights are being violated and to increase activism against injustices towards immigrants.
Here are some fast facts on rights and resources available:
1) National Immigration Law Center
Everyone has basic rightsunder the U.S. Constitution, including undocumented citizens.
Always carry with you any/all forms of documentation denoting legal immigration status(i.e. work permit, green card, visa), but do not
carry foreign documents (i.e. papers from a country outside of the U.S.) as they have the potential to be used against you if involved in the deportation process.
There are resources available to see who has been taken into immigration custody (Online Detainee Locator System) *Important: both you and your family should know your “A” number* and to get information on a case status (Enforcement & Removal Operations Field Offices) in the event of a raid, arrest or detention.
2) Catholic Legal Immigration Network
Know Your Rights cards are available for free through this resource which can be given to law enforcement officials in the event of a stop, arrest, or detention.
Emergency Planning guidesare available for free through this resource and should be utilized in the event that you or a loved one has been detained or involved in the deportation process.
A Workplace Checklistis available for free through this resource to better understand what law enforcement officers need in order to enter the workplace, and what can be done to protect yourself in the event of a raid.
3) American Civil Liberties Union
You have the right to remain silent,which should be stated directly before you exercise that right.
You do not have to consent to a search of your car,but cooperate if police choose to search under the pretense of having reasonable discretion to investigate, such as believing there is evidence of a crime.
You do not have to consent to a search of your homeunless the officer(s) present a proper permit (Unsure of how to know a proper permit when you see one? More information on which can be found in the National Immigration Law Center website)
This site includes further useful information on not only your rights, but also your responsibilities during police interactions. Clink on the title aboveto build an arsenal of knowledge on your rights, liberties and protections against unjust police practices.
4) Migration Policy Institute
Free downloadable short guide on reliable and relevant immigration data.
Programs to Know
DACA is a program enacted through executive order under the Obama administration which provides temporary rights to immigrant youth whose parents immigrated illegally, such as protection from deportation and the ability to work or study within the U.S., if individuals meet specified requirements.
Here’s what you need to know now:
UPDATE In light of the new Trump Administration, here’s what you need to know about DEFERRED ACTION FOR CHILDHOOD ARRIVALS (DACA):
● Initial DACA Applicants- No new initial applications are being accepted at this time.
● Renewal DACA Applicants - For those who need a DACA renewal (as in their DACA is expiring before March 6, 2018), we continue support in the application process and fees while funding lasts. All renewal applications are due to USCIS no later than October 5, 2017.
Feeling concerned about the DACA decision? Here’s what you can do about it.
● Revised 2017 Dream Act:The Dream Act of 2017 is a bipartisan bill proposing pathways to citizenship for vulnerable immigrant populations (undocumented immigrants, DACA recipients, those who have TPS, high school graduates, and members of the labor force or military) as a response to the current administration’s changes to the DACA program.
● Learn More
○ Video on the potential impacts of proposed changes to DACA and Dreamers: Hanging in the Balance: The Future of DACA and the Dreamers
○ Migration Policy Institute:
Maps of Immigrants in the United States
Information from the Administration
Stay up-to-date on relevant policy changes, updates, and news releases through the Department of Homeland Security’s Office of U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services News Releases
The Pathway to Citizenship (for Green Card Holders)
Green cards are the primary means to become a naturalized citizen in the United States. After living in the United States and holding a green card for a sufficient time period(3-5) years depending on whether you are married to a US citizen or not you become eligible to apply for naturalization. To see if you are eligible follow this link from Immigration Direct.
If you are eligible to apply for naturalization(the process of becoming a citizen) you simply have to take a test of your civics knowledge and of your English knowledge. The civics test requirement and the English competency requirement are actually broken down into 4 sub-tests. There is a civics test where you will be asked ten questions and have to get 6 right to pass (These ten questions are drawn from a total pool of one hundred questions which you can find at the attached link from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services). There is also a writing test where you have to correctly write one out of three sentences to pass. There is a reading test where you must correctly read one of three sentences aloud to pass. Finally, there is a speaking test.
Green cards are given out for multiple reasons, but the most common are for work, for family members of citizens, and by marriage. An interim step which is often common is for immigrants to get a student visa to immigrate to the United States and later getting an employment green card. If you are interested in helping someone in your family not yet in the country pursue a green card, here is a great resource about different types of green cards from US Immigration. Arguably, our ability to sponsor green card applicants is one of the most important and least asserted of our citizenship rights and responsibilities.
Inform Yourself with Reliable Media
The Importance of Critical Analysis
Those who are familiar with the DIRECTV commercials understand the comedic element in their unrealistic causal story of getting from A to B, for example, going from having a poor cable company to being in a roadside ditch (see example here DIRECTV commercial - Don't Wake Up in a Roadside Ditch). What’s not so comical is how a similar phenomenon occurs in reality through the media we consume every day.
News coverage can be skewed dramatically depending on the source, meaning different narratives and conclusions are reported on the same current event, which can make it difficult to decipher the facts from the noise (see example here: Fact checking online is more important than ever). Don’t cause the world to become full of anger and ignorance, fact check! There are resources available to prevent false information from spreading, and we must hold ourselves accountable in using them. For more information on staying informed in the age of social media, watch the following video:
In a time where our political climate is particularly charged around ideas about false news, it’s important to be make sure you critically examine your news source. Your news source provides you with the knowledge of public perception and knowledge of various social issues. It’s important that the information you find comes from a reliable source with accurate information. All news sources have their bias, but some are less biased in terms of partisanship than others.
Below are resources to help you find these reliable sources with accurate information including methods to learn how to critically examine media on your own and tools to help determine source bias. For more information on the real consequences of false news and how it becomes pervasive within regularly published media, watch the following videos:
What is Media Literacy?
The key to finding reliable media to inform yourself is having the critical analysis skills to examine media. No matter what type of media you’re looking for it’s important to have the skill of media literacy. The Critical Media Project from the University of Southern California Annenberg defines media literacy as, “ability to access, analyze, evaluate and create media in a variety of forms” (Overview: The Critical Media Project).
The Center for Media Literacy has five key questions to develop your media literacy based on the five core concepts of media. Below is a chart connecting the core concepts to a keyword to remember them by and the key questions to ask in order to critically analyze media. These key questions are important to keep in mind with all types of media. Click on each core concept and key question in the chart to learn more.
The main goal of media literacy is to help you form informed opinions. This flowchart provides a guide to the general steps for how to inform your opinions. More resources and tips are described below for you to learn how to more deeply analyze media.
How to Recognize Source Bias
It's important to determine whether your source is biased to the right or the left, and to read articles from a range of sources, including those you may disagree with, in order to gain perspective and address your own bias. Use extreme caution when reading sources that seem to contain biased information.
Breitbart is notable as both a new source of media and information where false positive claims are often made. Click the following to see Snopes fact checking of some Breitbart article claims.
To check for bias, here are a few guiding steps:
1.) Ask yourself: Where do you typically get your news from?
Evaluate where your preferences may lay.
2.) Further research
Pro Tip: Bookmark these pages for quick referencing.
Bias in the media (See: Key Considerations in Determining Source Bias).
Your own bias (See: AllSides: What's Your Bias?).
The validity of information you consume.
How to critically and effectively engage in civic discourse (See: AllSides: Civil Discourse).
Encourage others to always, always fact check their information.
Engage in civil discourse.
Participate in political activities related to the issues you care about.
Positive Evaluation of Sources: Is This True?
Signs an organization has a stake in telling the truth:
The organization is known for providing accurate information.
The organization is likely to exist for a long time.
The organization retracts false stories or details when they are revealed.
There should be a clear way to report any false details.
Ways to check to see if information is true:
Compare facts between stories. If a story biased to the right contains a questionable fact, see if you can find sources on the left or in the center which use the same facts. This can also work for other types of bias. Eg. establishment non-establishment.
How to Be Civically Engaged
Ready for Action?
What does it mean to be civically enaged?
Civic engagement is “working to make a difference in the civic life of one’s community and developing the combination of knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. It means promoting the quality of life in a community, through both political and non-political processes” (Civic Engagement)
The purpose of civic engagement is to sustain the actions described thus far in this digital toolkit! The knowledge provided thus far on the importance of voting, voting barriers, and social issues of concern require citizens like you to participate in local elections. Knowing your rights and how to find reliable media to learn more about issues are essential to being civically engaged.
Civic engagement is where all the passion developed from the knowledge and skills taught in this digital toolkit shows itself through your actions. It solidifies the sustainability of the change you make beyond the voting you do every few years. You reach out to members of community to understand what they have concerns about and share your concerns. This allows you to find share values and build a connection that can shape your community or a create a new community within your already existing community that works towards action to make true change.
The connections you make give other community members the opportunity to get involved with civic engagement. It is a process. You have to keep doing it to be engaged.
There are many methods in different levels in your community where you can help create opportunities to make these connections. You can do it through interpersonal relationships, your school, and your neighborhood and beyond.
With Interpersonal Relationships
Discussing issues in your community with your friends, family, and other community members you know is how you can start discover what’s important to your community.
Starting these conversations helps people to be more open to discussing what they see happening around them that they want to change. It’s a way to practice having conversations about big issues that can be tough to talk about in public.
You may consider talking these talking points in your personal relationships:
How did you experience voting in your youth?
What motivates you to vote or to not vote? If you don’t vote, what would get you to vote?
How fair do you think the voting experience is currently?
Considering sharing all the information that seems relevant to the individual(s) on this website in “Why Voting Matters”.
Issues of Concerns Rights, & Reliable Media
What issues are of concern to you?
How do you see these issues impact yourself and others?
Can you think of any solutions? If not, how could you find solutions?
Consider sharing all the information that seems relevant to the individual(s) on this website in “Issues of Concern”.
Knowing Your Rights
Do you know your rights when interacting with authorities?
Do you know what rights you have when protesting?
Consider sharing all the information that seems relevant to the individual(s) on this website in “Know Your Rights” and “How to Organize a Protest”.
Finding Reliable Media to Inform Yourself
How do you learn more about social issues happening around you? How do you know your sources are reliable?
What type of media do your peers use? How do they know their sources are reliable?
Consider sharing all the information that seems relevant to the individual(s) on this website in “How to Find Reliable Media to Inform Yourself”.
In what ways do you publically speak out about issues that concern you?
To what extent do you contact your representative? How does that experience go?
What communities or organizations are or were you apart of? What methods did they use to create change within their community? What did they succeed at?
Are there communities or organizations you support while not being completely apart of them? How do you support them?
Have you ever been part of a campaign? What methods did they use to create change within their community? What did they succeed at?
Consider sharing all the information that seems relevant to the individual(s) on this website in “How to Be Civically Engaged”.
Here are some ideas of how to bring civic engagement into your school!
Encourage civic engagement discussion in your classroom, regardless of the class subject
Join or make a group about a social issue you care about.
Encourage consistent required classes to discuss voting 101.
Bring established civic engagement initiatives/campaigns to your school.
Create a city’s advisory commission with student representatives.
Make voter registration required at graduation.
Create a scholarship award for civic engagement.
Emphasize interactive assignments to make civic engagement less of a spectator sport.
Assignments could include presenting a panel of student issues to city officials, or researching and presenting on the personal significance of civic engagement from your life experience.
With Your Neighborhood and Beyond
You may join an organization that will help you accomplish the goals for the issue you are interested in. This may be local neighborhood association, a student organization in your school (like your student council or a political organization), or any other local political organization that holds the same values and vision for your community.
While it’s best to organize on a local level because you’re close enough to the issue to experience it firsthand and understand it best, there will always be issues of concern the whole country experiences. All the methods discussed from here on can be applied to dealing with issues that the federal government has authority over. You can use the methods for civic engagement, contacting your representative, and protesting on a federal level.
However, the tips found on creating and sustaining an organization will still center on the foundations of building an organization at a local level because that’s the place where people find they can control most. Before going on to discuss how to make sure you’re creating an effective organization, consider all these different actions for civic engagement in relation to either level:
Methods for Civic Engagement
● Donate money to a candidate
● Make phone calls for an election
● Volunteer for a candidate’s campaign
● Door to door outreach about an issue
● Collect petition signatures
● Pass out literature
● Work with people in a neighborhood on a political issue or problem
● Active in a political group
● Protested for an issue of concern
● Attend a meeting of a local government board or council
● Contact a public official
Ready for Action?
You Too Can Run For Office
Whenever you have the urge to contribute to the movement, act on it. Don’t wait and push it off, because the call for action is a never ending merry go round. The more you wait, the less progression we make.
- Jewell Jones, State Representative (D-Inkster)
It Starts With YOU!
Making changes in your community doesn't have to be about voting for someone else. YOU can make the difference by running for office.
There are plenty of resources available to help you get started. Get started by using the links to the right.
To grow your campaign, stay active and Connect with the Community!
Attend community events, like Town Hall Meetings, City Council Sit-Ins, School Board Meetings, and Neighborhood Watch Groups, to name a few. Join in the conversations, list to what is important to community members, and learn from the discussion and decision-making process.
Build Relationships. When you attend an event and exchange contact information, introduce yourself and what you represent, examine the business card as soon as you are handed one, thank the person who gave it to you and ensure that you will follow up (because you will). Update your connections on your involvement and news.
Research the issues that are important to people you would serve. Collect information to back up what you learn.
Connect with the community by sharing your story.
You are destined for greatness. The call for equal representation for all in policy decision making and for creating systems by us, for us needs passionate millennials like you. Join the movement and together we will.
- Ragine Head, Youth Advocate
Civic Action Resources
What Makes an Effective Political Campaign?
A political campaign is call-for-change initiative from the relevant authority about a social issue your community cares about. A successful political campaign usually results in an action plan to lead to a change of legislature. To have an effective campaign you should consider the scope of the issue, your audience, and how to create community support.
Considering the scope of the issue helps you determine who your organization thinks would benefit from changing this legislature. It decides whether this will be done on a local, state, or federal level. This decision helps focus the message of your campaign to a realistic part of your community. This realism then helps you research who to discuss the issue with so your organization knows who has the actual power to make this change with the social issue.
Considering your audience includes the community members who will both support and oppose the legislature change you want to implement. Understanding support and opposition helps you frame your issue in a way that strengthens solidarity for the issue and prepare your resources to fight against those who oppose. It tells you how much capacity you need to develop when you reach out to create community support around the issue.
Considering how to create community support involves building sustainable relationships within and outside your organization. You need sustainable relationships within your organization to have the capacity to reach outside your organization. You have to use the same knowledge on what makes an effective organization to do so. When you have the capacity, you then reach out to your community to find out who supports you an educate the opposition. This community support can to come any of the petition, town hall, or protest events you set up.
Contacting Your Representatives
Outlined here is the process of how to contact your representatives. The very first step to contacting your representative is finding out who your representatives are for whatever level of government controls the bill you would like to influence. You need to make sure you’re calling the right type of representative for the bill you would like to address.
If the bill is affecting your local area like your city or county, you would contact your mayor or house of representative. If the bill is affecting your state, you would contact your house of representative of your governor. If it’s a federal bill, you would contact your senators. With the exception of the governor, all these roles are dependant on the district you’re registered to vote in.
You can find your house of representative here: .house.gov/representatives/find-your-representative
You can find out who represents you locally and federally here: .co/
How to Call Your Representatives
Here are 4 reasons calling your representatives is effective:
Larger volumes of calls can halt the office leading your representative to make a statement on the issue.
Staffers often pass the message along to your representative in one form or the other.
Talking allows you to share a genuine, personal story about the individual impact of the policies they’re making.
Your odds become higher of getting direct contact with your local or state official through the phone.
(About 5 Calls)
The Calling Process
Give them your name, city, and zip code, and then say, “I don’t need a response.” EX: “My name is _______. I am a constituent of _______, zip code _ _ _ _ _ _. I don’t need a response.”
State the issue and your position. EX: “I am opposed to _______.” or “I am in favor of ________.”
Tips for Calling
Consider these following tips when calling:
Tip #1: Only call your district.
Your call will only be accounted for if you can confirm the area is represented by the official with an accurate city and zip code or are calling from the right area code.
Tip #2: Be kind.
The people answering the phone spend a lot of time answering phone calls. Your kindness will help the call get done faster.
Tip #3: Keep it brief.
Length won’t change change what they mark as your stance. Shorter calls ensure more calls received about the issue so more people are heard.
Tip #4: If anxious, thoroughly prepare.
Breaking down down the steps for what seems like an overwhelming task can help you get it done. A helpful resource with tips for social anxiety can be found here: https://tinyurl.com/hbp5uy2
(Calling Congress Is Easier Than You Think — Here's How To Do It)
(A Former Staffer Explains How to Call Your Representatives)
How to Write to Your Representative
Consider these following tips when writing a letter:
Tip #1: Keep it brief.
Keep the letter to one page.
Try to discuss only one bill or issue.
Tip #2: Identify yourself.
Begin with an introduction paragraph about yourself or the organization you’re speaking on behalf of.
Tip #3: Get to the point.
Briefly state your concern at the end of your opening paragraph.
Include a bill number if talking about specific bill.
EX. “We urge you to support H.R. _______, which will _______.
Concisely explain your support or opposition of a bill in the next paragraph.
Well-thought, strong arguments are much more effective than a laundry list of reasons.
Whenever possible, use bullet points for your arguments.
Tip #4: Relate it to home.
Connect the significance of your position to their constituents.
Include specific facts of the bills impact on the their district (ex: “The bill has been predicted to cause many to lose their jobs.”).
Include a local anecdote illustrating your problem if possible.
Avoid generic general letter formats.
Tip #5: Allow for follow-up.
Include specific contact info.
Offer to act as a resource should the legislator or staff have questions or need additional information.
When appropriate, state in the letter if you will follow-up with a call.
Writing Tips for An Effective Email
Consider these following tips when writing an email:
Tip #1: Follow the tips for a letter.
Apply the tips above to any emails you write to your legislator.
All the components are important for making your email effective.
Tip #2: Avoid informal language.
Treat emails as seriously as letters.
Resist symbols often associated with email communication.
Don’t use impolite language or make “demands”.
Tip #3: Include your full address and zip code.
Include your full name and address with your zip code in the text of your email.
Emails are screened based on address information identifying the sender as a constituent.
Emails appearing to come from outside the district may be blocked by filtering programs.
(Writing to Your Legislators)
Here is a written example of a format to write a letter to a representative: Sample Letter to A Representative. Additionally, here’s a: Document Form of the Sampleso it’s easier for you to cut and paste your personal information and the issue you are concerned about. Remember to make the information you fill in as personal as you can be some representatives may discount letters that are too formulaic.
Tools to Contact Your Representatives
Resistbot: Text “resist” to the number 50409 and a virtual robot will help you write a letter that will be faxed to your representative. Standard messaging rates may apply. Access Resistbot here: https://resist.bot/
5 Calls: 5 Calls teaches you about the importance of calling and provides you the representatives to call about popular issues of concern. The website is available as a download for your phone. Access 5 Calls here: https://5calls.org/
Timing Social Action
This chart below can help you orient actions your group takes to protest a federal bill. It shows where a bill can fail -- these are the best times for protesting!
Federal level bills can fail to pass during:
A house of representative committee final reading and vote on final amendments and the proposed bill as a whole.
The house vote where a simple majority is required to pass a bill.
A senate committee final reading and vote on final amendments and the proposed bill as a whole.
The senate vote where a simple majority is required to pass a bill, but the frequent threat of a filibuster, has meant that super majority is often needed.
The president’s ten-day period to sign the bill into a law or veto.
Planning an Effective Protest
Start by learning your protesting rights in order to be effective and safe! The American Civil Liberties Union shares What Do You Do If Your Rights Are Violated at a Demonstration or a Protest.
Choose a message that resonates with your community. If your protest is part of campaign you’ll probably already have a message. If you’re responding to a crisis the message will probably have formed naturally.
Build your capacity. Reach out in your community to people you believe would show support. Follow the methods for civic engagement discussed earlier.
Assign roles. You’ll want people to lead the action in case there’s a route or certain actions you have collectively decided against. You’ll want people to energize the crowd with suggested chants. You’ll want marshals to observe any interactions with authority.
Show up. Personally message people to come to the demonstration. Reminders can make the difference in people showing up.
Give people a way to support you. Follow-up the event with an sign-up list to keep up with your organization and an invite to join. Keep the momentum of your movement going.